29 March 2014
JAITAPUR NUCLEAR POWER PROJECT:CRITICAL ISSUES
Jaitapur Nuclear Power Project ) is a proposed 9900 MW power project of Nuclear Power Corporation of India (NPCIL) at Madban village of Ratnagiri district in Maharashtra. If built, it would be the largest nuclear power generating station in the world by net electrical power rating.
On 6 December 2010 agreement was signed for the construction of first set of two third-generation European Pressurized Reactors and the supply of nuclear fuel for 25 years in the presence of French president Nicolas Sarkozy and Indian prime minister Manmohan Singh.
French nuclear engineering firm Areva S.A. and Indian state-owned nuclear operator Nuclear Power Corporation of India signed this multi billion valued agreement of about $9.3 billion. This is a general framework agreement along with agreement on 'Protection of Confidentiality of Technical Data and Information Relating to Nuclear Power Corporation in the Peaceful Uses of Nuclear Energy' was also signed.
The proposed Jaitapur Nuclear Power Project is located at the west coast. It has an average elevation of 90 feet (27 m). This project will spread over 968 hectares (3.74 sq mi; 9.68 km2) of land. Jaitapur is on the Arabian Seacoast in Ratnagiri district in the southwestern part of Maharashtra, India. The district is a part of Konkan inWestern Ghats.It is also known as one of the best ports from the Neolithic era. In 2008, India applied to theUNESCO MAB for the Western Ghats to be listed as a protected World Heritage Site. The Sahyadri Mountain range forms the eastern boundary of the Konkan, and the Arabian Sea marks the western boundary. Jaitapur was one of the important ports in ancient and early medieval times
Displacement and Livelihood Destruction
The project is to be spread over 968 hectares of land, swallowing five villages—Madban, Niveli, Karel, Mithgavane and Varliwada—which together have a population of 4,000. Madban and Varliwada have been identified for the site of the project proper, while Karel, Niveli and Mithgavane would become the township for the project staff.[i] The Department of Atomic Energy (DAE) maintains that the Jaitapur nuclear power park will not lead to any displacement of people, and that much of the acquired land is unproductive. This strains credulity. As we see below, the land in the area supports a thriving agricultural and horticultural economy—and thousands of livelihoods.
People in the Jaitapur area received land acquisition orders in 2007, and by January 2010, the government of Maharashtra had completed the acquisition of 938.026 hectares. Villagers were offered Rs 2.86 per square foot for barren land and Rs 3.70 per square foot for cultivable land. This was subsequently raised to Rs 4 lakhs an acre, and most recently, to Rs 10 lakhs, with the guarantee of one job for every affected family.
However, despite forcible acquisition of land, only 114 out of 2,375 farmer families have claimed the compensation offered; all others have refused to take the cheques. The land acquisition process has been utterly undemocratic and violent at times.[ii]
NPCIL has labelled 65 percent of the land as barren. The local population finds this outrageous because the land is highly fertile and produces rice, other cereals, the world’s most famous mango (the Alphonso), cashew, coconut, kokum, betel nut, pineapple and other fruits in abundance. Some of the land is also used for cattle-grazing and rain-fed agriculture and is hence productive.
Ratnagiri was declared a “horticulture district” by the Maharashtra government in 2003. Farmers have invested big amounts in horticulture (mainly mangoes and cashew nuts) under government schemes, often with loans. Besides complaints about the government not recording their plantation crops correctly, people also claim that the compensation for these trees is substantially less than what they earn from them annually. The rate is Rs. 9,386 per tree in case of mangoes, whereas they earn Rs 10,000-15,000 from a single tree annually; and it is Rs 1,989 for a plant of cashew whereas the annual earning per plant is usually Rs 4,000-5,000.[iii]
As mentioned in a recent report by the Tata Institute of Social Sciences, the government, which now claims that the land is barren, paid compensation of nearly Rs 14 lakhs in 2007 in the same area for the loss of mango production due to floods.
Ratnagiri has 15,233 hectares under mango cultivation, with an estimated annual business turnover of Rs. 2,200 crores. The mango crop is extremely sensitive to the minutest changes in temperature and soil chemistry. The local people apprehend that a good deal of the mango harvest would be lost if the project comes up.
Besides farming and horticulture, the Jaitapur-Madban area has a sizeable fishing economy. The fishing population will also be affected, since the plant will daily release a huge 52,000 million litres of hot water into the Arabian Sea. Besides the rise in seawater temperature, tighter security in the coastal region would also restrict fishing severely.
The community leaders fear that once the project becomes operational, its elaborate security arrangements would imperil fishermen’s unhindered use of the two creeks of Jaitapur and Vijaydurg, where they get a depth of 20 fathoms, which is usually found at a distance of 2 to 3 nautical miles on other coasts. Altogether, the nuclear park would jeopardise the livelihoods of 40,000 people, including 15,000 dependent on fishing. [iv]
According to the Maharashtra Macchimar Kruti Samiti, seven fishing villages—Sakhari Nate, Tulsunde, Ambolgad, Sagwa, Kathadi, Jambhali and Nana Ingalwadi—will be threatened by the nuclear power project. The annual fish catch in Ratnagiri district is 1,25,000 tonnes and about 40,000 tonnes comes out of Sakhari Nate.
The annual turnover from fishing in these villages is about Rs 15 crore.[v] In Nate alone, there are 200 big trawlers and 250 small boats. Nearly 6,000 people directly depend on fishing in the area and more than 10,000 are dependent on related or ancillary activities.[vi]
A sizeable amount of this fish catch is exported to Europe, Japan and other countries. Fish exports are also likely to be affected because produce from the area might fail the stringent requirements of European “catch certificates” which demand a declaration of the location, depth, temperature, and time of fishing.
Not many consumers in the developed countries would relish eating fish or mangoes grown in the neighbourhood of nuclear reactors. Mango consignments from Ratnagiri have been rejected in Japan because traces of pesticides were found in the packaging material.
Besides the population directly dependent on farming, horticulture and fishing, thousands of people in Jaitapur-Madban make their living out of secondary occupations such as mango and cashew processing, trading, transportation, mending of fishing nets, maintenance of various kinds of equipment and machinery which need both skilled and unskilled labour services.
In 2006, the area was designated as an Agro-Economic Zone and Tourist Zone by the concerned departments of the state government.
Threat to a Unique Ecosystem
Konkan has been called the “Kashmir of Maharashta” because of its stunning beauty. The Konkan scenario offers a magical combination of mountains and undulating hills, verdant plateaus, creeks, lagoons, the open sea and infinite greenery. There is hardly a square foot of land that is not lush with vegetation. The Konkan ecology contains virgin rainforests and an immense diversity of plant, animal and marine life. Botanists say it is India’s richest area for endemic plant species.
Konkan is one of the world’s 10 “Hottest Biodiversity Hotspots”. The Sahyadri mountains in the Western Ghats are home to over 5,000 species of flowering plants, 139 mammal species and 508 bird and 179 amphibian species, including 325 globally threatened ones.31 Two great peninsular rivers (the Krishna and the Godavari) originate there. The region’s ecology is so precious and unique that one would need a diabolically destructive imagination and intent to destroy it by building a nuclear power plant in it.
Jaitapur is located in a seismically sensitive region. It comes under Zone IV as per the earthquake hazard zoning of India, ranging from I to V in growing seismic intensity.[vii]This zone is called the High Damage Risk Zone.[viii] .According to Greenpeace, “Over the past 20 years alone, there have been three earthquakes in Jaitapur exceeding 5 points on the Richter scale. In 1993, the region experienced one reaching 6.3 leaving 9,000 people dead. In 2009, an earthquake caused the bridge to Jaitapur to collapse. None of this was taken into account when the site was chosen.”[ix]
It is far from clear if the project authorities have evolved the construction parameters such as special reinforcements needed for “earthquake-proofing” the structure to a reasonable degree, and if they have the technical competence to do so. It is not apparent that they have considered the high-magnitude earthquake scenario and based their structural design on it.
The Konkan region’s rich natural resources are already under severe threat on account of several “development” projects along the Western Ghats—from Panvel in Raigad district, across Madban in Ratnagiri, to Sawantwadi in Sindhudurg. These include 15 coal-based power projects totalling nearly 25,000 MW, 40 medium and small ports, nearly 40 medium and mega Special Economic Zones, major mining projects, and “chemical hubs”[x] The environment minister himself has admitted that the total power generating capacity proposed on a narrow strip of coastal land 50 to 90 km wide and 200 km long is around 33,000 MW. [xi]
The gigantic Jaitapur nuclear project will damage this ecosystem irreparably. As the Bombay Natural History Society notes, “the true impact of a project of this scale will never be known” without a comprehensive biodiversity assessment.
Water discharged from the plant will be 5 °C hotter than the ambient sea temperature. But “even a 0.5 °C of continual thermal stress will lead to mortality of marine species.” The BNHS has also mapped 407 hectares of mangrove vegetation around a 10 km-radius of the nuclear plant.[xii]
A recent environmental study of Ratnagiri and Sindhudurg districts by the chair of the Western Ghats Ecology Expert Panel, the renowned environmentalist Madhav Gadgil, sharply criticises the government for violations of environmental laws and norms in Konkan.[xiii] Gadgil’s interim report questions the very logic of setting up so many power projects in an ecologically invaluable yet fragile region. Instead, the report argues for micro- and mini-hydel projects.
§ The current energy requirement of these districts is 180 megawatts, while their current production is 4,543 megawatts, so the area is producing vastly more than its own needs.
§ The report also holds that the Environmental Impact Assessments (EIAs) conducted in the region by the government are flawed “almost without exception.”
§ Comparing solar energy with nuclear and coal-based electricity, the report says it is important “not to rush into environmentally damaging options if there is evidence that much less damaging options are likely to become available in the near future”. One of these is tapping the area’s mini- and micro-hydroelectricity potential, estimated by former Maharashtra irrigation secretary D R Pendse to be as high as 2000 MW using only 30 percent of he total water available in Konkan for hydel development
§ Gadgil also laments the utter disrespect shown by the state agencies for civil rights in pushing for these “development” projects. In fact, his own field trip and consultations with the people in the area had to be cut short because the District Collector had imposed Sec 37(1)(3) of the Bombay Police Act, 1951 prohibiting gatherings of more than five people.
However, none of these environmental concerns figures in the 1,600-page Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) report prepared by the National Environmental Engineering Institute (NEERI). The EIA report wholly ignores the serious environmental problems posed by nuclear power, including potentially catastrophic accidents and routine radioactivity exposure through effluents and emissions. Nor does it take into account the cumulative environmental impact of numerous project under way, or the ecosystem’s carrying capacity.
NEERI has acquired a notorious reputation on account of is sloppy work which favours many promoters of dubious industrial projects. By its own admission, NEERI lacks the technical competence to assess the specific radiation-related hazards of nuclear reactors. Its EIA report does not even mention the issue of radioactive waste and ways of storing it for long periods of time. It is also to be noted that the EIA was conducted for just two rectors; the NPCIL wants to build six EPRs in Jaitapur.
Yet, the Union Minister of State for Environment and Forests, Jairam Ramesh accepted the EIA report and granted environmental clearance to the Jaitapur project with 35 conditions and safeguards on November 28, 2010.[xiv] Some of these conditions pertain to studies that should have been conducted much earlier and to safeguards systems that should have been designed well in advance.[xv]
Many of Ramesh’s conditions are vague. Together, they fail to address the real flaws and deficiencies in the project. Some of them convert valid objections raised to the project—and hence constitute strong grounds for rejecting it—into “conditions”. In any case, given the MoEF’s past record, it is unlikely that compliance with the conditions will be monitored.
The environmental clearance was granted to NPCIL 80 days after it submitted its EIA report, a process that normally takes six months or longer.[xvi] It wasn’t a coincidence that this was this was formally notified less than a week before French President Nicolas Sarkozy’s visit to India beginning December 4 last.
The minister tried to avoid questions regarding the clearance by claiming that that he is not competent to pass a judgment on matters related to the need for, and the economics and safety of, nuclear power plants. He reportedly also told activists: “I can’t stop the project. It is going to come up because it is not just about energy but also about strategic and foreign policy.” Ramesh called it “paradoxical” that environmentalists should oppose nuclear power although it is green and clean, but he dodged questions on the environmental and radiation effects of the project.[xvii]
EPRs: Untested Reactors
There are genuine concerns about the safety and viability of the European Pressurised Reactor that are to be imported for the Jaitapur nuclear power “park”. Areva’s 1650 MWe EPRs are based on the French N4 and German Konvoi-type reactors.[xviii] However, nowhere in the world has an EPR been fully built or commissioned so far. There are four EPRs in different stages of construction in the world. Two of them are already facing serious financial problems and delay.
Areva itself has been going thorough a devastating financial crisis. In 2009, it sought $4 billion in a short-term bailout from French taxpayers. Its shares plunged by over 60 per cent.[xix]
Areva sold its first EPR to Finland. This is Western Europe’s first nuclear reactor contract since Chernobyl (1986). The reactor has been under construction in Olkiluoto (OL-3) since 2005 and was to be completed by 2009. Several safety, design and construction problems have pushed its start-up to the second half of 2013—a delay of 42 months[xx], with a cost escalation of 90 percent.[xxi] The OL-3 fiasco has led to the walkout of the German engineering company Siemens from the project and entangled Areva and the Finnish operator in bitter litigation.
§ France itself decided to set up the second EPR at Flamanville, and the construction started in December 2007.[xxii] Issues similar to those at OL-3 have led to a 50 percent cost increase and a delay in commissioning to 2014. Several problems in the reactor design were noted by the French nuclear safety agency.[xxiii] France has also witnessed fierce protests against the EPR in the cities of Rennes, Lyon, Toulouse, Lille and Strasbourg, as well as in Flamanville.[xxiv] [xxv]
§ China has contracted to buy two EPRs, but it is moving cautiously towards completion dates (2013 and 2014).[xxvi]
§ Over 3,000 safety and quality problems were recorded with the construction of Olkiluoto-3 by the Finnish safety agency STUK, the French nuclear safety agency Autorité de Sûreté Nucléaire, and the UK’s Nuclear Installations Inspectorate.[xxvii][xxviii]
§ In 2009, the United Arab Emirates (UAE) declined Franco-American bids for EPRs which were in an advanced stage of negotiation and awarded a contract for the construction of four non-EPR plants (APR-1400) to a South Korean group.[xxix]
§ Citing deficiencies in EPR’s sump design, the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) has delayed its design certification to the EPR from June 2012 to February 2013. The sump is part of the reactor’s vital emergency core-cooling system. The NRC has also pointed to problems with the EPR’s digital instrumentation and control design, as well as with Areva’s seismic and structural modelling analysis.[xxx]
§ If the issue of assigning responsibility for the loss caused by the 90 percent cost escalation at Olkiluoto in Finland is not resolved soon, the project could well be abandoned, probably sounding the death-knell for nuclear power in the West.
The EPR is the world’s largest-ever nuclear reactor design and has a much higher density of fission-causing neutrons and fuel burn-up than do normal reactors of 500-1000 MW capacity. EPR’s high fuel-combustion rate will lead to greater production of harmful radionuclides, including seven times higher production than normal of iodine-129, with dangerous implications for radioactivity releases, damage to the fuel cladding, and waste generation.[xxxi]
India’s Department of Atomic Energy has a long history of poor regulation, below-par performance and accidents. Moreover, it has no experience of running huge reactors like EPRs. Existing Indian reactors are up to eight times smaller (220 MWe), the biggest ones being one-third (540 MWe) the size of an EPR (1,650 MWe).
Nuclear is Unsafe
India’s super-ambitious nuclear expansion plans are based on assumption that a global nuclear renaissance is under way and that nuclear power is the best solution both to the climate change crisis and to the national energy security question. But as we see in the last section, there is no nuclear renaissance worldwide. Nuclear power is in decline. One of the main reasons for this is that nuclear power is unpopular and nuclear reactors are seen as bad neighbours.
Nuclear power generation is inevitably fraught with radiation, an invisible and insidious poison, which is unsafe in all doses, however small. Radiation causes cancers and genetic damage, for which there is no cure, antidote or remedy. Nuclear plants expose not just occupational workers, but also the general public to radioactive hazards in numerous ways.
Radioactive wastes of different intensity or level are produced in all stages of the so-called nuclear fuel cycle. Wastes are produced in a nuclear reactor’s core. They are created in uranium mining, refining and enrichment, and in fuel fabrication. Handling and transporting nuclear materials also generates wastes. As does the reprocessing of spent-fuel rods which contain vast amounts of dangerous radionuclides. An average reactor generates 20 to 30 tonnes of high-level nuclear waste every year.
Even after decades of claims by the nuclear industry, humankind has found no way of safely disposing of nuclear waste. It remains dangerously radioactive and hazardous literally for thousands of years.
For instance, the half-life of plutonium-239, a particularly lethal component of nuclear reactor waste, is 24,000 years. The half-life of uranium 235, the fissile isotope of uranium, is 710 million years! High-level wastes containing isotopes such as uranium-234, neptunium-237, plutonium-238 and americium-241, and also tritium, strontium-90 and caesium-137 etc. are extremely dangerous to humans, other life forms, and generally, to nature.
There is no safe or acceptable dose of these radioactive poisons.[xxxii] Even uranium tailings at the mining sites are radioactive and cause serious health problems among the surrounding population. This is callously ignored in India by the DAE despite weighty evidence of the grievous health damage suffered by the people in and around the Jadugoda mines in Jharkhand.
According to Areva lack of clarity on The Civil Liability for Nuclear Damage Bill 2010 passed in Indian Parliament in August 2010 is a hurdle in finalising deal. This Civil Liability for Nuclear Damage Bill 2010 has a clause that deals with the legal binding of the culpable groups in case of a nuclear accident. It allows only the operator (NPCIL) to sue the manufacturers and suppliers. Victims will not be able to sue anyone. In reality, no one will be considered legally liable because the recourse taken by the operator will yield only 15 billion (US$230 million). United States of America has a law on liability-related issues for all non-military nuclear facilities constructed in the United States before 2026 named Price–Anderson Nuclear Industries Indemnity Act. This American Act establishes a no fault insurance-type system in which the first $10 billion is industry-funded as described in the Act (any claims above the $10 billion would be covered by the federal government).