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Dangerous nuclear delusion

May 18, 2010 Leave a comment

Praful Bidwai in Financial Chronicle
May 18, 2010

The recent past provides a glimpse of the dangerous nature of the confrontations governments are getting into vis-à-vis the citizenry thanks to their obsessive pursuit of predatory development projects. Take Ratnagiri in Maharashtra, where the disaster called Enron was located. The government is preparing to impose another Enron on Ratnagiri—this time, a nuclear one, with potentially far worse consequences. This is a “nuclear park”, comprising six 1,600 MW reactors to be made by France-based Areva.

So boundless is the government’s zeal in pushing the park that it has proceeded to acquire land for it even before a full agreement has been signed, or a detailed project report prepared. It invoked the emergency provisions of the Land Acquisition Act 1894 to forcibly take over land even though the site has no environmental clearance. The clearance has been taken as given by the Department of Atomic Energy whose personnel are surveying and demarcating the site. This makes nonsense of the environmental approval process and deplorably mocks ecological rationality.

The land acquisition effort has met with stiff, determined resistance from the people—mostly growers of the delicious alphonso mango and small farmers. Most have refused cheques given “in compensation” for land. At issue is not the price offered, but serious concern about safety. People know that nuclear fission is fraught with routine, low-level but harmful radioactive releases, wastes which remain hazardous for centuries, and the possibility of catastrophic accidents like Chernobyl (1986). With supreme arrogance, the DAE declares such concerns hyperbolic and unwarranted.

Nothing can better explain the government’s zeal in thrusting the project down a sceptical public’s throat than its belief that nuclear power, moribund for decades in the developed world, is undergoing some kind of renaissance and emerging as the technology of the future—despite unresolved problems of waste storage/disposal, other safety issues, long gestation periods and high costs.

Renaissance is a myth. Globally, nuclear power is shrinking, not growing. Annual generation peaked in 2006 and is falling by 2 percent currently. From a peak of 444, the number of “operating” reactors worldwide has fallen to 438 (17 of thee produced no power in 2008). Nuclear power contributes just 12 percent to global electricity generation, 5 per cent to primary energy production, and 2 percent to final energy consumption. The number of reactors shutting down far exceeds the number of start-ups or planned reactors. Nuclear power generation is not widely distributed. Only six countries account for two-thirds of the world’s reactors.

The average age of reactors worldwide is 25 years. In a decade, about two-thirds of these will have retired—if past trends prevail. The average age of the 123 reactors shut down till August 2009 was 22 years. Around 1980-85, there were about 250 reactors under construction worldwide. Now there are just 50 or so. Major nuclear-power nations have wound down their programmes or failed to revive them despite generous loan guarantees. In the US, no new reactor has been ordered since 1972—even before Three-Mile Island (1979). Despite big incentives offered since 2002, no US reactor application has reached the licensing stage.

Western Europe has seen no new reactor completed since Chernobyl. Only one is under construction, based on transparent market principles, Olkiluoto in Finland, of Areva’s so-called Generation III-Plus design. This has run into serious problems, with three-and-a-half-year-long delays and an 80-percent cost overrun. Finnish, French and British nuclear regulatory agencies have raised major questions about its safety. It is unlikely to produce power before 2014—15 years after the Environmental Impact Assessment. Failure or abandonment of Olkiluoto could well sound the death-knell of the nuclear industry in the developed countries.

Three other aspects of the nuclear industry are important. It has a negative “learning-curve”: today’s lead-times are longer than 20 years ago; and US per-megawatt capital costs are well over $10,000 compared to $2,000 in the 1970s and $4,000 in the 1980s. France, which draws 78 percent of electricity from nuclear fission, shows the same trend. Second, there is a serious shortage of skilled manpower in the West, which will impede future expansion. Third, there are very few specialised equipment manufacturers in the world—just one forge in Japan which can make Areva’s latest-design reactors.

Much of the new planned nuclear addition is in countries like China and India, which have a poor record of achieving targets—e.g. 11 or 27 percent. Going by 1980 projections, India should have had installed 43,000 MW by 2005 and over 50,000 MW by now. Its actual capacity is 4,120 MW.

Finally, what of the industry’s claim that it can contribute to reducing greenhouse emissions because nuclear fission doesn’t produce them? Calculations show that the same capital invested in nuclear power will contribute 3 to 20 times less to reducing emissions compared to other sources, at 20 to 30 times slower rates. A dollar invested in renewables will go seven times longer in cutting emissions than nuclear power.

Nuclear power has industrially failed, is unacceptably unsafe, and extremely costly. India must give up the nuclear illusion.

Protests stall public hearing on Jaitapur nuclear project

May 17, 2010 Leave a comment

Meena Menon in The Hindu

May 17, 2010

MADBAN (Ratnagiri district): Angry protests stalled a public hearing of the Jaitapur Nuclear Power Project (JNPP) at Madban village in Maharashtra on Sunday. Only after officials acknowledged their mistake of not providing copies of the environmental impact assessment (EIA) to the affected villages, it was allowed to go on under protest.

Copies of the EIA summary in English were given only to the Madban gram panchayat on April 29 and a full copy in Marathi was given four days before the public hearing. The other three villages from where land was acquired for the project — Karel, Niveli and Mithgavhane — did not receive the EIA report. Pravin Gavhankar of Madban village told the panel, chaired by the Collector, that when a majority of the people did not get the EIA report, the public hearing was a sham and must be scrapped.

Black flags waved

The project has met with strong protests from people whose lands were acquired under protest. About 2300 people lost land to the project for which 938.026 ha. was acquired. Most of them have not accepted the compensation cheques. People waved black flags and shouted slogans while marching to the venue of the hearing at the project site.

Shiv Sena MLA Rajan Salvi said according to law, EIA reports should have been submitted a month in advance.

The hearing was held on a day when it was auspicious for Hindus — Akshaya Trithiya. Many could not come because they were busy with religious functions and weddings. Despite that more than 1,000 people turned up and walked in the heat to the venue that was heavily barricaded. Over 200 people filed fresh objections against the project. People stalled the hearing for over an hour raising loud objections before it got under way.

Protests recorded

Bhikaji Waghdare, who has filed a petition against the project in the Bombay High Court, submitted that the hearing was illegal and it could only continue under protest. The Maharashtra Pollution Control Board (MPCB), which organised the hearing, was on the defensive and was forced to record people’s protest. Dilip Khedkar of the MPCB, who was on the panel along with Ratnagiri Collector Madhukar Gaikwad, pacified the crowd, telling them that their protests would be duly recorded.

The Madban sarpanch, also named Bhikaji Waghdare, pointed out that the EIA was difficult to understand and the government did not reply to the hundreds of objections from people. “The EIA says there is no agriculture here, which is a complete falsehood,” he said. “You have not taken people into confidence for this project.”

The MPCB said 10 copies were given for distribution and most of them went to various government offices. Only one copy was given to the Madban gram panchayat. Two copies were still with them. At this, the people got more incensed. Mr. Gavhankar, who is leading the protest from Madban, wanted to know if there were plans to sell the two copies of the EIA.

Shouted down

Finally, the people settled down to hear Nuclear Power Corporation of India ltd (NPCIL) representative Shashikant Dharne. However, people said they could not read the presentation made by him on a small screen. They also told him not to digress and speak about the power shortage in the country.

Mr. Dharne tried his best to clarify several questions from the crowd. Suddenly, someone threw a chair towards the stage and it fell in front of the dais.

Mr. Dharne tried in vain to say that the project would not displace anyone. He was shouted down. Throughout the five-hour hearing, the people had the upper hand with their protests and objections. Prakash Waghdare and others said the EIA report was a sham and had no real data. “We don’t have suicides here, but if this project is allowed to come, we will be forced to commit suicide,” he threatened.

Satish Nadkar, a local resident of Padvi, said the entire process was questionable. First land was acquired, then people’s protests were ignored and now, at the end, a public hearing was being held. The whole thing was meaningless, he said. To his questions, the MPCB was forced to admit that there was no tendering process for the project and AREVA of France was chosen to provide the reactors as part of an international understanding.

Many women like Sheetal Wagdhare and Tara, spoke against the project and how their lives would change as they were dependent on the land that was taken away for the project.

Pointed questions from Vivek Monteiro from the Centre of Indian Trade Unions (CITU) put the panel on the back foot.

“The size of the Jaitapur project is 10 times the size of Chernobyl, where the amount of radioactivity after the accident was 400 times that of the bomb explosion at Hiroshima,” he said.

The State government’s latest economic survey had put the cost of two units at Jaitapur at Rs 60,000 crore. Based on this, the cost of one MW of power worked out to Rs 18 crore and cost a unit could go up to Rs 9.90. So many options could be explored at this high price, he pointed out.

NPCIL officials refused to clarify the cost as the matter was under negotiation. Mr. Monteiro said when the cost of the reactors was not known, how could the cost of the power be calculated? Yet the EIA said power would be made available at competitive rates.

He called for a stop to any project activity till all this was clarified. In Finland, where AREVA was building a project, the reactor cost was 5.3 billion Euros and it was still under construction.

Waste disposal

He also raised questions on the disposal of radioactive waste. Plans were made for only 100 years, he said.

The NPCIL said it was still searching for a repository site to store the waste after that period. Mr. Monteiro also raised the issue of acts of terrorism and wondered if the project was prepared for that.

Ahmed Borkar, representing the fisherfolk said the EIA report did not even bother to get an accurate data on fisheries in the area and at least 10,000 people depended on that for their survival.

The Konkan Krishi Vidyapeeth also came in for attack for the data, or the lack of it, on horticulture.

Collector Mr. Gaikwad said the report of hearing would be sent to the Ministry of Environment within eight days. He admitted that some villages did not receive copies of the EIA.

Mr. C.B. Jain, project director, NPCIL, said the hearing was positive and they had complied with all legal requirements. Now it was up to the Centre to clear the project.