Jaitapur: Disaster in waiting?

Updated: Jun 07, 2011, 17:09 PM IST

Liji Varghese

On 26 April 1986 large quantity of radioactive contamination was released into the atmosphere that spread to Western USSR and Europe, resulting in thirty one immediate deaths, according to initial official reports. The Chernobyl disaster, one of the worst nuclear power plant accident in history, and one of two classified as a level 7 event on the International Nuclear Event Scale, even after 25 years is still fresh in the minds of people. Though the figures of death are contradictory, a Greenpeace report puts the Chernobyl fallout death to be 200,000 or more.

11 March 2011, 9.0 magnitude Tohoku earthquake and tsunami rocked Japan. Its result, Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster, considered to be the second largest nuclear accident after the Chernobyl disaster that reportedly lead to two deaths and injured 37 people. The causality though was not massive, yet the catastrophe left behind huge quantity of radioactive caesium in the environment, which experts believe would take years or decades to be cleaned.

However, these examples don`t seem adequate to deter the Indian govt from going ahead with the controversial 9900MW Jaitapur Nuclear Power Project, India`s most ambitious project- pegged to be the largest nuclear project in the world, in Madban village of Ratnagiri in Maharashtra.

Despite facing stiff resistance from the locals and drawing criticism from the environment activists for the vacuous and hurried implementation of the project without analysing the adverse threat posed to the environment, the government pushed ahead with the first phase of the nuclear project tagging the protests to be politically motivated and assuring the people of taking additional safety measures and offering generous new compensation to the locals.

The agreement valued around USD 9.3 billion was signed between French nuclear engineering firm Areva S.A. and Indian state-owned nuclear operator Nuclear Power Corporation of India on December 6, 2010.

The major concern is the seismicity. According to the impact assessment report by Tata Institute of Social Sciences (TISS), Jaitapur is in earthquake zone 4. The report also indicated that the project, which requires 968 hectares of land spread over five village will have a huge negative impact on the social and ecological development of the entire Konkan region.

However, NPCIL went on to clarify that the region was on seismic zone 3, which is a moderate risk zone on a scale of 1-5. The NPCIL further added that the site selection was in accordance with the code set by atomic Energy Regulatory Board and that the design of the proposed project takes into account all the required safety measures.

The environment impact assessment by National Environmental Engineering Research Institute (NEERI), which was taken into consideration by Environment Minister Jairam Ramesh before clearing the project in November 2010, raises a possibility of up to five degree Celsius rise in sea level temperature. The study by Bombay Natural History Society (BHNS) stated that even 0.5 degree Celsius rise in temperature rise can play havoc in the coastal region, which means a 5 degree rise would be enough to destroy the marine life.

The activist are also up in arms against the government`s move to use the untested European Pressurised Reactor (EPR) technology provided by Areva, raising safety concerns.

What the government needs to understand here is that, it’s not the nuclear energy that makes the country powerful, it’s the people who do so. And if people are not in favour of setting up a nuclear plant, the government should rather come forward and assess the situation with an open mind and not put the life of its people into danger for a short term profit.

Looking into the past industrial or economical disasters in India, from which the country has still not recovered completely or rather the fallout of which, still affects many; a nuclear disaster would be too much to be called for.

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