Kalyan Ray, New Delhi, April 7, 2012, DHNS:

Post Kudankulam, Indian nuclear establishment promises to take the people along and give more emphasis to local area development before embarking on any new nuclear project in the future. At least eight sites have already been identified for setting up green field nuclear power plants and more states have come forward with proposals to set up nuclear power plants in their states.

The anti-nuclear protests are now likely to shift to Jaitapur in coastal Maharashtra that has already witnessed a sea of protests against land acquisition. The activists added fuel to the fire by claiming that six 1650 MW French EPR reactors to be installed at Jaitapur would destroy the livelihood of fishermen and ruin the biodiversity.

As protests intensified, Maharashtra government took several administrative steps, including framing a new rehabilitation package to calm down frayed nerves and brokered at least a temporary truce. But the agitators, in all likelihood, will return to Jaitapur – described as an ideal site for nuclear power plants by the Department of atomic energy (DAE) – once the actual construction work starts.

In Jaitapur, land acquisition is through and a few ancillary constructions completed in the last one and a half years. The wait now is for finalisation of the techno-commercial agreement between Nuclear Power Corporation of India Limited and French major Areva, after which the DAE would seek Union Cabinet’s approval for building the first two units by 2020. The delay in Jaitapur project was due to the Fukushima nuclear disaster after which India insisted on a French official review of the EPR designs. India received the review in January 2012 and subsequently NPCIL and Atomic Energy Regulatory Board analysed it. With the EPR review in its pocket, the DAE hopes to close the French deal in 2012.

The large 700 MW units to be constructed by NPCIL in existing sites would not pose any problem as the land is already available with DAE, which is constructing two 700 MW units each in Kakrapar (Gujarat) and Rawatbhata (Rajasthan). The Rs 11,459 crore third and fourth units at Kakrapar are scheduled to be ready by 2015-16, whereas Rs 12,320 crore seventh and eighth units at Rawatbhata would be completed by 2016-17.

“We will set up two more 700 MW units in Kaiga for which forest clearance is required. This is being obtained,” DAE secretary and Atomic Energy Commission chairman Srikumar Banerjee told Deccan Herald. Narora in Uttar Pradesh will also house two new 700 MW nuclear reactors.

Bigger challenge

But it is the green field sites that will throw up greater challenge to DAE and NPCIL. The new sites for large scale indigenous reactors are Mahi Banswara in Rajasthan, Bhimpur and Chutka in Madhya Pradesh and Gorakhpur in Haryana. In addition, the government approved four sites – Haripur in West Bengal, Jaitapur in Maharashtra, Kovvada in Andhra Pradesh and ChhayaMithi Virdi in Gujarat – for foreign suppliers from Russia, France and USA to set up 30 nuclear power plants with a total installed capacity of 33,900 MW. As the road map has become ambitious, the nuclear establishment is bracing up for the battle.

The opposition is usually on two grounds – land acquisition and anti-nuclear sentiment that received a fillip worldwide after Fukushima. The DAE plans a detailed neighbourhood development programme as a counter tactic. “We will take the local people along. The focus is more on secondary job creation and improving the quality of life through neighbourhood development. We will support setting up of schools and hospital in the vicinity of a nuclear plant and their running,” Banerjee said.

Added emphasis on extensive communication is the most critical lesson learnt post Fukushima and Kudankulam. The communication, said former AEC chairman and principal scientific advisor to the Union Cabinet R Chidambaram, had to be comprehensive and concise. “Public is not an empty container to be filled up by information. They have their own preoccupation,” Chidambaram said, adding that partial scientific literacy (often propagated by anti nuclear activists) was more dangerous than scientific illiteracy.

Road blocks

A new battle front seems to be opening up in Haryana where the department is in the process of acquiring 1,504 acres of land from Haryana government to set up nuclear power plants. “Most of the formalities have been completed to acquire the land for public purpose. However, the actual awarding of the land to NPCIL is yet to be completed,” said T R Arora, an executive engineer in charge of the land acquisition process in Haryana. The nuclear plant is being opposed by Lok Sabha Member Kuldeep Bishnoi, son of former Haryana chief minister Bhajan Lal. In West Bengal, the Mamata Banerjee government too is totally opposed to nuclear plants coming up at Haripur.

The road ahead certainly looks bumpy for the nuclear establishment.