By – J Chandraprakash

The  triple disaster of earthquake- tsunami – radioactive emissions in Japan has certainly armed the anti-nuclear activists to their teeth the world over with a logic perceptible even among the common men that the nuclear energy is not so ‘green and benign’ and there is an urgent need to scrutiny merits of advocacy of those , including India’s Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and former US President George W. Bush, who have been urging the people to help bring a ‘nuclear renaissance’.

The struggles are only getting stronger against the process of establishing Nuclear Power Plants (NPPs) not only at Jaitapur in Maharashtra but also at the all other places , including Haripur (West Bengal), Mithi Virdi ( Gujarat) , Pitti Sonapur (Orissa), Chutka (Madhya Pradesh) , Kovada (Andhra Pradesh) and Fatehabad (Haryana). In Fatehabad the project-affected farmers and their supporters have been sitting in a Dharna for more than 230 days. The anti Nuclear plant struggle committee, Haryana is planning a massive rally at Fatehabad on 28th March.

As of now there are 21 operating nuclear reactors in India, along with a host of reprocessing, fuel-fabrication, mining and other nuclear plants, all potential sources of lethal ionizing radiations.

An anti-nuclear march to the Parliament was taken out in New Delhi on March 25 following a ‘ Candle Light Vigil ‘ programme organized by the civil society on March 18 at India Gate, New Delhi to express solidarity with the people of Japan affected by triple disasters.

A spokesperson of the Anti-Nuclear Parliament March said, “This protest march is to state our stand that we oppose all forms of nuclearisation of India, including nuclear (fission) power and weaponisation plans are programmes and demand an immediate moratorium on all new projects, and a stringent review of existing plants by independent experts. We demand for sustainable alternative forms of energy. All of us are aware of the fact that more than the earthquake and tsunami it is the radiation from the nuclear plants which are likely to cause a larger damage to people’s health and well being, and is also draining resources and attention from critically needed recovery from the natural disasters. If this is the fate of a country whose technological and managerial capabilities are world renowned, where standards are generally maintained strictly to norms, what would happen in a country like India where these are routinely thrown to the winds with a ‘ chalta hai ‘ attitude? “.

Anti-nuclear power movements are also gaining momentum out of India. Germany has already announced it will decommission 40% of its nuclear plants and halt planned extensions, reversing a controversial decision to expand its nuclear programme.It is reported that Germany shut down 7 of its older 17 nuclear plants that are currently in operation. It is also reported that Governor Cuomo of New York wanting to take a second look at the Indian Point nuclear plant in New York.

With Japan’s catastrophe fueling media scrutiny and public outcry, the Jaitapur project’s financial backers are reportedly thinking about pulling out.

An online signature campaign is going on in support of a ‘petition’ addressed to the Prime Minister Manhohan Singh against the Jaitapur nuclear plant. The petition says ,” Even as nuclear disaster has ravaged Japan, the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance(UPA) government is moving ahead with plans to build the world’s largest nuclear power plant at Jaitapur , which is an earthquake hot spot. Claiming that the Jaitapur nuclear power project has been ‘rubber-stamped’ by the state authorities and the environment ministry, signatories of the petition say that Prime Minister Manmohan Singh can and should intervene to suspend the plants’ construction.

Even before the natural and man-made disaster combo could happen in Japan early this month causing loss of billions of money to its economy, there were several questions over the rationale of setting up of the world’s largest nuclear power complex on the Arabian Sea shore at Jaitapur in the earthquake-prone Konkan region of Maharashtra with a total investment of about Rs one lakh Crore to generate 9,900 MW power and people of the area were agitating with a plank that they do not want to be affected with incidents like Chernobyl or Three Mile Island.

The site for the proposed Jaitapur nuclear plant complex is just 25 meters above the sea level. The complex will house six reactors, the biggest one having a capacity of 1,650 MW, eclipsing the largest units at Japan’s Kashiwazaki-Kariwa plant with a capacity of 1,315 MW. Jaitapur is 600 km away from India’s another nuclear power complex, Tarapur Atomic Power Station (TAPS) in Maharashtra.

The Prime Minister has been advocating about the efficacy of nuclear energy. Recalling that India had come a long way since the first reprocessing of the spent fuel in India in 1964 at Trombay in north-east Mumbai, he had lauded nuclear energy’s capacity to provide the ” clean, safe and economical ” energy.” India cannot afford to miss the bus to bring nuclear renaissance”, he had observed at a function at Tarapur last year.

Following the Indo-French civilian nuclear agreement in October 2008, providing for reprocessing of spent nuclear fuel from France under safeguards, the reactors and fuel for the Jaitapur will come from French energy giant, Areva. Media reports say that Areva is being sued back home for contaminating French rivers. Regulatory bodies in Finland and UK have not approved Areva’s evolutionary European pressurized reactor (EPR), six of which are to be installed at Jaitapur. As per the said agreement the French side has guaranteed a lifetime supply of spent nuclear fuel for these reactors. France is the first country from the 45-member Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) to sign such a deal with India after global restrictions on nuclear trade with India were lifted. For the nuclear power project at Jaitapur , Areva has already agreed to supply two nuclear reactors of 1,650MW capacity each at to the state-owned Nuclear Power Corporation India Limited (NPCIL) by the end of this calendar year.

The 938-hectare site at Jaitapur was chosen by the Shiv Sena-Bhartiya Janata Party alliance government in Maharashtra, in 1995. The first notices informing the farmers of the area about their land being acquired were sent in 2006.The NPCIL acquired possession of the total project area in January 2010.However; an overwhelming majority of affected farmers did not collect compensation. Madban village is closest to the proposed site, just half a kilometer away. Another village Sakhri Nate, with a population of over 5000, earns Rs 16 Crore with an annual fish catch of 10,000 tonnes.The fishermen of the village are apprehensive about their future when the plant starts.

The project director CB Jain claimed that the villagers want higher compensation and hence they are threatening others who have accepted the compensation through cheques. In the largest ‘affected’ village – Mithgavane, only 112 persons out of the total 2000 villagers have accepted compensation from the state government Even after the State’s Minister Narayan Rane, who is from the Konkan region announced an enhanced compensation of 10 lakhs rupees per acre, not many persons have come forward to accept it.

Seeking to allay “misconceptions” nursed by the villagers to be displaced by the Jaitapur Nuclear Power Project (JNPP), not only the Atomic Energy Commission (AEC) Chairman Srikumar Banerjee but also Chairman & Managing Director of Nuclear Power Corporation of India Ltd (NPCIL), SK Jain have said that people of Jaitapur had nothing to fear from the JNPP.

“Everything was going on smoothly from the early 2000 to 2008, but suddenly there are protests and agitations against JNPP…. “, Mr. Jain said.

However, there are several factors that make the proposed Jaitapur energy park particularly dangerous. The gigantic nuclear development, planned for the tsunami-prone coast of Jaitapur, will rely on a brand new type of mega-reactor that has not been approved for use anywhere in the world. Scientists classify the proposed site of the Jaitapur complex as Zone 3, susceptible to “very strong” seismic activity. In 1993, Jaitapur experienced a powerful 6.5-rated quake that left nearly 9,000 people dead. If the plants are built; the next quake could be far deadlier.

Moreover, the plant would also be an environmental and social travesty. Jaitapur is home to amazingly diverse wildlife. The massive energy campus would displace over 40,000 people and destroy one of India’s greatest natural landscapes — eating away at the habitat of tigers, elephants and thousands of other species, even if no earthquake occurs. In the event of a Japan- like quake, the devastation would be mind-boggling.

With the start of the protest against setting up of the nuclear power plant at Jaitapur in January 2006, a public interest litigation was filed by, ‘Janahit Seva Samitee, Madban’ in the Bombay High Court. The high court pronounced a stay order on the process for the establishment of the project but vacated it later. A meeting of people from nearby villages were held on 23 November 2009 which was also attended by several anti nuclear movement activists from many places in in the country. A series of protest programme were carried out by local people against the nuclear power plant from December 2009 to January 2010, when the government officials visited Madban for disbursal of compensatory payments for land acquisition. The villagers not only refused to accept the cheques but also showed black flags to the officials. About one hundred people were arrested on 22 January 2010 when people protested against the land acquisition. A total of just about Rs 15 Crores are to be given as compensation for acquiring land of the villagers.

In 2010, all the Sarpanches and Gram Panchayat members of the 5 ‘affected’ villages resigned their posts after all 5 Gram Sabhas had passed unanimous resolutions opposing the project. On 22 December, Akha Teej, a public hearing was held by the Maharashtra Pollution Board which had done a survey in the area. Against the norms, only one English copy of their survey report was made available to one Panchayat.

The public hearing became controversial as the EIA report was not delivered for study to the concerned grama panchayats in advance. The 1,600-page report has been questioned by environmentalists, activists. It is being criticized for lack of clarity on safety, pollution, animal grazing, farming and displacement. The plant would discharge six million cubic meters of warm water into the sea daily. NEERI report has, however, brushed aside the impact on marine life, citing the Kalpakkam plant’s example. This is a specious comparison since the Jaitapur plant is 25 times bigger. The report is also mum on the impact of a 2,300 meter-long breakwater to be built near the sea shore. It would cause deposition of sand near the Vijaydurg creek, blocking the natural flow of water. Radioactive waste is another contentious issue. Officials of the NPCIL say that the solid waste will be stored in lead containers buried in trenches dug into the earth. People are also worried about the impact on the groundwater table and soil. The EIA report was devoid of radiological studies as NEERI simply does not have expertise over that. Such a study can be conducted only by the Atomic Energy Regulatory Body (AERB) which will be also entrusted with the task of approving the technological designs of the plant.

On August 2, 2010 when a team of the NPCIL officials reached the site for the foundation planning a group of villagers pelted stones at the officials. Over fifty protesters were later booked with charged with not only vandalism and physical assault. but also attempt to murder. A platoon of around 50 policemen was deployed at the plot and prohibitory orders under Section 144 and 141.

In December, 2010, all the 70 primary and secondary schools in the area observed a total strike by the students. The entire area boycotted all government celebrations of 26th January saying that when there was no democracy in the area why should they celebrate Republic Day. They have made an open offer to the state government to hold a referendum in the area – as was done in the area of the proposed Reliance SEZ. The government has, however, responded with arrests and externment orders.

Meanwhile, a CPI (M) team – comprising the party MP from Tripura, Khagen Das and former MP Suhashini Ali after visiting Jaitapur and meeting with the project affected people recently has released its report. The report noted that the district administration had, a week ago, disallowed retired Judges of the Supreme Court and High Court from entering the area and listening to the people. It also noted that when Maharashtra’s Chief Minister, Prithiviraj Chauhan had addressed a public meeting at the site of the proposed power plant on February 26, 2010, people participating in that wore black badges in protest against the Plant

The CPM report said that after the CM’s public meeting, altogether 250 identical notices have been served now. One of the recipients, 70 year old Pandurang Sadu Bange of Nival village had a heart attack on receipt of the notice and died. He is considered the second ‘martyr’ of the movement. The first ‘martyr’ is the young Irfan Kazi, nephew of Ibrahim Kazi. He was home for a short holiday from Dubai. On December 18, 2010 when he was returning home on his bike after dropping his children at school, a car hired by the local police, rammed into him. He was badly injured and died soon after.

After hearing the people of the area and in the light of many facts of the case, including the fact that this French technology is so far completely untested, The CPM has expressed its full support to the movement and to their three demands – 1) Cancel the Jaitapur Nuclear Project, 2) Return the lands which have been forcibly acquired and 3) Withdraw all police cases filed against the movement activists and also the ban orders and create a suitable environment for dialogue.

However, top nuclear scientists of India are reported to have assured the Prime Minister that an earthquake-tsunami striking a nuclear installation may occur only once-in-a-million-years or so.

Anti-nuclear activists, however, say that the issue here is not about when, where and how it might occur, but that the combination of radioactive-social-environmental-economic-political fall -out of such a disaster is unacceptable to people. It is argued that Fukushima happened because of the combination of earthquake-tsunami, but then the accidents at Three Mile Island (USA) and Chernobyl (Russia) did not need earthquake or tsunami. Today there is added risk of military or terrorist attack on a nuclear facility, they warn.
(End of the story)

Saturday , 26 March 2011 , Evening Times ( Banglore)