There appears to be considerable opposition from the local population to the Nuclear Fuel Complex (NFC) proposed to be set up at Rawatbhata near Kota in Rajasthan. The complex, with an envisaged capacity of 500 tonnes fuel a year, is to cater to the four PHWR (Pressurized heavy water reactors) plants of 700 MWe capacity each coming up by 2016 in Rajasthan and Gujarat. In capacity, the Rawatbhata fuel complex is to be next to only Hyderabad NFC in the country which produces 850 tonnes fuel a year.
A “jan sunwai” or public hearing, organized by the Department of Atomic Energy and Nuclear Power Corporation of India Limited (NPCIL) at Anu Pratap Colony in Rawatbhata on Wednesday witnessed angry protests from the local villagers. The hearing — the villagers said they were never consulted when the nuclear power plants were set up one by one, starting from 1973 — first of its kind, found the villagers and representatives of the casual labourers union complaining of unfilled promises made by the management in the past.
The hearing was attended by NFC Hyderabad’s senior official N. Sai Baba, Pollution Control Board representative K.C. Gupta, Additional District Magistrate and scientists from NEERI besides scientists, Surendra Gadekar, Sanghamitra Gadekar and energy expert, Soumya Dutta. Dr. Sanghamitra rubbished the environment study on the complex prepared by NEERI (National Environmental Engineering Institute) and termed it as a “document of untruths”.
The palpable tension perhaps justified the heavy presence of police in the premises of the New Community Centre where the hearing was held. The complaints pertained to poor development of the area, lack of employment avenues to the local population and the requirement of huge quantity of water for the existing power plants as well as the proposed fuel complex.
On June 15, the villagers held a massive rally at Rawatbhata protesting against the risks brought about by the existing plants and the proposed fuel complex. The latest incidence of radio active exposure has been as recent as that of June 23, when two workers got affected by radio active tritium vapour at Unit 5. A case currently debated is the affliction of contract labour Nand Kishore Mehar, who complains that he is not being admitted to the hospital or allowed to access the report on his urine status.
The radiation threats, complaints of risks faced by the casual labourers – who, the labourers said, are removed once they get affected — and denying the medical facilities available at the well equipped hospital in the nuclear plant premises to the local population also were points highlighted by the public and the social activists. “People are being evacuated from the area in the name of four wildlife sanctuaries but then how can the authorities allow a nuclear fuel complex in the same area,” wondered Harak Jain, leader of the local Sangarsh Samiti.
Besides, the locals feared that the uranium brought to the place for processing by truck or by train would contaminate the water and air in the area and as such the Chambal river itself was at risk.