Jaitapur N-plant: Politicians, scientists rush to douse fears

While extensive damage caused to Fukushima nuclear plant in Japan due to the earthquake has stoked their fears further, the state government’s move to denotify the acquired land for India’s largest proposed MahaMumbai Special Economic Zone (SEZ), promoted by Reliance Industries, has strengthened the resolve of the opponents to oust the project from their midst.

Chavan addressed a public meeting near Jaitapur this week, where villagers as well as social activists and those spearheading opposition to the project were present. Rajan Salvi, a Shiv Sena legislator who represents Jaitapur, went up the stage and began speaking against the project, but industries minister Narayan Rane, a bitter foe of Shiv Sena after his defection to the Congress, tried to stop him. A verbal duel ensued and was seen by millions on the TV screen. That episode damaged the purpose of the visit.

Chavan assured the villagers that the project had been cleared by the union ministry of environment and forests (MoEF) after taking into account various complaints and doubts raised by environmentalists. He said the opposition to the project was based on misinformation and it is for the opponents to prove their objections.

He said experts have discounted ecological damage or threat to fishing in the area. While emphasising the need for the project, Chavan assured the villagers that he personally would look into securing better compensation to villagers and his government would ensure proper rehabilitation of the people affected by the project.

The local fishing community feels that there is still no clarity on how they would be compensated if the project actually impacted the fishing yield. A two-member committee had recently visited Tarapur nuclear plant site on the Thane coast and found that despite all claims by nuclear experts, the fishing yield had actually gone down in surrounding coastal areas due to discharge of hot water from the plant into the sea.

According to the protesters, the government initially did not take them into confidence about the project. The land was acquired at Rs 1,500 per gunta. About 2,332 villagers should have been compensated, but only 145 persons had received the money, they complain.

There remains stiff opposition to the nuclear plant, and despite scores of meetings held in the region by political leaders, villagers are still unconvinced. Chavan had called them to Mumbai for an open house seminar in January, but they boycotted it. The chief minister was then forced to visit Jaitapur to convince the angry villagers.

While Shiv Sena is now vociferously opposing the project, its ally the BJP has supported the project. During the last five years, the villagers of Jaitapur have sustained their struggle with support from left-leaning leaders like Vaishali Patil and former high court judge B G Kolse-Patil of ‘Konkan Vinashkari Prakalp Virodhi Samiti’ and Arun Velaskar and Vivek Monteiro of ‘Konkan Bachao Samiti.’

Assurance

Former atomic energy commission chairman Anil Kakodkar has gone on record discounting their objections. According to Kakodkar, the site was selected after carrying out thermal ecological studies and there is no threat whatsoever to the agriculture or mango production as the nuclear power plant will hardly pollute the area. He says that the radioactive losses would also be lesser. Since initially there will be only a power station, no waste will be released outside. The waste management will be done only at the site. When the reprocessing plant comes up, there is technology available to tackle the waste problem, he stated.

The earthquake in Japan caused further anxiety about the project and the state government lost no time in roping in Kakodkar once again. He was invited to a lecture on the opening day of the budget session, during which he discounted any such fears to Jaitapur project.

According to Kakodkar, Jaitapur plant will be located on a plateau, at much higher level from the sea coast than the nuclear plants in Japan. “Even though Jaitapur is situated on the coast, it is situated much above the sea level, on a plateau, which is important for tsunami protection,” he said.

Compared to Japan, the seismic activity is very less in India. In Japan, there are 54 reactors in seismic zone 4 and 5. In USA, there are 10 reactors in seismic zone 5. While Jaitapur is in seismic zone 3, Kakodkar pointed out.

The Central government also got the top rung of India’s nuclear establishment to address a press conference in Mumbai on safety of nuclear plants and endorse Jaitapur project unambiguously. The crux of the presentation by the chairman of Nuclear Power Corporation of India (NPCIL) S K Jain and Atomic Energy Commission (AEC) chairman Dr Sukumar Banerjee was that the safety is the overriding parameter and the DAE cannot and will not take any shortcut in this regard. They said the Indian plants are safe but also assured the nation that they would revisit the safety aspects of all plants after analysing the situation in the crippled nuclear reactors of Fukushima.

Regarding the French EPR reactors which are proposed for Jaitapur plant, Banerjee and Jain said the design of EPR is based on the design experience of 58 reactors running in Europe, and when the Indian EPR will come up it would have seen the experience of five such similar plants in Finland, France, China and UK.

However, the state government will have to move ahead carefully and respond to the concerns of the local villagers, especially on compensation and rehabilitation. The affected people of Koyna dam, constructed in the 1950s, are still fighting for adequate compensation, which does not inspire confidence in the promises made by the government.

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