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The Jaitapur riddle

Soutik Biswas | 06:30 UK time, Sunday, 24 April 2011

The nuclear plant site in Jaitapur

VS Naipaul wrote eloquently of India's million mutinies. Is Jaitapur one of them? Are the protests against the planned nuclear plant there prompted by a familiar and sometimes foggy debate over whether development is driving rural India into more misery, robbing villagers of their land and livelihoods? What do we make of this week's violence in Jaitapur? Was it a genuine outpouring of peoples' anger against a project that they feel will ruin them and "poison" their land and water? Or did the provocation come from somewhere else?

On the face of it, it is all this and more. By all accounts, the violence was allegedly instigated by a right-wing regional party which is struggling to regain lost political ground in the Konkan coastal area where Jaitapur is located. The upshot of such cynical politics: one 'protestor' dead when police fired on irate villagers, at least 20 wounded, a hospital damaged and passenger buses gutted by the mob. A BBC colleague who is travelling in the area reports that many of the locals feel that their movement against the proposed nuclear plant is now "getting lost in the political din". They also blame the right-wing party for trying to "hijack" their movement.

This is tragic because there are much more significant and vexing issues at stake in Jaitapur. After the disastrous tsunami-induced meltdown in Fukushima, Japan, should India reconsider its push towards nuclear energy? (With the landmark nuclear deal with the US under its belt, India can now import reactors and nuclear fuel.) Will acquiring large tracts of land for nuclear power stations again set the government on a collision course with sections of the unwilling - and sometimes uninformed - farmers?

There are no clear answers. Anti-nuclear energy campaigners are unequivocal about their opposition to the plant. They insist that India will have to pay a high social price for nuclear energy.

Critics like Praful Bidwai believe that India's nuclear energy drive will sound the death knell of precious ecosystems - six 1,650 megawatt reactors will be built at Jaitapur on the west coast, it is planned, in what would turn out to be the world's largest 'nuclear park'. They say the government has forcibly acquired farmland using a colonial law to build the plant. Mr Bidwai, who visited Jaitapur, writes that the nuclear plant will be situated on fertile farmland, not barren wastelands as the government would have people believe. Then there is the threat the plant poses to thriving fisheries. Officials say no local will be displaced from his land, although more than 2,000 people have had to sell parts of their land. So are the protests about better compensation for land, and guarantees about safety?

Most scientists I spoke to dismiss a lot of what the campaigners say, insisting that nuclear power is really the only option India is left with to meet its growing energy needs. An astonishing 400 million Indians continue to live in the dark, without electricity. "You have to choose the lesser evil - more carbon dioxide or the threat of radiation," one told me. Smoke-belching thermal power plants use the atmosphere as a "sewer" and impact climate change. Solar and wind energy cannot meet India's energy demands, they say. Ergo, nuclear power, they say, is the only sensible and clean option. That is why India is planning to set up some 30 reactors over as many years and get a quarter of its electricity from nuclear energy by 2050.

Scientists agree the government has to tread carefully in building consensus at the grassroots and while acquiring farmland to set up the nuclear plants - there is no room for forcible acquisition of land at unremunerative prices.

Then there is this shrill debate over the safety of the plant. Critics point out that the French-built reactor meant for Jaitapur has still not been approved by nuclear regulators worldwide. They say that the site is seismically hazardous - the area was apparently hit by 95 earthquakes between 1985 and 2005 - and since it will be built on the coast will be prone to tsunamis.

Scientists dismiss these arguments as naive and ill-informed. India, they say, will not buy these third generation reactors until international and local regulators clear them. India's nuclear regulators say that Jaitapur is in a "significantly low seismic zone" compared with Japan and Fukushima. Also, the reactors will be built on a cliff 82ft (25m) above the mean sea level. With its 20 reactors, India, scientists insist, has a good safety record. (There was a turbine room fire at a plant in 1993, and a sodium leak in another in 2000). "There have been no serious incidents. There has been no radiation leak. Our record is clean," one official said.

In the tangled skein of conflicts bedevilling Jaitapur, it is easy to lose sight of the main issue: should India pursue nuclear energy to solve its crippling energy shortage? Or should it stumble along, uncertain about the alternatives and keeping 40% of its people in the dark?


  • Comment number 1.

    Energy is needed and is needed very badly for developing India. There is little doubt about this. But the manner in which the lands are being allocated to the private sector for development of Energy is causing bitterness, particularly to the displaced poor villagers. All of these projects also are causing much environmental damage. This is evident from the recent happenings at Sompeta and Kakarpally in Andhra Pradesh. There were heart rendering scenes of police hammering villagers to suppress the agitation for compensation. For majority of the villagers there is no alternative as the house is their lifetime saving and would rather die than being displaced. Most importantly the energy projects are always planned in ecologically sensitive wetlands or forest areas. Whether such projects are sustainable or are they are worth destroying the priceless natural heritage besides terrible displacement of villagers is something that is troubling the people not to mention the huge corruption allegations that are being shown on television. Time is now ripe for transparency in these matters and development of energy is welcome but not at the cost of misery/suffering to the poor and damage to the environment.

  • Comment number 2.

    Right-To-Information (RTI) activists often use the legislation to expose the government. Here is an opportunity to put it to use for seeking information. Can there not be RTI-activism to find out the process used to determine the site location for the nuclear park? The results of seismic, and of soil fertility studies could be used to determine if there is truth in the objection that the government is taking away prime farmland. I would even suggest that in the interest of speeding up the process of new power generation, the government should make all this information available in easily readable language (on the web and in print). That way, a grassroots activist can access all the information and use that to have an educated conversation with the villagers who are moving out. Of similar concern is the level of compensation. Is it commensurate to what is being lost by the villagers, if not better? Such a public disclosure document from the government could also provide the data and rationale at arriving at a compensation value for the villagers. Then the debate could be about tangibles, and not get sidetracked by political or misinformation agendas.

  • Comment number 3.

    This comment has been referred for further consideration. Explain.

  • Comment number 4.

    Biswas since you hold an everlasting column with the BBC as an expert. I have a simple question for you. Is India still within the THIRD WORLD RANKING??Does that mean that it still is in a primitive mode, for I am aghast to the rural news which I read on the BBC.As an Indian living in Australia I find the daily news coming out of that country very shameful.May be back to colonialism control be the answer.

  • Comment number 5.

    Nuclear plants need 4 things to genrate electricity and they are
    1. nuclear fuel
    2. water
    3. water and
    4. water

    nuclear plants need enormous amount of water and only sea can fulfil it need. Using fresh water for this purpose will not be a good idea.. That's why nuclear plants are constructed near coastal areas.. most of the coastal areas are rich in biodiversity(except that area isn't a desert)..
    So biodivesity loss is something which can't be avoided...

    I think it's a right decision to construct such a large nuclear plant because the biggest need of india by now is electricity..
    electricity cuts in industry is resulting in 1.5% loss in GDP growth rate.. Which is why india is behind china..

    But i think China had made a mistake by relying heavily on Thermal plants and they are paying the price now,, it's good that india has learnt from them and is making a right choice....

    But i think india needs to review "Civil Liability for Nuclear Damage Bill". Because This Civil Liability for Nuclear Damage Bill 2010 has a
    clause deals with the legal
    binding of the culpable groups in case of a nuclear accident. It allows only the operator (NPCIL)
    to sue the manufacturers and suppliers. Victims will not be able to sue anyone.

    Now coming to the land acquisition problem,, i don't know why the indian government who will pay nearly $25 billion dollar to a foreign company, can't pay $100 million extra as the compensation to its own countrymen...

    1 more thing which is needed to be considered is that we can watch the protest of thousand persons on television., but we can't see the desperate need of electricity of millions persons sitting in dark...

    (only 2335 villagers will be subjected to displacement for this 9900 mw powerplant.)

  • Comment number 6.

    No, I don't think this is just another mutiny. I believe it's legitimate fear about what happened in Japan. Japan added fuel to activist Pravin Gavankar's five-year attempts to make the villagers of Ratnagiri understand the risks associated with nuclear plants.
    Now almost everyone in the area knows about Japan, the dangers. Gavankar (who heads the NGO Janhit Seva Samiti) found it difficult to convince people earlier because the focus was on their displacement to make room for the site. All the locals wanted was to accept compensation & move on, but now the locals are dead set against the very idea of a nuclear power plant in their area.
    A complication is that the Shiv Sena (which joined the protest only a few months ago) is apparently exploiting the Fukushima incident. One poster says: "Japan has been destroyed and now Konkan will be destroyed..."
    It's also true that Jaitapur has seen its share of seismic activity.
    The fear of Ratnagiri becoming another Fukushima is so intense that diehard Congress members are going against their own party-line. e.g. Sharifuddin Qazi who is the Rajapur taluka Congress committee secretary.
    If the planned march to Tarapur materializes, if the Tarapur residents explain their own problems, it would no doubt cause further disturbance.

  • Comment number 7.

    I am appalled that not single person has questioned the disposal of nuclear waste. As an Indian I am shamed to say that we are extremely corrupt nation, and that what worries me the most is the disposal of Nuclear waste, we are unable to properly dispose of non-nuclear was will not our corporate heads and politicians take the necessary precautions in disposing of the waste, as waste that can be destroyed but is contained in containers and this radioactive waste just sits there for years for decades. Will they compromise on the cost to save money on the containers the locations. I can not trust these people not to profit or personal wealth ahead of the nation can you. God help us for moving forward with this evil form of power that can only bring destruction. We need to spend more money on research and development of alternative energy than waste money money on bring sporting events like the common wealth games to India.

  • Comment number 8.

    If you say we don't want nuclear plants then how you will meet the energy demands..
    If it's by Coal thermal plants., then how longer will coal last.. What about the co2 level which has already risen to 350 ppm..
    If it's hydro electric plants,, then how many people you will displace by making dams, sesmic activities give same threat to it also..
    If it's solar or wind power,, then can india manage to spend so much on these sources whose installation costs per megawatt are even more than nuclear plants...

    We are left with single option and it's nuclear energy..

  • Comment number 9.

    Why can't the Government make an equitable deal with the owners of the land it wants to acquire, in which it pays for the initial cost of acquisition, as well as future amounts proportional to its earning from the generation and sale of electricity?

  • Comment number 10.

    @ saksi:
    government have already agreed to spend 2% of total earned profit from the plant to spend on growth of jaitapur..., but the government isn't giving enough compensation to villagers for acquiring their land..
    That's why only 33 villagers have accepted the compensation cheques out of 2335 villagers..

  • Comment number 11.

    India, like China, is been left with no realistic alternatives to Nuclear. Unless they are willing to say to hundreds of millions of their citizens, "no, sorry, your neighbour can have power for all the things which modern society provides, but you ave to live with the same amenities as your grandparents". No Democratic government would survive, and I suspect the Chinese government would also feel at risk following such a policy.

    Is Nuclear safe? Theoretically, Yes. There is no reason why a properly designed and constructed power station, properly managed and maintained, and properly regulated and inspected by an independent authority should ever go wrong under normal operating circumstances. And it is also possible to plan for and implement systems that deal with most abnormal operating circumstances.

    So what went wrong in Japan. They broke the rules. Historical record shows that that area of Japan experiences a serious seismic even with associated tsunamis at least once every hundred years. The plant operators were warned about this and chose not to pay attention. Independent regulators who could have forced the operator to implement changes were either absent or did not do their job.

    Could this happen in India? The record of the Indian nuclear industry to date seems very good. But are their engineers better than Japanese engineers?
    The fact that at least one area chosen for development is seismically active is cause for concern. What is the history of this area? What level of seismic event do we have evidence for?
    Are the Indian independent authorities which will have to monitor these developments more competent and more trustworthy than their Japanese equivalents?

    The cost to India of getting any of the above questions wrong could be enormous.

    And, there is the one question which no one has an answer to. The question that ultimately kills nuclear as a credible energy source in the future. Where do we store and how do we make safe the nuclear waste?

    So, the Indian and Chinese governments are being forced to invest in a technology that may have a very high risk factor and which has incalculable costs for centuries into the future because we do not know how to dispose of the waste.
    Short term a cheap, fast answer. Long term, who knows what the eventual costs will be?

  • Comment number 12.


  • Comment number 13.

    The article ended in a classic faulty either-or. The choices are not between darkness and nuclear power. Why not solar power? The sun is very hot in India. And the wind can be very strong. Granted the solar technology at the moment is expensive, India has brilliant scientists, physicists, and builders. Advances can be made in low-threat energies.

  • Comment number 14.

    There are lot of innuendos, myths, half-truths as well as outright lies when it comes to nuclear energy. There is hardly any other civilian issue that whips up mass hysteria - regardless of what the real issues are.

    Firstly, there is no such thing as 100% risk-free in whatever we do. A Risk has three major components: likelihood, impact and controls (to mitigate a Risk). It is often in the Controls factor that operators fouls up (Fukushima as well as BP oils spills are two excellent examples where mitigating Controls were lacking).

    Secondly, what is the alternative of nuclear energy for India in the next ten to twenty years and possibly more? Even though solar and wind power energy are promising, they can hardly be ramped up in a short time to meet the huge energy demands. Even though this reader is a great believer of such renewable energy, as a practitioner in engineering, this reader also understands that achieving energy self-sufficiency in a very short time through such means is dreaming in color.

    Thirdly, the risk due to earthquakes are overblown (risks are considered to be acceptable for reasons mentioned above) and the risk due to tsunami is poppycock (since it is highly unlikely the a tsunami can come OVER a high cliff where the power station will be).

    Having said all that, perhaps the Indian nuclear engineers are somewhat more optimistic. They suggest their safety record - but the size of Indian nuclear industry is small. The risks go up exponentially as the size grows and the plants become larger (particularly plants of the size of Jaitapur). The Overall Reliability of a system - ANY system - will be lower (other factors being the same) if the number of components in a system increases.

    Secondly, one major problem is that the Indian nuclear regulatory agency is really not at arms length from the Department of Atomic Energy. Who is the regulator and who is being regulated? Also, the builders of the plants are the operators as well. Who is a customer and who is a vendor? There seem to be structural weaknesses in their atomic energy program.

    Finally and most critically, are mitigating Controls transparent and adequate? Just having Controls on the books are definitely NOT adequate; one must also display EVIDENCE that Controls are working and are effective at ALL times. The structural weaknesses mentioned just above may mask the lack of the true Evidence of effectiveness of Controls.

    India has a hard choice to make. Since there is no foolproof choice, due diligence is not just crucial - it is mandatory. However, given the overall level of Governance in India - in any sphere - to have a relatively risk-free nuclear program will not be easy in India.

  • Comment number 15.

    India has a massive coastline, why isn't more done to tap into the natural energy resource lapping at its shores? Hydroelectric power from tidal power, ocean wave energy, ocean thermal power- all reliable sources of power. Alongside rooftop solar panels , it might go along way to address India's power needs

  • Comment number 16.

    After the Japan's Nuclear crisis, I just looked how far am I in NC, USA and found that the nearest reactor is just only 12 miles from where I am sitting and writing this comment. I am here since 10 years and I don't see any incident. As India badly needs energy for the development, it is better for the government to go for the nuclear power. However, the only issue is because of the land grabbing of poor people and it should be addressed and sufficient compensation to be provided directly to them without any political parties in between as brokers.

  • Comment number 17.

    I find many comments miss the point. Nuclear power and the science that supports is a product of the capitalist economy. (This is not a comment from a communist source- the issue is capitalism is a system based on usury that posits unlimited expansion- whether in economic development or compounding interest-on a finite planet.) Now if it is not understood that capitalism is in crisis one must be asleep- whether it is in the corruption of the system manipulators, or the escalating debts and bailouts paid for by taxpayers, or the indebtment of our children, the production of enless goods not necessary to life and using up scarce resources, and the total usurpation of any sovreignty by the money manipulators(bankers) and the continued destruction of the planet. Asleep! If you dont think all this is connected take a lesson from Chernobyl-they cant find the money to deal with the safety needs! The production of Nuclear Power is a highly complex and expensive business- when the economy falls, how is it going to continue-what legacy are we leaving our children. It is that our destiny is being guided by people who have no knowledge of what the future may bring, do not wish to know it, and whose only activity is keeping an obviously unstable and destructive system on course. This actually is liberal democracy at present being offered to the peoples of Iraq and the Middle East, God help them. It is banking, indebtment, nuclear power, consumerism and economic slavery.

  • Comment number 18.

    It's about risk management. If 3mile island and chenobyl and fukoshima were all caused by similar or related issues (design/operator fault etc.) the technology and strategy could evolve, but they were all different. This means that the risk as it stands at the moment has not and cannot be managed. The problem with nuclear is that failure has a monster price and therefore risk must be contained. So now we have an impossible impasse.
    On a different note, if the initiative between 1940 and 1943 that was undertaken by the Germans, the British and the Americans to develop and expand the production of fighter planes is any gauge as to how quickly we, the great tool makers, can move when we wish to, then the greening of world energy is relatively simple. Isn't it?

  • Comment number 19.

    I completely agree with you. The events of the last few years have led me to completely lose faith in the current capitalist model which India seems to be rushing into without any regard for the consequences. I have always wondered whether is possible to sustain permanent growth in a planet with finite resources, this does not seem plausible to me; the argument that this is possible through new innovations sound a bit hollow to me.
    Also this massive push towards an industrialised society has inevitable consequences in terms of loss of agricultural land....and then we wonder why we are facing food shortages and rising prices. Bimal Roy's film "Do Bigha Zameen" remains as relevant today as it did 50 years ago, about the loss of farming land, which leads to more migration to cities which leads to more consumption of electricity...a vicious cycle perhaps?! mention that "only" 2000 families will be displaced....I wonder if you would have used that word if it was your family that was losing its ancestral land or way of life due to a decision into which you had no input.
    I have no faith in the regulatory systems in India which are easily corrupted...hence the extreme worry. I also think Bhopal tragedy and Enron issues need to be added to the debate. Have they not taught us anything at all?

  • Comment number 20.

    Solar energy sounds good in a tropical country with so much sun. But solar plants require huge amounts of land to set up - and that is a problem with India. Ditto with wind energy - too expensive and requires too much of land to set up. So nuclear is the only way to go, we like it or not.

  • Comment number 21.

    Probably Nuclear energy is THE most practical solution for ever increasing demand for energy, at least technically. Yes, India can and should develop wind, solar, geothermal, tide/wave energy type renewable energy. But that will hit roadblock fast as land is a prime concern for most of those and India with 1.2 billion people does not have much room to maneuver in that.
    But the main problem with nuclear energy is surely its safety- both pre and post production. It also need very high degree of trust among people for its government and regulatory bodies- which is justifiably almost nonexistent and there is no sign that situation will improve. If there is ever an accident in any nuclear facility, all the Indian agencies will immediately certify that “situation is under control”, no regulatory agency will dare to oppose what our politicians. In case of worst nuclear deserter like that of japan, our official emergency level will remain “yellow”. But if making the threat level higher involves some foreign money/aid then the threat level will often become “orange” or “red”. And everything will be wrapped under secrecy for “national interest”.
    Even NGOs do not enjoy much trust either- more than 90% of Indian NGOs are fraud.
    Anyway, just check this BBC report on uranium mining in Meghalaya. Miners and local people are hardly protected against so high radioactivity of uranium, as majority of Indian industries do when comes to protecting the most vulnerable employees and local people.
    There is hardly ANY corporate governance in India either to force regulatory agencies to do its job.
    On top of that, local people are not much benefited from such "development". They are gradually replaced with migrant workers and majority of the profit goes to "outsiders", instead of developing local people.
    In short, everything boils down to political and corporate accountability, which is NOT there in India.

  • Comment number 22.

    Nuclear power seems to be the nation equivalent of having a Mercedes on your driveway. A status symbol - being a member of the Industrialised world etc, etc. How much research has been conducted into hydro-electric power from water pressure? India has deep oceans & long coastlines.The biggest lesson out of the last few months re nuclear energy seems to be the power of water to overwealm it

  • Comment number 23.

    From my personal experience I know that majority of Indian industries, mainly the big ones, do NOT operate their effluent treatment plants (in case they have installed one in the first place) on a regular basis. Such plants are installed mainly to get the required permit. Once the permit is obtained, such plants hardly become operational to “minimize operating cost” and maximization of profit. Industries dealing with highly toxic products and by-products directly discharge into open environment (most of the time in the open drain, local river, sea). Anyone can have an idea if they visit the industrial belt around Thane-Belapur road in Navi Mumbai, check the health of local Mithi river and Arabian sea in Mumbai coast. It has been reported that at least few of them pump their highly toxic by-products underground, into the ground water (that pollute the drinking water supply). One such industry was in Faridabad (till I know in late 1999), near Delhi. Everything is do-able in India, if one knows the right way to doing it.

    Just check this article that says, "If you take a bath there, you can get all the necessary antibiotic treatment" , University Hospital Freiburg, Germany pharmacist Claus Ku Mole- The Associated Press said: “If you can swallow several Estuary to cure all diseases.” That report came from Germany, not from any regulatory body in India. And more frustrating, I did not see any report either denying that german claim or “action taken” report to stop and prosecute the concerned industries and its management. There are many such examples all over India, involving so many different types of industries. It seems that everything is justifies in the name of “investment” and “development”- nobody seem to care the cost everyone else, mainly for local people, must pay for such “development”.

    Then consider the fact that processing of uranium ore (to make it suitable for nuclear plant fuel) generates huge highly toxic-radioactive waste . How can I trust our dysfunctional state and private industries and regulatory bodies to ensure the safety of our environment and health?

  • Comment number 24.

    Here is another link for the drug pollution in India and an indicator of our (Indian) effort (rather lack of it) to gain trust of people.

    "But although Patancheru (Andhra Pradesh) is also home to numerous drug companies, the government has not monitored for drugs being released into the environment. ..
    In 2007, however, a team led by environmental scientist Joakim Larsson of the University of Gothenburg in Sweden published results from one waste-treatment facility, Patancheru Enviro Tech Ltd (PETL)2. Around 90 companies in the region that manufacture active pharmaceutical ingredients, or assemble final drug products, send their waste to PETL. With permission (that ensures the plant is operational for the day, for the survey), Larsson's team sampled the waste exiting the plant; they found drugs including the antibiotic ciprofloxacin, at concentrations of up to 31,000 micrograms per litre, and the antihistamine cetirizine, at up to 1,400 micrograms per litre. The team estimated that the amount of ciprofloxacin entering the river from the plant could amount to up to 45 kilograms a day — the equivalent of 45,000 daily doses, says Larsson.
    Ethel Forsberg, director general of the Swedish Chemicals Agency, says, "but they really cause severe damage to these people living in India around a facility like this."

  • Comment number 25.

    Dear Anticap (#17). You indicated the right issue.
    The problem of the so-called "growth based" economy is never sustainable in the long run. Today we need x million tons of food grain, y GW energy, tomorrow we will need more. Today we need a "second green revolution" (some call- "greener revolution") to feed our growing population for 2030 (I do not know why they restricted till 2030- what will happen after that, even if we achieve the target for 2030!).
    One report suggests that we already need 1.2 earth to sustain just our current global population. Our growing demand for energy also falls in that line.
    Now consider that majority of world population (including those in rapidly developing countries like India, China, Brazil etc are nowhere near the desired living standard that people in very few affluent, first world countries enjoy. China's per capita income (and energy consumption) is about 10 times below that of US, even after so much "development", after so much destruction of its own environment and exploitation of its own resources (that includes human resources as well).

    The same question is intimately related to many other questions related to "sustainability” and "growth", two favorite terms for many, if not majority, corporate, government and even non-profit organizations worldwide. These terms are highly misused or used very vaguely as an advertising tool.
    For a better understanding you can read the self-explanatory article, "Steady-state economy and de-growth models of development" .

  • Comment number 26.

    Why not build nuclear reactors which can withstand even the worst earthquake? Solar, wind, and tidal energy are too expensive. When they becomes cheaper we can shut down the nuclear reactors in a phased manner.

    Any political party, left, right or centre, will try to fish in troubled waters for gaining political mileage. Unlike in many matured democracies, Indian politician views trouble as on opportunity to further his/her own ends. People are a necessary evil.

  • Comment number 27.

    Nuclear waste management is a global problem. So i don't think it's a big problem for india.. Because within next 30-40 years any country will find a solution.. India can buy that technique., it may be bit costlier but who cares.., 25 billions $ are already on stake for this plant,, few more billions $ will not matter...

    Some of the readers are saying that india can invent new solar cells or other techniques., but i don't think it's possible to have a revolutionary invention in this field.. Because these techniques take thier technical time for improvement..
    Solar cells are efficient up to 40%... We can't increase their efficiency to 60% by a single step.. It will be increased to 41% then 42% and so on..However these improvents can even be in decimals..
    Each improvement will take its time.. India can't wait so long,, so nuclear energy is the only solution for india...

  • Comment number 28.

    I have to agree that India's current energy demands can be met for the time being only by nuclear power. However, is it just me or is the plan to construct 'possibly' the world's largest nuclear park a bad case of one-upmanship? Why not build a number of smaller reactors selectively dispersed along the Indian coastline, rather than run the risk of having to secure and maintain a single mammoth facility? This would in essence 'spread out the risks'. Or are safety concerns playing second fiddle to economics in the end? I am also assuming that acquiring smaller tracts of land would be a lot easier and reduce possible conflicts of interest than the current status quo.

  • Comment number 29.

    I regularly read about people who put up solar panels on their house and are able to supply the excess electricity generated to the national grid.
    Can India or for any country not make a rule that at least 75% of the electricity needed by the company produce their own electricity by installing solar panels or wind turbines on their own premises?
    The energy so released from the national grid can then be supplied for domestic needs.
    To say that nuclear is cheaper than other sources, ask the Japanese, Russians, The three mile islanders now. Accidents will always happen. As to why has already discussed. Add the cost of accidents to the unit of electricity produce and lets compare the costs!
    I have no doubt that Solar, Wind and Bio-diesel can solve India's energy needs.

  • Comment number 30.

    Yes politics are always there in any country but the case of India is a bit different they donot have enough resources so going nuclear is a good option but this also gives it the necessacity to be more careful of the technology. The plant being built there is a 1000+ MW in colabration with the French worth 7 billion dollars(6planed plants X 7 billion). Some polticians in India say the technology has not been proved in terms of reliabilty and saftey and if some thing occurs we know what we are onto. I suport the building of nuclear power but when India has so much reservs of thorium(25-32 %) and has the ablity to build 700mW reactors whats the need to huridely sign the nuclear pact and get land from farmers in a sesmic zone and why not build it in a costal area (incase of an accident the sea has the ablity take it up because it get dilluted though not good but on land its the people,animals plants and the ecosystem). I think polticians are the bigest looters by not framing policies and thinking in advance

  • Comment number 31.

    @ Biluemind (#30).
    You are right. India has huge thorium reserve but we do not have the ability to use it (beyond a small "research reactor"). India's ability to innovate and invent is pathetically low and India is "among the least innovative countries in the world" (as per published report). All our pride in high tech areas like nuclear and space research is mainly due to few handful of people educated and trained during British era. Now we simply can maintain the status-quo developed by those brilliant Indian scientists. In fact, it has been known that ISRO and BARC is suffering severe leadership and "scientist" crisis to take our atomic and space research to its next steps.
    Our atomic research hardly progressed in last few decades and that is one of the reasons (lack of technology, besides lack of uranium reserve) why we are/were so desperate for the Indo-US nuclear treaty (which also opened up Indian nuclear market to other countries).
    In short, despite of having huge thorium reserve we are not able to develop any credible technology to use that for mass, civilian nuclear energy.

  • Comment number 32.

    Firstly, we must agree on a few facts here:

    1) India is desperately in need of energy. Electricity production cannot cope up with the demand that 1.2 billion people put on the grids. It is simply appalling. Not only that, the equipment used in power generation in India was used in the USSR during the 1960s and if that doesn't concern you then well...I don't know what will.
    2) Nuclear energy is the most decent way to go forward. Fossil fuel based energy is too expensive, both financially and environmentally. Nuclear energy (compared to fossil fuels) is inexpensive, clean and efficient. It probably is the cleanest and the most reliable non-renewable form of energy that can be put to use for power generation.

    But this is where the dispute lies:

    Should development come at the cost of the livelihood of these villagers? Absolutely not and I personally don't think it is. Here's why:

    Firstly, there is a lot of bandwagon jumping going on at the moment. A major seismic event followed by a tsunami rocked the Fukishima reactor and now nuclear critics are running around with their arms up in the air screaming "no, we'll all die!" - I honestly don't get these people. Yes, there is a threat that a radiation leak might occur but the chances of that happening is rare. This is what, the 3rd time in the past 60 years that a major radiation leak has been reported? and that too because of an unavoidable natural disaster? Compare this to the Union Carbide debacle in Bhopal. I don't see people screaming "stop" when companies set up new chemical plants in India. It's just this mysterious stigma that surrounds nuclear that really scares people and it's not just India. People in South Korea, Germany, France and the United States are doing this too and I find it to be an extreme example of foolishness. Yes, there is a threat that a leak might happen but then again, when this threat is put into context with every other thing we do (and the threat that accompanies those processes), this threat is meager. Take thermal energy for example. The coal that's required to run a plant is obtained by mining the coal and every year, hundreds of workers die doing just that - when was the last time (barring Chernobyl) that you heard a worker die at a nuclear power plant? The Shiv Sena should be ashamed of itself for jumping on this bandwagon just for the purpose of opposing the governing party. It'll only push India deeper into an energy crisis.

    Secondly, and this is a conflicting one...I'm not sure this plant will impact the villagers in a major way. The fukushima plant didn't impact the villagers in that region up until the tsunami hit the region. I'm not saying it will have no real impact on them in the long run, all I'm saying is that it won't interfere with their day to day lives. They aren't poising the water or dumping nuclear waste into the area that'll contaminate the soil and destroy the fertile land. Which probably makes me wonder that this protest has been instigated and this isn't the real reason behind the villagers protest. The real reason I think is the land being taken away. The article above hasn't really dwelt upon this and I'm ignorant on this issue so it'd pointless to dwell deeper on it but I do think that this is the main reason behind the anger. The land was probably valuable to the villagers and the fact that the grass root contractors for the government just took them away is now really angering them. The 'nuclear is bad' movement is only adding fuel to the fire. That said, the government needs to iron out these issues if it hopes to get something done. And it's not just this particular issue, they need to have a clear cut plan for nuclear waste disposal and more importantly, they need to be transparent about it and work with everyone in the parliament to get this bit right - this isn't your usual political nonsense where you can afford to spend billions on idiocy. People's lives are at stake here.

  • Comment number 33.

    This is not true that, "Nuclear energy (compared to fossil fuels) is inexpensive". According to many reports the cost is almost same:
    Nuclear-$ 30,
    Coal- $ 29.1.

  • Comment number 34.

    The main problem for Nuclear energy in India is NOT its desirability (whether we need more energy with less pollution) or technical feasibility or associated technical or environmental risks, BUT the ability, trustworthiness and reliability of our government and other regulatory agencies to operate it safely and in a transparent (to general public) way.
    There is no ambiguity that all those nuclear energy facilities will ultimately be governed by Indian government (either state or central govt). That will severely restrict transparency (in guise of "national security"). And if there is private companies in charge, then a suitable amount of escrow amount and insurance must be applied. In case of accident (like that in Fukushima in Japan) the operator (either private or government) must be held accountable to pay at least the financial cost to clean up and associated damage control (as in BP spill gulf of mexico in US or nuc disaster in Fukushima). That trust is missing in India, as our past experience in Bhopal gas tragedy, is any indicator. It took more than 25 years and then too not much clean up (of environment) or compensation to people. Now both supreme court and Indian govt is thinking re-opening the Bhopal gas issue and extradition of ex-CEO (Arther Anderson) of Union carbide (now DOW chemicals), who fled India with active help from the highest positions in government, both Chief minister of MP state (where the tragedy happened) and Indian prime minister and evaded due law of the land.

    Can we afford the same for a Fukushima type Nuclear disaster in India? the answer is a clear- NO, mainly because our (in)ability and (lack of) efficiency does not allow to react so quickly and efficiently as Japan or other developed countries, in case of any accident (as in Fukushima) .

    Now check any of the investigations and prosecutions in any high profile corruption cases- 2G and CWG (for which only Kalmadi,probably a "small fish" is arrested after a long delay). In none of the high profile corruption cases the internal mechanism worked- the system could not detect, prevent and prosecuted (involved criminals) when the crime/fraud was happening. It (investigation by CBI and subsequent prosecution) ONLY happened after pressure from either court, mainly supreme court (for 2G) or media/people (for CWG).
    We can not afford a similar lapse in case of nuclear disaster.

    But with so much money at stake, it seems to be a loosing battle for many who oppose nuclear power in India. Concerned (befitted) parties include both for the mighty foreign companies (and associated countries and governments to create/sustain jobs in those countries) and Indian companies associated with developing the nuclear power plants and then the energy hungry urban India and Indian industries, who have much more influence in government policies than those "few" affected people in villages.

  • Comment number 35.

    Dear Keshavp (#29) and few others.
    India does not seem to have any concrete plan for biofuel either (both bio-diesel and bio-ethanol/butanol). In recent years (after many reports that clearly shows many negative impacts of biofuel), Indian policy makers are more confused and unable to take any decision, as expected.

    Some years ago India's biofuel policy was more influenced by corporate interest (in perfect classic collusion with policy makers and so-called "scientists"); inexperienced, immature and sometimes typical dishonest Indian "scientists" (I am avoiding to use terms like fraud) to hype for Jatropha and other biofuel sources without much bothering to evaluate its efficacy and consequences on our agriculture. Indian "experts" hardly have their own brains to evaluate any new technology or product but simply copy other foreign experts, as we seen many times in the past; e.g introduction of eucalyptus and some other non-indigenous, mainly copying from Australia, trees for social forestry program all over India that did more damage t our land and local flora and fauna.

    Many informed people believe that, "many Indian companies jumped to biofuel sector MAINLY to reap the rich harvest from huge Govt subsidies". On the other hand, few others believe that, "for most of the corporate houses this biodiesel hype is a shield to grab land in the long run and to get public money (as Govt subsidy) in the short term. Nothing more. We can remember the hype of “sustainable forest” by many Indian companies which latter used that land for real estate purpose. Most of those companies are gone along with the forest land". For a more detail understanding and discussion one can check reputed British research journal's Nature-India forum , "Bio-Fuel policies and controversies around the world. How India is preparing?"

  • Comment number 36.

    Biofuel (mainly biodiesel from drought tolerant plants like Jatropha) surely is a great asset for local energy need in very remote and/or arid or unfertile area for financially backward people/tribes. It does not require great technology to convert ANY oil (from any plant) or fat (even from animal) source to diesel and can easily be introduced in many parts of India (manly the remote, arid regions) without any involvement of for-profit or corporate involvement. The whole purpose of self-sustaining local economy and meeting at least a major part of local energy need will fail if for-profit corporate houses get involved (as biofuel policies in India shaped in recent times).
    But we need to remember that biofuel can never solve or even contribute in a great, significant way towards global or national energy crisis or satisfy huge energy need for our industrial and transportation sector without having a severe negative impact on our agriculture and food prices.

  • Comment number 37.

    The agitation against Nuclear Power plant in various parts of India, is almost like any other agitation that one finds in India, today, politically motivated!!. Regional parties, manipulate the masses into these things only to implement the same policies when they gain power. The real loss, is incurred by naive and often gullible, common man. Why talk about Jaitapur, Singur is no different. The plant will be built anyway, only some people , have realised it is an opportunity to make a fast buck.

  • Comment number 38.

    India needs to build Thorium based nuclear plants and not Uranium based. The world Nuclear lobby is forcing India to go the Uranium way because India will then depend on countries like France, Russia and USA for its needs. India has 35% of world Thorium deposits, the fuel leaves behind very little waste, the plants are smaller and manageable. Granted that Thorium is less radioactive and therefore produces less power - but we can make many small nuclear power stations that are not as susceptible to horrible accidents. But we need Nuclear power.


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