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Viva Areva?

During his visit to France in 2015 Prime Minister Narendra Modi signed two agreements with the French Company, Areva, to install four nuclear reactors of a collective capacity of 9,990 MW at Jaitapur

Policy Pulse
Publish Date: Feb 20 2016 6:21PM | Updated Date: Feb 20 2016 6:53PM

Viva Areva?file : photo

As French President, Francois Hollande, was on a visit to take part in Republic Day, Pulse Environment Correspondent points to the need for an open discussion about the French nuclear power plant proposed in Maharshtra’s Ratnagiri district that has so far only raised a red flag regarding safety 


With French President Francois Hollande invited as the Chief Guest for this year’s Republic Day – activists at Jaitapur are planning massive protests in an attempt to revive the agitation against the proposed nuclear plant there. 


During his visit to France in 2015 Prime Minister Narendra Modi signed two agreements with the French Company, Areva, to install four nuclear reactors of a collective capacity of 9,990 MW at Jaitapur in Maharashtra. Then, the PM called it his Government’s “biggest achievement, even more than Make in India”. 


But there were many question marks that have been raised about the project especially about its financial viability as just a month after the PM’s visit, Areva announced losses amounting to 4.8 billion euros, and in June the French government announced that the company would be bifurcated. But it’s not just the financial soundness of the project; its impact on the environment still remains a huge cause of concern.


To begin with, the land assigned to the Jaitapur Nuclear Power Plant is 938 hectares of the Madban plateau, in Ratnigiri district of Maharashtra.  Though the Environmental Impact Assessment report for the plant has termed the area as “rocky with poor fertility”, environmentalists and activists disagree. 


Hofeza Merchant, a nuclear activist with Greenpeace says that “The environment impact assessment hasn’t been done properly by the Government. The area assigned for the plant is one of the world’s biodiversity and ecological hotspots. Madban’s rich biodiversity spans moist and semi-evergreen forests, open scrubs, mangrove forests and coastal and creek waters.  It is a unique and highly delicate ecosystem, constructing a nuclear power plant there will destroy its natural wealth.” 


In fact, ever since the project was announced many locals have been up in arms against it as there are concerns about their livelihoods, and damage to the environment. The locals feel that the project will ruin their traditional livelihood of fishing by polluting the local water bodies. 


In addition, "The nuclear power plant is being built on the land that was earlier used to cultivate alphonso mangoes. The construction would take away the livelihood of the farmers in the area and would be an environmental hazard also," said Kavita Krishnan, secretary of the AIPWA (All India Progressive Women's Association).


Another big issue that has been raised many times by activists is the seismic activity around the site. “The biggest issue of concern is that this area is prone to earthquakes as Ratnagiri is class 4 seismic zone, which is a high damage zone. We are not convinced with the site evaluation assessment; the geological assessment of the area hasn’t been done properly”, says Hofeza Merchant. 


In fact, the Chaturvedi committee which had been appointed to assess the impact of the plant had cautioned that “At areas within 5 kilometres of Madban plateau earthquakes can occur any time”. It also said that “tectonic features in the area can be regarded as a potential source of earthquakes as some of them may get reactivated at any given point of time”. 


Any proposed project requires environmental clearances from the Ministry of Environment and Forests, and clearances are based on the findings of an Environmental Impact Assessment report.  


However, activists feel there are a lot of problems with this particular project. The Environmental Impact Assessment report for Jaitapur was conducted by the National Environmental Engineering Research Institute of Nagpur. The report was commissioned and paid for by NPCIL, the Government-owned company that is building the Jaitapur nuclear park. Thus, activists feel there is a conflict of interests.  


Also, the environmental clearance given to power plants is valid for five years and it was given to the Jaitapur power plant on November 26, 2010, and since then no work has happened on ground, and activists say that the clearance given then is null and void now. The activists are threatening to agitate if environmental clearances are given without due diligence and following all the procedures. 


The toxic burden of the plant also needs to be taken into account. According to a report by Greenpeace, if the project is commissioned then all the six reactor pressure vessels inside the nuclear islands will have 1000 tons of radioactive fuel generated from the first day on. 


The other problem is that the European pressurised reactors, which are designed and developed by Areva. are not functional anywhere in the world yet. So the safety and reliability of the technology is still untested. Areva is struggling to complete two identical reactors first in Finland and the second in France. Those projects have also been plagued by security flaws, delays and cost overruns, with two others being under construction in China. 


With its single product catalogue, Areva has struggled to complete two identical EPR reactors, the first at Olkiluoto for TVO in Finland (still not operational despite a nine-year delay and a trebling of costs), and the second in Flamanville, France, plagued by equally serious construction and security flaws, delays and outrageous cost overruns. 


Two others under construction in China, Taishan I and II, are reported to be on schedule but could also face delays if nuclear watchdogs discover flaws in the reactors’ steel core similar to those found in France. The reactor cores of Taishan I and II were also forged by Areva.


The French Nuclear security watchdog, ASN, has issued a number of severe warnings to Areva over some major security issues. Its reactors’ weakness of the steel core, where the fusion takes place, has also been a major area of concern. 


But there are some who think otherwise, like Sandeep Aggarwal, CFO of Insecticides India Ltd, who has a branch office in the area, feels, “If the project works then we can get over 9000 MW of power. Just imagine how much it can help the farmers there. All the assessments have been done, so why raise these issues now?” 


But an impact assessment report by Tata institute of Social Sciences had strongly opposed the plant proposed at Jaitapur. The report said that this project would have a huge negative social and environmental impact on not just villages nearby but on the surrounding Konkan region in general. 


It is surprising that despite all these concerns, the Modi Government has gone ahead and revived this controversial project. Was it under pressure from the French Goveernment? Whatever their compulsions, for the locals the issue at stake is not only their livelihood and damage to the environment but also the safety of the nuclear reactor itself. And given the seismic activity of the site and the Government’s track record vis-a-vis disaster preparedness, these concerns are certainly not unfounded. 


The Government now needs have an open debate and allay all these concerns of activists and the locals before moving any further to set up the nuclear plant.