Tuesday, 30 November 2010

Opponents to huge nuclear power project in India arrested

Opponents of the N-plant court arrest during the first jail bharo andolan in Madban village on 29 October.

PHOTO: Greenpeace

Activists and residents in Jaitapur are up in arms after Union Minister of State for Environment and Forests Jairam Ramesh gave the environmental clearance to the proposed 9,900 MW nuclear power plant in the port town located in Maharashtra. The general consensus on the ground is that the project has been cleared in haste without analysing the environmental fallout.

According to activists, the 35 safeguards/conditions, of which 23 are specific to the Jaitapur project, neither highlight the main issues pertaining to radiation concerns, nor offer a solution to the loss of biodiversity and marine biota. They say the conditions just scratch the surface of these issues without dealing with the relevant problems. One of them (No. 10) states, “The existing Alphonso mango trees shall be protected to the extent possible. In case they need to be removed, efforts will be made to replant the same within the project site.” Points like these, the activists say, are hardly grave concerns compared to radiation worries.

Ramesh’s statement that his ministry has no jurisdiction over radiology emission has baffled environmentalists. “It is surprising that the environment minister has no clarity on hazardous stuff because environmentally, radiation eventually affects the ecology and thus becomes the responsibility of the environment ministry,” says Adwait Pednekar of Lok Vidnyan Sangathana, a Mumbai-based organization promoting public debate on scientific issues. Pednekar added that the Environmental Impact Assessment is unscientific and amateurish and does not resemble the work of experts.

The environmental clearance paves way for the Atomic Energy Regulatory Body (AERB) to go ahead with its technological assessments of the European Pressurised Reactor (EPR). When AERB Chairman SS Bajaj was asked about French energy company Areva’s patchy track record with respect to environmental pollution, he remarked, “I don’t recall anything about Areva polluting the environment and I am not concerned about what they do in their country.”

This ambiguity on safety issues is the main bone of contention among activists and people living near the nuclear plant site.

“Officially, the AERB has no clue about the kind of accidents that can occur in an EPR reactor. It will be difficult for the AERB to ask Areva to furnish all details regarding this technology. Besides, how will the AERB determine the radiation doses (the level above which radiation is harmful) emitted?” asks former AERB chairman A Gopalkrishan.

Meanwhile, local residents are planning to stage a dharna. They believe that the environmental clearance was hastily given to speed up formalities before the visit of French President Nicolas Sarkozy, who will ink the final deal for the Jaitapur power plant on behalf of the French government and energy giant Areva.

A day-long protest will be held on 2 December at Azad Maidan while residents of Madban village, the plant site, are planning to organise a second jail bharo andolan. The first was held on 29 October 29, when nearly 1,000 people courted arrest for a day.


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