Jaitapur nuclear power plant
The government is planning to build the world’s largest nuclear power plant in Jaitapur, on the west coast of India, in Maharashtra. The site is an ecological and biodiversity ‘hotspot’ that's also known to have high seismic activity. The plan is an untested, expensive and dangerous gamble with health and land, which is being vehemently opposed.
Six 1650 MW nuclear reactors, provided by French company AREVA NP. The reactors will be operated by the Nuclear Power Corporation of India Limited (NPCIL), a company owned by the Government of India. With the backing of the government, NPCIL is pushing ahead with its plans despite fierce local resistance to the project.
If built, the total capacity of 9900 MW will make the Jaitapur nuclear reactor ‘park’ the largest in the world.
The reactors are European Pressurised Reactors, or EPRs, a design developed by AREVA NP. There are no EPRs operational yet anywhere in the world, and the safety and reliability of the technology is highly questionable. The EPR is based on the same principle as older reactors and, being more powerful, presents even more potential for catastrophe.
Three EPR construction sites currently exist in the world, in France, Finland and China. The plants in both France and Finland have repeatedly run over budget, and are running years behind schedule while there is little information on the status of the projects in China.
On rocky ground
The land for which the Jaitapur nuclear power plant is intended is classified as a seismic zone four, out of a possible five. This has been confirmed by documents obtained under the Right to Information Act of 2005. The website of the National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA) also places Ratnagiri, the district where Jaitapur is located, as a zone four region.
Seismic zone four is known as the ‘High Damage Risk Zone’, under the national system for assessing the likelihood of earthquakes. Further, documents reveal that ninety-two earthquakes have occurred there in just the twenty years between 1985 and 2005. The most severe one measured 6.3 on the Richter scale.
However, in the Jaitapur Evironmental Impact Assessment of 2010, the NPCIL stated that the site was classified as zone three, which corresponds to a lower risk. The organisation has also recently begun to respond to public pressure on the plant by stating that the Jaitapur site is a mere zone three.
Jaitapur is in the Konkan region in the Western Ghats. It is considered to be one of the world’s biodiversity hotspots and is home to thousands of species of plants and animals, many of which are threatened. This project will put this entire ecosystem at considerable risk.
There has been fierce opposition to the project from the people of Jaitapur and the surrounding areas. Land has been forcibly acquired in most cases. While there have been attempts to paint the agitations against the plant as being primarily driven by a demand for higher compensation, this is far from the truth and objections to the reactor are manifold. The issues at stake for the local people include concerns about loss of livelihood, serious damage to the environment, issue of safety given the seismic activity of the site, track record of disaster preparedness in India, and finally but importantly, the complete lack of transparency about the project. The government has made no genuine attempt to address the issues raised and has essentially been trying to gloss over them while stubbornly pressing ahead with the plan.
Early this year, NPCIL expanded the consortium of banks which will invest in Jaitapur from five to fifteen. While the initial list of banks included HSBC, BNP Paribas, Credit Agricole, Sociate Genrale and Nataxis, later other banks such as Citibank, JP Morgan Chase and Santander were also invited to invest. Commerzbank and Deutsche Bank - the top two German banks - were also invited to be part of the consortium. While Commerzbank decided not to invest in the project early on, Deutsche Bank expressed interest in participating in the project. Now it is confirmed that Deutsche Bank has decided to cancel its participation. The fact that Jaitapur is located on a seismic zone is of grave concern to banks. The events of Fukushima will certainly further intensify those concerns.