The nuclear power park proposed for Jaitapur, Maharashtra, will be the largest in the world at a single site. The project will cause huge and harmful environmental impacts, yet the risks have not been properly assessed.
The land assigned to the Jaitapur Nuclear Power Plant is 938 hecatres of the Madban plateau, in Ratnigiri district of Maharashtra. This lateritic plateau is one of the world’s ecological and biodiversity ‘hot-spots,’ a rich grassy plain sloping down to glittering coastline in the lush region of Konkan, south-west India. The Environmental Impact Assessment report for the Jaitapur plant has termed this land as “rocky with poor fertility” and “barren,” conveniently paving the way for construction. This is a lie.
Madban’s rich biodiversity spans moist deciduous and semi-evergreen forests, open scrubs, mangrove forests and coastal and creek waters. It is a unique and highly delicate ecosystem, in which all species exist in a fine and integrated balance. Constructing a nuclear power plant there will destroy its natural wealth.
What is an Environmental Impact Assessment?
Proposed projects in India require environmental clearances from the Ministry of Environment and Forests, and this includes any new nuclear power projects. Clearances are based on the findings of an Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) report. However, there are a lot of problems with the EIA process that prevents it from being an objective evaluation, particularly in the case of nuclear power projects.
EIAs are prepared by independent consultants, but the data they use on background radiation and how much radioactive material is expected to be released is provided to them by the nuclear establishment. This removes any assurance of impartial evaluation of radiation exposure around nuclear power plants. The assessment of the risk from radioactivity - the singular largest concern for nuclear power projects - is also admitted to be outside of the expertise of the environment ministry, and so performed by the Atomic Energy Regulatory Board, or AERB. While the AERB is the designated safety regulator for all nuclear matters in India, their ability to deliver this mandate is severely compromised by the fact that it is provided technical staff by the Department of Atomic Energy.
After the written report, the EIA process has two further components: a public consultation and an appraisal by a committee of experts. Both these processes are often heavily biased towards the nuclear establishment. Concerns raised by the public are glibly dismissed, responded to with simplistic answers that insult the intelligence of those posing the questions, or sometimes simply ignored. Members of the apparently objective committee of experts, charged with making a final decision on whether a project should be cleared or not, are often sourced from within the nuclear establishment that they are supposed to be assessing.
The impact of reprocessing spent nuclear fuel, one of the most highly radioactive and therefore dangerous steps of the nuclear fuel chain, is exempt from EIA reports in India.
The Jaitapur EIA
The Ministry of Environment and Forests has issued legally binding guidelines for EIAs on nuclear facilities. The Jaitapur EIA ignores or glosses over many of these. For others, it presents data and conclusions which are simply wrong.
Crucial areas that the Jaitapur EIA report fails to assess to any satisfactory level include:
- Impacts of routine radiological releases on people and environment.
- The possibility of an accident, or impacts of a large radiological release.
- Health impacts of routine emissions for the estimated 1000 site workers, despite an 5% increased risk of cancer.
- The chequered history of the European Pressurised Reactor, of which no examples are in operation anywhere in the world.
- Impacts the 938-hectare-plant will have on livelihoods, land ecosystems and marine ecosystems.
- How the plant will be decommissioned at the end of its life and what environmental impact that process will have.
- How high-level radioactive waste will be disposed of or how it will contaminate the environment.
- Fails to consider any alternatives for either site or technology.
It’s a sloppy report, with mistakes and contradictions even from one page to the next.
The public consultation for Jaitapur was held in May 2010 under the watchful eye of a large police force: hardly an atmosphere for comfortable and democratic protest. Protocol dictates that the EIA must be distributed at least a month in advance to all affected villages in the local language, which in this case would be Marathi.
Yet the Marathi EIA for Jaitapur was handed to only one of the five villages that fall in the proposed plant site, and only four days before the hearing. Hardly sufficient time to analyse a 1200-page document on the environmental impacts of unknown nuclear technology in your neighbourhood.
Environmental Impact Assessment for Proposed Jaitapur Nuclear Power Park, Village Madban, District Ratnagiri, Maharashtra, prepared by National Environmental Engneering Research Institute, Vol 1, Ch 1, p. 7
A Nuclear Enron? Frontline magazine, Vol 28 Issue 03, Jan 29-Feb 11, 2011, Praful Bidwai
The Environmental Impact Assessment Process for Nuclear Facilities: An examination of the Indian Experience, M. V. Ramana, 2009. http://princeton.academia.edu/MVRamana/Papers/264402/The_environmental_impact_assessment_process_for_nuclear_facilities_An_examination_of_the_Indian_experience
Report on visit to the proposed site of nuclear power plant, Jaitapur, Bombay Natural History Society.
Environmental Impact Assessment Notification - 2006, Ministry of Environment and Forests
2010 Environmental Impact Assessment Guidance Manual for Nuclear Power Plants, Nuclear Fuel Reprocessing Plants and Nuclear Waste Management Plants, Ministry of Environment and Forests