(Weekly Organ of the Communist Party of India (Marxist)
August 21, 2011
Haryana Nuclear Power Plant: Protests Mount
ON July 25, national
almost three full pages of the Haryana government’s notification to
around 1400 acres of land mostly in the
Farmers in the region are
increasingly restive, especially since the
A recent public meeting organised on August 9 by the All India Kisan Sabha was attended by over 400 local residents, Kisan Sangharsh Samiti representatives, panchayat leaders and mass organisations. D Raghunandan, president, All India Peoples Science Network delivered a special address.
What are the issues raised
specifically with respect to the
The Haryana government has eagerly pursued the Gorakhpur NPP and the UPA-II government has responded expeditiously, keen on a huge and rapid expansion of nuclear energy in India despite mounting criticism of this policy and the manner in which it is being pursued. The central government’s incentive of sharing 50 per cent of the power generated with the concerned state has been seen in power-starved Haryana as a win-win. So much so that even while opposition to the Gorakhpur project has gathered momentum in the area, the Haryana government has identified the site for a second nuclear power plant project in nearby Balsamand village in Hisar district! In this over-enthusiasm, it appears that several essential procedures as regards site selection have been given the go-bye or at best approached very casually.
The Gorakhpur NPP is being
set up by
the Nuclear Power Corporation Company Limited (NPCIL) in collaboration
Haryana Power Generation Corporation (HPGC). The project seeks to set
up 4 x
700 MW units, the first two slated to become operational in 2017 and
two by 2019. Contrary to what some local people seem to believe, these
be based on indigenous Pressurized Heavy Water Reactors (PHWR) unlike
Jaitapur where untested Areva reactors are to be imported from
Before coming to safety issues though, some other aspects of the project that have caused concerns should be discussed.
Even though the project has been on the shelf from as long back as 1984, surveys in the area to establish feasibility as required by the Atomic Energy Regulatory Board (AERB) were conducted in 2001, 2004 and lately in 2007. According to NPCIL and HPGC officials, the project site meets all the criteria laid down as regards type of activity in the area, quality of land, distance from populated areas, availability of water and so on. A closer examination, however, raises many questions.
One major concern is
believed to have
already been flagged by the ministry of environment and forests. The
and AERB norms require abundant availability of water in nuclear power
sites. In PHWRs, water is required mainly for cooling with adequate
availability to cover emergency situations when the plant overheats.
the relevant AERB or other regulatory documents always refer to the
or lakes. But nowhere do they even mention irrigation canals. In
Farmers in the area are
concerned about the impact of diverting canal waters to the NPP on
of water for irrigation and therefore on agricultural output. Of
cooling water may be recycled back into the canal somewhere downstream.
is known that temperature of this water is likely to be 5-6 degrees
higher than the input temperatures and, given the relatively low
water flow in the canal, it is uncertain to what extent the temperature
be brought down or what impact the higher temperature of irrigation
would have on the crops. Ironically,
while these issues are being seriously debated as regards the Gorakhpur
Project, the second site offered in Balsamand has very similar issues
water being sources from the Sutlej Yamuna Link (
It is not known whether
have at all been factored into site selection or environmental impact
assessment (EIA) for the project. Indeed, it is not even known if a
has been conducted so far. There are now new guidelines for EIA for
power plants prepared for the ministry of environment by the
Staff College of India,
The density of the population in the region is hardly surprising given that the area is a prosperous well-irrigated agricultural land served by the Bhakra canal, with productivity over double the state average. This is in sharp contrast to the claims often made by the Haryana government and HPGC officials to the effect that the land is not fertile and therefore choosing this location would not cause much loss. On the contrary, farmers in the region grow wheat and even paddy in some areas, with three crops a year being not uncommon. It is for this very reason that, although the union government has readied a new land acquisition bill which provides that acquisition of multiple-crop lands will not be permitted, that the provisions will have retrospective effect for pipeline projects and that all land acquisitions will be kept pending till the act comes into effect, the Haryana government has declared that these provisions will apply to all land acquisition cases except for the Gorakhpur NPP! Farmers of the area are furious that they are being singled out for this unfair treatment. Many residents are also contemplating returning the compensation they have taken, some admittedly in the hope of getting substantially higher amounts going by the example of the striking farmers of Noida Extension.
One of the major
provisions in the
EIA guidelines, as well as in any proper land acquisition process, is
examination of whether any alternatives have been explored. It does not
that this has been done in the Haryana NPPs. Certainly, the
The fact that the
Gorakhpur NPP is
based on the indigenous PHWR technology should have caused less anxiety
safety grounds that the untested Areva plant design selected for
other Boiling Water Reactors (BWRs) likely to be available from the US.
Unfortunately, the UPA-II
and the nuclear establishment has approached this deeply felt and
public concern very casually. Within days of
This casual, some would say foolhardy and smug approach to nuclear safety has only reinforced the worst fears and skepticism not only in the general public but even among scientists, technologists, other experts and concerned citizens.
For instance, these have
demanded that the AERB be made fully independent of the government and
especially of the department of atomic energy whose activities the
and safety agency is supposed to exercise oversight on. The government
assured that this would be done, but no serious moves have yet been
Given the off-hand manner with which the so-called safety audit was
The guidelines for EIAs for nuclear facilities speak mostly of Design Basis Accidents (DBA), ie, those accidents that may occur within the usual parameters of a plant’s operations. It goes only to say that, of course, “beyond DBA accidents” could occur from extreme events like earthquakes, cyclones etc but that “such accidents can never be anticipated and/or fully programmed [for]” and leaves it to post-facto emergency preparedness plans, which are usually non-existent or ill-prepared with little infrastructure or institutional capability for implementation, to deal with them. But the issue, especially in the post-Fukushima scenario, is precisely that major accidents can and should no longer be viewed as something you hope will not happen, as something to be responded to after the fact, but as something that could very well happen and for which preparedness should be built-in to project planning and design from the outset.
is little sign
this is happening in