(Weekly Organ of the Communist Party of India (Marxist)
September 16, 2012
No Imported Nuclear Plants, No Compromise Safety
THE setting up of mega nuclear power plants by importing reactors, is running into serious opposition all over the country. The UPA government had announced that it will install 40,000 MW of nuclear power by 2020 and this would require importing nuclear reactors on a large scale. This was done to justify the Indo-US nuclear deal. At that time, the Manmohan Singh government gave a commitment in writing to the US government that it would buy American nuclear reactors of 10,000 MW capacity. This was a “sweetener” to get the deal.
The UPA government has planned for setting up nuclear parks in Jaitapur (Maharashtra), Chhaya Mithi Virdi in Bhavnagar (Gujarat), Kovvada in Srikakulam district (Andhra Pradesh) and Kudankulam (Tamilnadu). These nuclear parks with multiple imported plants being set up at the same site should be opposed – on techno-economic and safety considerations. After the nuclear deal the first agreement was signed with the French company, Areva to build two 1650 MW reactors at Jaitapur. The plan is to eventually set up six reactors. These types of reactors – European Pressurised Reactors (EPR) are more expensive than other imported reactors. They have not yet been commissioned in France or elsewhere in the world. The government has not divulged the actual cost of the reactors. But on the basis of the cost incurred for the EPR reactor in Finland, it is estimated that six French nuclear reactors will cost over Rs 2 lakh crore. This untested technology bought at astronomical prices will mean that the cost of electricity purchased will not be less than Rs 20 crore per MW, whereas the indigenous Pressurized Heavy Water Reactor (PHWR) cost is Rs 8 to 9 crore per MW. This means electricity produced here would cost Rs 7-8 per unit.
The mega nuclear parks planned to be set up in Gujarat and Andhra Pradesh with US reactors would also be costly. The whole idea of importing nuclear reactors on such a large scale is unviable and is part of a flawed plan for energy security.
The CPI(M) is totally opposed to the import of nuclear reactors for power generation as they would be costly and unsustainable. When India has indigenously produced the PHWR, it is totally unnecessary to go in for the Light Water Reactors or the French EPR.
Further, in all the sites selected for the mega nuclear parks there are serious issues of displacement of people from their lands and their livelihood. After the Fukushima nuclear accident in Japan in March 2011, the question of the safety of nuclear power plants has come to the fore. It has become clear that setting up of six reactors at a single site as in Fukushima is fraught with serious risks and hazards.
The CPI(M) is opposed to the proposed nuclear parks being set up with multiple imported nuclear reactors. In this context, questions are being asked about the Party’s stand with regard to the Kudankulam nuclear power plant. Why is it that the Party has not supported the demand for shutting down the two nuclear reactors bought from Russia being commissioned there? These two reactors which have been installed in Kudankulam fall in a different category. These reactors were purchased from Russia much before the Indo-US nuclear deal. Construction to set up the two reactors has already been completed at an overall cost of Rs 15,000 crore. It will not be practical nor in the country’s interests to shut down these two units.
This stand of the CPI(M) is criticised by some as adopting a different position to that taken regarding the Jaitapur and other nuclear parks. This criticism has come mainly from those who do not want civilian nuclear power and nuclear power plants in India.
The main reason for the agitation by the local people against the plant has been the fears for their safety. This became pronounced after the Fukushima disaster. There are genuine apprehensions among the people regarding the safety of a nuclear plant in their area and their concerns should be taken seriously. The CPI(M) had stated last year when the agitation began that till all the safety measures are put in place and the apprehensions of the people allayed, the plant should not be commissioned. The Party wanted an independent safety review to be undertaken. However, the government and the Department of Atomic Energy did not do so. They have not clarified if all the safety measures recommended by the Atomic Energy Regulatory Board have been put in place. Nor has it made public the Safety Analysis Report.
The CPI(M) is still of the opinion that till credible safety measures are introduced and the safety audit report made public, the people’s concerns cannot be met. Instead of doing so, the central and state governments have unleashed police repression on the people protesting against the commissioning of the plant. The CPI(M) condemns the repression against the protesters and the filing of cases of sedition against a large number of them.
While the CPI(M) does not call for the shutting down of the two reactors, the Party is opposed to new units being added at Kudankulam. The government is planning to put in four more reactors there. The argument against the setting up of nuclear parks elsewhere applies to Kudankulam too.
The issue of adequate compensation for the people affected in the event of a nuclear accident is also a vital issue. Parliament adopted a civil nuclear liability law rejecting the UPA government’s efforts to exempt the foreign suppliers from liability. Rules are to be framed under this Act. The government is trying to dilute even the limited liability provisions in the Act.
Foreign suppliers of reactors do not want the liability law to be applied to them. This is one more reason not to import foreign reactors, since in the agreements signed with the foreign companies the issue of compensation to be paid by them is sought to be nullified. In the case of the new additional reactors in Kudankulam, the Russian company is not willing to accept the liability clause. Hence, this is an additional reason not to have more Russian reactors in Kudankulam.
The CPI(M) is not opposed to nuclear power per se, subject to safety requirements being met and if the techno-economics of nuclear power is favourable. India has developed indigenous nuclear technology. There is no need to import nuclear reactors. However, given the international experience with nuclear power and especially the Fukushima accident, it is important to ensure the safety of nuclear plants, review the safety measures in the existing nuclear plants. There are genuine concerns about the safety standards in the existing nuclear installations. There are serious concerns about the Tarapur nuclear plant which was set up with two General Electric reactors supplied by the US in the 1960s. These reactors are even older than the G E reactors in Fukushima, and are known to share the problems faced in the Fukushima reactors. We believe that after Fukushima, these reactors should be shut down.
There has to be an independent safety audit of the existing nuclear plants. The prime minister had ordered a safety audit of the nuclear plants after the Fukushima disaster. But this was done by the Atomic Energy Regulatory Board and not by an independent body. There has to be an independent and autonomous nuclear safety and regulatory agency. The government has brought a Bill in parliament for this which does not however serve the purpose.
Till a full-fledged review is done of the safety measures in the existing plants, no new nuclear plants should be set-up. There has to be more rigorous environmental standards and safety measures put in place.
We cannot accept the government’s energy plan which involves a big thrust for nuclear power. India’s growing energy requirements will need continuing emphasis on utilising its massive coal reserves, more reliance on natural gas and the development of new sources like solar energy.
The prime minister’s delusion of a “nuclear renaissance” and the government’s plan to dot the country with imported mega nuclear parks must be resolutely opposed. The various movements of the people developing against the imported nuclear plants should be made into a national movement.