People's Democracy

(Weekly Organ of the Communist Party of India (Marxist)


Vol. XXXV

No. 44

October 30, 2011

 

Nuclear Deal Outcome:

 

Stop Import of Nuclear Plants

 

Prakash Karat

 

THE Indo-US nuclear deal was heralded as opening a new chapter in Indo-US relations and a major step towards assuring energy security for the country.  Thanks to this deal, it was claimed that electricity would be available to all houses and villages in the country. In order to justify the deal, it was projected that 40,000 megawatts of nuclear power is to be installed by 2020 and that would require importing nuclear reactors on a large scale.  The Manmohan Singh government gave a commitment in writing to the Bush administration that it would buy nuclear reactors of 10,000 MW capacity from the United States. 

 

Two years since the nuclear deal was concluded, there is a different reality.  The nuclear deal does not appear to be what it was purported to be. One by one, the false claims of the Manmohan Singh government are being exposed.  The CPI(M) and the Left had pointed out that the assurance given by the prime minister that the nuclear deal will open the way for full nuclear cooperation was baseless.  The bilateral agreement for the civil nuclear cooperation with the United States does not provide for it. Subsequently the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) has issued a fresh guideline which prohibits supply of  reprocessing and enrichment technology to non-NPT countries like India. 

 

Soon after the nuclear deal was concluded, the government announced five nuclear parks where imported nuclear reactors would be set-up.  The first agreement was signed with the French company, Areva, to buid two 1,650 MW reactors at Jaitapur.  This is the first of the nuclear parks, where eventually six reactors are to be set-up.  These are reactors of a new type the European Pressurised Reactor (EPR). It has not yet been commissioned in France or elsewhere in the world.   In both France and Finland, where these reactors are under construction, they have got delayed and incurred huge cost overruns.  It is estimated that the sole EPR reactor in Finland will cost over seven billion Euros which is more than Rs 40,000 crore.  A recent report in The Hindu has highlighted the problems faced in the construction of the reactor in France at Flamanville.

 

The Manmohan Singh government, in order to show the successful outcome of the nuclear deal, is committing to spent over Rs 2 lakh crore for the French nuclear reactors in Jaitapur. The government is not divulging the actual cost of the reactors. This untested technology bought at astronomical prices will mean that the cost of electricity produced will be not less than Rs 20 crore per MW.  This means electricity produced here would cost Rs 7 to 8 per unit.  The cost for the Indian Pressurised Heavy Water Reactor (PHWR) is Rs 8 to 9 crores per MW.  The people living in the area around Jaitapur in Ratnagiri district have been protesting against the Jaitapur project from the outset.  Apart from the displacement, there are genuine concerns about the environmental hazards and the safety of the nuclear project.

 

Along with Jaitapur, the government is proceeding to set-up nuclear parks in Chhaya Mithi Virdi in Bhavnagar district in Gujarat, Kovvada in Srikakulam district in Andhra Pradesh and Kudankulam in Tamilnadu. The fifth site Haripur in West Bengal has already been abandoned after opposition from the people in the area.  The Gujarat and Andhra sites are meant for the US reactors.

 

 

In Mithi Virdi, people of fifty coastal villages, who will be directly affected by the nuclear plant, have decided to fight against the land being acquired.  They have been resisting all efforts to get the site acquired.  In Kovvada in Andhra Pradesh, the local people have begun to organise to oppose the nuclear plant to be set-up.  In all these areas, a significant feature is that political parties irrespective of their affiliations are supporting the struggle.

 

The Fukushima nuclear accident in Japan in March 2011 has dramatically highlighted the question of the safety of nuclear power plants.  Even seven months after the disaster, 100,000 people are living outside the affected zones.  The radiation levels which were initially underplayed by the private nuclear power company and the government had also affected Tokyo. 

 

The Fukushima disaster has had a major impact on the people in all the places where the nuclear parks are being set-up.  Apart from displacement, loss of livelihood and environmental concerns, the paramount concern has become the safety and the health of the people.   It is also this which has impelled the protest movement against the two Russian reactors which have been installed in Kudankulam. 

 

At the time of the nuclear deal, the CPI(M) and the Left had strongly argued that the import of nuclear reactors for power generation would be costly and unsustainable.  When India has indigenously produced the PHWR, it was totally unnecessary to go in for the light water reactors or the French EPR. But the UPA government was bent upon pursuing the deal by making the commercial offer of buying imported reactors.

 

In order to fulfill its commitments made in the nuclear deal, the Manmohan Singh government took another unconscionable step it had promised to pass a civil nuclear liability law which would provide immunity to foreign nuclear suppliers from any liability claims.  The government tried to pass such a legislation, but due to the vigilance of the Left in particular and the Opposition, it could not avoid a clause which gave recourse to the operator to make the foreign supplier liable in case a manufacturing defect or substandard equipment led to an accident.  The chicanery involved to nullify this clause, after the standing committee had adopted it, was exposed. 

 

Even this limited clause is being objected to by the United States. Hillary Clinton, the US secretary of state, has peremptorily demanded that India bring its civil nuclear liability legislation in tune with the international Convention on Supplementary Compensation.   This Convention favoured by the United States, does not provide for any liability for foreign suppliers.  The US nuclear companies have not entered into contracts with India as they want the liability clause nullified. 

 

After Fukushima where billions of dollars are being spent by the Japanese government, it has become all the more obvious why India needs to have a strong law which will make foreign suppliers liable for damages in the event of a nuclear accident.

 

The grand design of the Manmohan Singh government for dotting the country with imported giant nuclear reactors is coming up against a wall of resistance.  In Jaitapur, Mirthi Virdi, Kovvada and Kudankulam, the people have declared in no uncertain terms that they want to have nothing to do with the nuclear parks.  Their struggle will be supported by the overwhelming sections of the Indian people. 

 

The recently constituted National Committee for Solidarity with Jaitapur is an expression of this support.  While the struggle in Jaitapur is to be immediately taken up as it is the most glaring  example of  unconcern for the people and the cost to the country,  steps will have to be taken to make the struggle against all the foreign  nuclear parks a national one. 

 

The Manmohan Singh government should heed the voice of the people and halt forthwith all plans to import nuclear power plants.  Along with this, the Regulatory Authority to be set-up to oversee the safety of nuclear plants has to be genuinely independent and autonomous, unlike the bill presented in parliament for this purpose.  There has to be a safety review of all existing nuclear plants and this must be conducted by an independent committee. Only this will assure the people.