Jaitapur Nuclear Power Plant Salman Taseer’s
Natives of Jaitapur in Konkan—the green ribbon which runs across the coastline of Maharashtra, is flaming red. The anger of people is expanding. It is relentless, exponential, riding and rushing like the waves of Arabian Sea which crashes on the shore.
For the Indian State neither empirical evidences of nuclear disasters or people’s anger has any place in its deranged experiment. After being hounded out from various parts of country and forced to put its plan for nuclear installation on hold—the Indian State has zeroed in on Konkan belt.
The government has learnt lessons from places like Haripur mouza in East Midnapore and Gorakhpur where it had tried to usurp 700 acres and 1000 acres respectively for Nuclear Power Corporation of India Ltd (NPCIL,) plans.
Today, it has converted Jaitapur into a concentration camp. Charges are being slapped on protestors and now there are more armed policemen than the natives whose eyes glint in the twilight paths with the fear of a helpless animal pinned in the headlights of an oncoming truck full of armed men.
The fear amongst the natives is now a constant subliminal hum emanating from slapping of serious criminal charges as a punishment for not heeding the internal protocol devised by the government—a protocol that is never spoken in the press.
The area is cordoned off, and outsiders read ‘unauthorised,’ people are not allowed in the region where NPCIL has decided to put up Jaitapur Nuclear Power Plant (JNPP) having 6 reactors, each of 1650 MWe totalling 9,900 MWe. Two reactors have already been approved in the first phase.
With just a tokenism of support from the establishment press having an attention span of gnat, and politicians of various hues dancing out political businesses in the region, the people of the area are slowly being reduced to semiotic ghosts.
March 16, 1979: Hollywood film China Syndrome, hits the screen in USA cities. The film revolves on an impending nuclear disaster in one of the plants. The nuclear hawks and proponents dismiss it and term it as “an exaggeration, pseudo-science and a hypothetical improbability”.
Twelve days later. March 16, 1979, in an island just 10 miles from Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, disaster struck in three mile island. Though no fatalities were reported, till date nobody is sure as to what effects radioactive water released in Susquehanna river at the time have had on the people living in vicinity. Thirty-one years have passed since the disaster and on April 26, 1986, near Kiev in Ukraine, one of the worst nuclear disasters occurred. The effects are still to be assessed. Twelve years later in Tokaimura in Japan over a 100 people were hospitalised and two workers exposed to radiation during the disaster in the nuclear plant died.
The list is long and it goes back to 1952 when the first recorded disaster occurred on in the Chalk river experimental nuclear plant in Canada. Five years later in the Great Britain’s Windscale reprocessing plant (Sellafield) three tones of uranium caught fire. The effect: over 200 people developed terminal cancer. The exact magnitude could not be ascertained as the radiation spread hundreds of miles across northern Europe.
The Bhopal gas tragedy preys on everybody’s mind and ironically this time it is the women who have taken up the fight. Talking to Uday India, Vaishali Patil of Konkan Vinashkari Prakalp Virodhi Samiti (KVPVS,) from Madban said that a criminal technology with a proven killing record is being carved out and installed with all kind of lies and stories framed in sci-fi imagery that permeates the culture.
“Scientists themselves are talking politics and what we see here is a concentration camp… the state government is forcibly acquiring the land at Madban, Karel, Niveli and Mithgavhane in Rajapur Taluka. Locals till now are opposing and protesting the forcible land acquisition democratically. But the government does not seem to know any kind of democratic methods…a silent genocide, ethnocide and ecocide is being carried out.”
In May this year, a public hearing was held where villagers spoke against the project. Strangely, despite sans any clearance from the Ministry of Environment and Foresty, NPCIl and Maharashtra government started issuing tenders for geological surveys and construction of compound wall building near Niveli village, “as if people’s voice does not matter at all”.
With the initiation of work on sites, eruption of a confrontation was inevitable. And in August, the inevitable happened between the contractor and his men on one side and villagers on the other side.
FACTS AND FIGURES
■ Over the past 60 years, the standards set for occupational exposure has dropped from 30 rems per year in 1934 to 5 rems per year in 1987. These changes in the exposure limits were dramatically altered, as the health effects of radiation became further understood.
■ Single radiation doses of over about 1 gray can cause radiation sickness. Acute effects include nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea, sometimes accompanied by malaise, fever, and hemorrhage. The victim may die in a few hours, days or weeks. Other acute effects can include sterility and radiation burns, depending on the absorbed dose and the rate of the exposure.
■ For radiation doses less than about 1 sievert, stochastic, or random, effects are of the greatest concern. Cancer and inheritable genetic damage may appear many years or decades after exposure. Estimates of the magnitude of low-dose radiation effects have tended to rise over the years, but remain the subject of controversy. That Chernobyl is giving rise to a new range of deformations and that cancer in the United States is becoming an epidemic, provides new opportunities to assess the health risks of routine exposure from leaks in commercial power plants, nuclear weapons production facilities, uranium mines and test sites.
■ The largest source of radioactive waste threatening human health and genomes is the tailings resulting from uranium mining. These mines are often in indigenous communities with lower than adequate public health monitoring and medical facilities.
■ Approximately 2,051 nuclear weapons were detonated in the pursuit of ‘security’ between 1945-1995, an average of one every 9 days during a 50 year period. The 423 above ground tests are estimated to have put 11-13 million curies of strontium-90, 17-21 million curies of cesium-137, 10 million curies of carbon-14 and 225,000 curies of plutonium into the environment.
■ The US National Cancer Institute released a report in 1997 revealing that iodine-131 from nuclear testing was found in every single county of the United States.
■ Temporary sterility in men can occur with a single absorbed dose, of about 0.15 grays, to the testis. In children, the threshold for congenital (existing at or dating from birth) malformation and other developmental abnormalities has been estimated to be 0.25 grays of radiation exposure up to 28 days of gestation.
■ The dose at which half the exposed population would die in 60 days without medical treatment is called the LD50 dose (LD for lethal dose, and 50 for 50 percent). It is about 4 seiverts for adults.
Source: http://www.reachingcriticalwill.org/technical/factsheets/health.html Reaching Critical Will- Health Effects and the Nuclear Age.
And as expected police waiting in the wings swung into action and started picking up villagers. According to Vaishali Patil, when villagers tried to point out to the authorities as well as the contractor about the non-clearance from MoEF, 40 FIRs were filed against the locals.
According to activists, “It is surprising that while on one hand government expects us to use democratic methods for airing our views and grievances, for smothering our voices it uses strong-arm tactics and stoops to any level without any qualms. Even though the anger is slowly corroding the daily lives of locals, we are still attempting to walk on democratic paths.”
Till date neither the centre nor the state nor NPCIL has bothered to answer queries raised by locals. According to leaders from KVPVS—the umbrella organisation of various protest movements in Konkan, the French firm Areva which has been asked to set up the nuclear reactors in Jaitapur, was recently penalised by nuclear regulatory authority of Finland for its flawed design and construction of reactors.
Moreover, sometime back even France, found serious difficulty in maintaining safety at its nuclear infrastructures. A couple of years back, in Romans-sur-Isere in Southeastern France, Uranium-bearing liquid leaked from an underground pipe of Areva’s nuclear plant. The cleaning up operation is still on, according to reports.
Moreover, Ms Patil points out that Konkan region is a seismic zone and the site selected for JNPP falls under seismic zone 4. “The tremors experienced over the years in Koyna valley and Ratnagiri district makes the site inappropriate for a nuclear power plant. Lacks of liters of sea water sucked in and released into sea at higher temperature everyday will severely damage marine aquatic life. Fish and fishing will be in danger. The increased temperatures of the surroundings, billowing clouds of steam, will endanger and destroy the well-developed mango, cashew, other horticulture, forests and also health of people. Considering all the factors, it is an obvious inference that the site selection is unscientific and dangerous.”
She also points out that apart from this “there are eight coal-based thermal power plants of 23,000 MWe capacity proposed in Raigad, Ratnagiri and Sindhudurg districts. The state government has also accorded permissions to mining projects in Mandangad, Dapoli and Dodamarg talukas. Huge piles of stored coal and fly ash will contaminate water bodies in the surroundings. The pollutants, namely, sulphur dioxide, nitrogen oxide, carbon monoxide and carbon dioxide along with arsenic and cadmium will spread over 25-30 km and contaminate air, soil, water. These proposed projects will result in destruction of ecology and means of livelihood of toiling masses of Konkan. CRZ norms will be violated”.
OPPOSING JAITAPUR NUCLEAR PLANT PROMOTES BURNING OF MORE COAL
The environmentalists of India are a peculiar lot. They would oppose the construction of the Jaitapur nuclear power plant in coastal Maharashtra on environmental and other grounds but they won’t realise that opposing the plant with an installed capacity of 10,000 MW would mean burning of millions of tones of coal every year in order to produce the same volume of electricity.
That option of burning greenhouse gas producing coal obviously is an environmentally sustainable means of producing electricity, these people would agree. Won’t they?
Although Environment Minister Jairam Ramesh has said that his ministry had cleared the Jaitapur plant on environmental grounds, his ministry is cancelling hydro-electric plants right and left on similar grounds these days.
Obviously, from that point of view, a coal-fired thermal power plant is more environmentally sustainable form of producing electricity than hydel plants, never mind the fact that a hydel plant does not emit any smoke or polluting gasses.
It is time the Government of India puts its foot down on the arbitrary manner in which hydel plants are being cancelled and the stretch of river like the Ganga which can produce hydro-electricity is put beyond the purview of the Ministry of Power by self-styled environmentalists. It is however regrettable that the Prime Minister and the Finance Minister jointly got the Loharinag Pala hydel plant near Uttar Kashi cancelled on religious ground because a former IIT professor went on a fast at Haridwar demanding cancellation of the plant on which more than Rs 600 crore were already spent.
The cancellation of every hydro-electric or nuclear plant would mean millions of tones of coal being burnt to produce the same volume of electricity. Would one then conclude that environmentalists demanding cancellation of hydel and nuclear plants are acting at the behest of the coal producing organisations and for promoting their business interests?
It is not very well known in this country that France gets about 75 per cent of its electricity needs from nuclear plants alone. No accident has taken place in that country in any of the nuclear power plants.
Ignorant or motivated people had made a great deal of ballyhoo when a nuclear power plant was involved in an accident at Chernobyl in the former Soviet Union. That design of nuclear power plants has been changed and it is next to impossible for a nuclear power plant these days to be involved in such an accident. There is worldwide monitoring of most nuclear power plants and accidents can be ruled out. There are standard procedures for dealing with spent fuel which is observed all over the world.
Nuclear power plants work on the basis of low and controlled emission of atoms from poor quality uranium which produces heat. That heat is used to boil water for producing steam. It is this steam which operates the turbines to produce electricity in a manner similar to that in a convention thermal power plant. A nuclear power plant is actually a thermal power plant but the heat to produce steam is generated by controlled fission of atomic material and not by burning coal.
Standard precautions against accidents or injury to workers are provided. The absence of any accident at any nuclear power plant in the world since Chernobyl is evidence of the safety aspects of nuclear power plants.
Even after this, if environmentalists till oppose nuclear power plants, one has to come to the conclusion that they are interested in burning of coal and thus generating green house gases. This opposition will also cheer producers of coal.
The government, instead of succumbing to pressures from environmentalists and religious leaders should vigorously purse construction of more hydel plants even on the Ganga, the Alaknanda and other rivers in the Himalayas and request countries like France to provide assistance for building more nuclear power plants. Electricity is the key to a Nation’s progress. Fashionable environmentalists are a hindrance to production of clean electricity and the progress of the country.
With the production of only about 1.75 megawatts of electricity, India is one of the least developed countries in the world. Electricity is the key to economic development. Solar and wind power produce miniscule quantity of electricity. Coal-fired plants produce electricity no doubt but also green house gases. The option is clear-like in France-nuclear power.
By Arabinda Ghose
In its study paper, KVPVS points out, “…the risk associated with nuclear power which is usually long-term effects is not just confined to human beings but also to the trees, livestock, fish and environs. Exposure to radioactivity leads to the increase in incidence of tumors, cancer, infertility, congenital deformities, stillbirths etc. The most serious matter is that due to genetic mutations these can be transmitted through generations. An even more monstrous problem is that of safe storage of nuclear waste. Finally, considering the complexity of the technology of a nuclear reactor, there is no way to ensure that a serious accident at a nuclear power plant will not take place. An accident at a nuclear power plant is not a simple accident; it affects the very sustainability of life on Planet Earth. Nuclear energy is also no less harmful in greenhouse gas emissions as compared to coal or gas fired electricity generation, when the entire nuclear cycle from uranium mining to waste storage is considered.”
Maybe, in the process of ravaging, pillaging and destruction some places might be preserved as a kind of historical park for the future generations to show what once was Konkan with semiotic phantom bits of cultural imagery also added to it. And natives probably would be left with mementoes of a scorched out decayed existence and a life not asked for.
And if at all a nuclear disaster does strike then the middle-class which tom-tomms about the much-bandied and abused word ‘development,’ may find themselves snuffed out and maybe the nuclear proponents sitting in Delhi, will spin out platitudes and rake in monies on the howls, cries and deaths of radioactive corroded bodies in cheap coffins.
By Prabhat Sharan