February 25, 2024

Resistance to Jaitapur Nuclear Plant Grows in India

They stood to lose mango orchards, cashew trees and rice fields, as the government forcibly acquired 2,300 acres to build six nuclear reactors — the biggest nuclear power plant ever proposed anywhere.

But now, as a nuclear disaster unfolds in distant Japan, the lonely group of farmers has seen support for their protest swell to include a growing number of Indian scientists, academics and former government officials. “We are getting ready for bigger protests,” Mr. Gawanker said.

While the government vows to push ahead — citing India’s energy needs — Indian newspapers recently reported that the environment minister wrote Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to question the wisdom of large nuclear installations. And a group of 50 Indian scientists, academics and activists has called for a moratorium on new projects. “The Japanese nuclear crisis is a wake-up call for India,” they wrote in an open letter.

Opponents note that the area was hit by 95 earthquakes from 1985 to 2005, although Indian officials counter that most were minor and that the plant’s location on a high cliff would offer protection against tsunamis.

The heated debate shows how the politics of nuclear energy may be changing, not only in the United States and Europe but in developing countries whose economies desperately need cheap power to continue growing rapidly.

For Indian officials intent on promoting nuclear energy, the partial meltdowns and radiation leaks at the Fukushima Daiichi power plant in Japan could not have come at a worse time. Currently, India gets about 3 percent of its electricity from the 20 relatively small nuclear reactors in the country. But it is building five new reactors and has proposed 39 more, including the ones here in Madban, to help meet the voracious energy needs of India’s fast-growing economy.

Only China, the other emerging-economy giant with a ravenous energy appetite, is planning a more rapid expansion of nuclear power. Beijing has indicated that it, too, plans to proceed cautiously with its nuclear rollout.

By 2050, the Indian government says a quarter of the nation’s electricity should come from nuclear reactors. And the project here would be the biggest step yet toward that ambitious goal. The planned six reactors would produce a total of 9,900 megawatts of electricity — more than three times the power now used by India’s financial capital, Mumbai, about 260 miles up the coast.

So far, workers on the site are simply digging trenches, as a dozen police officers provide round-the-clock watch. Protesters, including Mr. Gawankar, have been arrested at various times, and state police officials have banned gatherings of more than five people in the villages near the site.

Prime Minister Singh has been so committed to atomic power that he staked his government’s survival in 2008 on a controversial civil nuclear deal with the United States. That agreement, completed last year, opened the door for India to buy nuclear technology and uranium fuel from Western nations that previously would not sell to it because of India’s refusal to sign the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty.

Most of India’s reactors have been indigenously developed, but it is now building two reactors with Russian help. The proposed nuclear plant in Madban will use a new generation of reactors from the French company Areva. Projects using technology from the United States, and from Japan, are also planned.

Government officials have said that India will conduct more safety reviews to make sure its existing reactors and new proposals are safe. But they reiterated their commitment to nuclear projects, including the one in Madban, which has been named the Jaitapur Nuclear Power Plant, after a nearby village.

Many Indian scientists, though, remain distrustful of India’s nuclear establishment. And they criticize the decision to use Areva’s new reactors, saying they are unproved.

Heather Timmons contributed reporting from New Delhi.

Article source: http://feeds.nytimes.com/click.phdo?i=4f6e32fc8e8143f5b2315310553c44c7

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