Nuclear madness at Delhi’s doorsteps
The proposed nuclear plant in Haryana is facing protests by villagers who are unwilling to part with their farm land for an unsafe future
THE NUCLEAR plant accident in Japan earlier this year marked the 25th anniversary of world’s worst nuclear disaster at Chernobyl in Ukraine. Both the incidents, though separated in time, are grim reminders to the world that we need to apply brakes on the ruthless use of technology. The fact that a nation as orderly and as technologically advanced as Japan struggled to control its ‘rogue’ reactors, points towards limitations of us humans when facing nature’s fury. In the wake of such looming disaster, several countries around the world declared moratoriums on their nuclear energy programmes.
Germany shut down seven of its reactors and reiterated its decision to move away from nuclear fission as an energy source. China, which has the largest reactor building programme in the world now, halted all construction and ordered strict safety review. So did many others with the only exception being India when our Prime Minister casually declared in the Parliament within two days of the Fukushima accident in Japan that "all nuclear plants in India are safe." How could any serious safety audit of 20 operating reactors (two of which are as old as Fukushima and with the same design, having been supplied by GE of the USA) and a host of mining, milling, fuel-fabrication, reprocessing operations spread all over the country be completed in two days? Why should we the people trust such callous nuclear establishment in our country? In this backdrop, we must understand the Indian government’s insane designs of placing large multiple-reactor nuclear power parks all over the country in the garb of generating "clean energy" for the fast growing economy.
It’s not really a good deal
The proposed nuclear power plant at Gorakhpur village in Haryana is an example of how policy makers are pushing the agenda even if it means putting the local population at risk and upsetting the agriculture-based economy.
Gorakhpur village in Fatehabad district of Haryana is about 210 km by road from Delhi (the straight-line distance is 150 km). The proposed nuclear power plant project to be established here will have four 700 MW capacity reactors based on the indigenous design of Nuclear Power Corporation of India Ltd (NPCIL). Till date, India does not have such a large nuclear power plant though many of the new proposals like that in Jaitapur, Maharashtra, are even bigger. A total of over 1,500 acres are being acquired for the project including 1,313 acres from Gorakhpur village, 185 acres from Badopal and 3-5 acres from Kajal Heri village.
Though the NPCIL site selection team visited the area in early 2010, the in-principle clearance for the project had already been given in October 2009. At the beginning some of the villagers welcomed the project believing this would lead to increase in their land prices but from August 2010 onwards they have been strongly resisting setting up of the plant. This happened because of gradual generation of awareness about the possible dangers of a nuclear power plant. A kisan sangharsh samiti was formed which has been organising a continuous sit-in protest in front of the mini-secretariat at Fatehabad district headquarter since August 17, 2010. Around 30 villages of Fatehabad district have now passed resolutions opposing the project.
Impact on locals
The proposed power plant township will be established at the Badopal village which has a population of around 20,000. This is a gross violation of the Atomic Energy Regulatory Board norm which says that no habitation of over 10,000 people should exist within 6.6 km of sterile zone from the boundary of any nuclear power plant. Nearby towns of Fatehabad, Ratiya and Tohana have much larger populations whereas Hisar with a population of over 2 lakh is hardly 30 km away.
Since the proposed site is only 150 km from Delhi, the wind pattern will also easily bring the radioactive release to doorsteps of the national capital in case of any major radioactive leakage. Needless to say a large population will face adverse health impacts and will be in constant fear of a catastrophe. The economy of Fatehabad district is largely agricultural with many agro-based industries also contributing to its prosperity. The primary agricultural products are wheat, mustard, rice and cotton. Despite being a low-rainfall region (around 400 mm a year compared to even dry Delhi’s 615 mm), land in the region gets three crops primarily because of water supply from the Bhakra branch canal.
As the Fukushima nuclear disaster has dramatically demonstrated, continuous cooling of a nuclear reactor is critical. Since Fatehabad area has no perennial rivers or a big lake, the proposed nuclear plant will be entirely dependent on this canal for its huge water requirement. The state government has already assured 320 cusecs of water to the nuclear plant which is bound to adversely impact agricultural economy of the area thus affecting tens of thousands of inhabitants who are dependent on farming.
Why nuclear when alternatives exist?
The question most frequently asked is we need electricity, so where will this come from? It is a valid question and has valid and non-destructive answers unlike nuclear energy. Currently, Haryana has a fairly large installed conventional power capacity (including its share from projects in other states) of over 5,000 MW and another 2,500 MW is scheduled to come on stream within a couple of years. Any additional requirement can be fulfilled with both renewable and extra biomass-based power generation. A recent study by the Haryana Renewable Energy Development Agency (HaREDA), a government undertaking, estimates that the state can generate around 1,100 MW of power from surplus agricultural and forest biomass available in house. At present, the state is generating only 128.11 MW of power from all renewable energy sources. The net surplus biomass available after consumption by way of domestic use and subtraction of sugarcane biomass is 8,416.47 thousand tonnes which holds the potential of producing 1,019 MW of power.
With such options available why Haryana needs to even think of the dangerous nuclear power as an option? This mad drive for profit-driven power generation will only lead to disaster. Let’s promote judicious use of power besides actively pushing for energy equity and energy security. Not energy gluttony.
Soumya Dutta is convener of the Bharat Jan Vigyan Jatha. He has been spearheading the protest against Gorakhpur nuclear plant in collaboration with Kisan Sangharsh Samiti and Parmanu Urja Virodhi Morcha, Haryana.