In the aftermath of the agitation at Jaitapur and the use of coercive action against the protestors, the Prime Minister assured the nation that “the initial results of the six safety review Committees set up by the Government of India after the Fukushima accident will be made public. Action taken on previous safety reviews will be put in the public domain.” So far, this has not been done. Against such a backdrop, the angry protest of Haryana villagers against the proposed nuclear plant 210 kms from Delhi on 17 July, a day after the biggest rally in Tokyo following the manmade disaster of Fukushima demanded an end to nuclear power, reveals the unity of the struggle against nuclear power.
This struggle is unfolding in the face of the anti- nuclear power stance of countries such as Australia, Austria, Denmark, Greece, Ireland, Italy, Latvia, Liechtenstein, Luxembourg, Malta, Portugal, Israel, Malaysia, New Zealand, Norway, Germany, Spain and others who are opposed to nuclear power. India has 20 nuclear reactors operating in six nuclear power plants, 7 reactors under construction, and is planning an additional 24 such reactors including the one at Fatehabad.
Disregarding the global movement against nuclear power, the Haryana State Pollution Control Board attempted to hold a fake public hearing on 17 July, 2012 at Sahid-e-Azam Bhagat Singh Stadium in Gorakhpur, Fatehabad district, Haryana. for the proposed 2800 MW nuclear power plant at Gorakhpur village. The central government’s Nuclear Power Corporation of India Limited (NPCIL) was present, but without the Environment Impact Assessment (EIA) report. The villagers bitter protest against the plant, against the backdrop of the manmade disaster of Fukushima compelled the officials to huddle together and leave the venue abruptly. The collusion between the administration and the NPCIL was quite manifest.
The villagers underlined that such plants should not be set up. A total of 1503.5 acres of agricultural land is required for the project. The Gorakhpur Nuclear Power Project will create 4 heavy water nuclear power plants of indigenous design, with a capacity of 700 MWs each. Out of the four, two will be constructed in the first phase. This will be the biggest indigenous nuclear power plant built in the country.
The land is being acquired from Gorakhpur, Badopal and Kajal Heri villages. Notification for this acquisition was issued in 2011 under the ‘urgency clause’ of the Land Acquisition Act, 1894. This is unmindful of the fact that the proposed Land Acquisition Bill, Land Acquisition, Rehabilitation and Resettlement Bill, 2011 has a provision for not acquiring irrigated and multi-cropped land for non-agricultural purposes.
The proposal for the nuclear plant violates the Atomic Energy Regulatory Board (AERB)’s own rules. The site is in the midst of a region which has high population density. Small towns like Fatehabad, Ratiya, Tohana are almost 30 kms away.
The 1,000-page Special Report on Renewable Energy Sources and Climate Change Mitigation (SRREN) has found that renewable energy could account for almost 80 per cent of the world’s energy supply within four decades. In India, it can account for a higher share if people’s felt need for energy is prioritised over the needs of companies addicted to ‘profit at any cost’. It is time a referendum was held in Haryana and elsewhere in India too to decide whether or not renewable energy is the preferred choice.
Sensing imminent dangers villagers turned up in huge numbers to denounce the nuclear power plant amidst massive police presence. The activities at the Sahid-e-Azam Bhagat Singh Stadium demonstrated the veracity of what has been stated in a paper ‘The environmental impact assessment process for nuclear facilities: An examination of the Indian experience’ by M.V. Ramana wherein he has rightly argued that “the EIA process with regard to nuclear projects in India is of dubious quality.” The three levels of conflict of interest that have been identified in the EIA process for nuclear facilities are relevant for the EIA report of the proposed atomic power plant in Fatehabad.
First, the EIA is prepared by consultants who are retained to work on behalf of, and by implication act in the interests of, their client —the nuclear organisation proposing the project. Secondly, the organisation that has been tasked with preparing the EIA to support its proposal for a project, is the same organisation that will beneﬁt from the project.
The third conflict of interest is that the regulatory agency Atomic Energy Regulatory Authority is itself regulated by the nuclear power promoters, the Atomic Energy Commission which is under the direct charge of the Prime Minister.
The EIA report reveals that the water requirement for the project will be met from Fatehabad Branch of the Bhakra Canal. Unlike the sea as a source of water in the case of Fukushima, in Fatehabad, canal water is the only source for water.
Within minutes of the departure of the officials from the venue of the stage managed and fake public hearing — due entirely to massive opposition from thousands of villagers who are against the setting up of the hazardous plant in their fertile agricultural land — the Member of Parliament (MP) from Hissar, Kuldip Bishnoi reached and assured support against the nuclear power plant. Abhay Chautala, the MLA from Ellenabad also entered the venue and promised to stop the construction of the proposed nuclear plant in the way it has been done in developed countries like Germany.
Both Bishnoi and Chautala expressed their solidarity with the protesting farmers. Both the leaders challenged the Haryana Chief Minister to locate the plant in his own village instead of endangering the villages of Fatehabad.
Such a stance by members of legislature was in complete contrast with the conspicuously deferential approach of the district administration towards the project proponents. Authorities illustrated the fake nature of the public hearing process as they left without reading out the minutes of the proceedings and seeking the consent of the villagers who were there, as is mandatory under the Environment Impact Assessment Notification, 2006.
It is noteworthy that the distance between Fukushima and Tokyo is 238 kms. Despite this, after the nuclear disaster on 11 March 2011, the population of Tokyo was forced to evacuate. The distance between Delhi and Fatehabad, where the nuclear power project is proposed to be set up, is 210 kms. It is high time residents of Delhi face upto the possibility of imminent nuclear radiation threats from the proposed atomic power plant and prepare for emergency evacuation if the Fatehabad facility comes up. In fact Delhi is at a ‘as-the-crow-flies’ distance of just 150 kms.
Farmers in Fatehabad are aware that the West Bengal government has refused permission for a proposed 6000 MW facility near the town of Haripur that was intended to be the site for six Russian reactors.
Under the influence of nuclear technology companies, India has drawn up a plan to reach a nuclear power capacity of 63,000 MW in 2032. Such claims of the Department of Atomic Energy (DAE) under the Prime Minister are not credible. As per DAE’s plans, India should have had a nuclear power capacity of 8,000 MW by 1980 but its actual installed capacity was 540 MW. It set a target of 43,500 MW for 2000. But the installed capacity in that year was only 2,720 MW. The current installed capacity of nuclear power is just 2.32 per cent at 4,780 MW. The actual production requires rigorous examination.
The 1,000-page Special Report on Renewable Energy Sources and Climate Change Mitigation (SRREN) has found that renewable energy could account for almost 80 per cent of the world’s energy supply within four decades. In India, it can account for a higher share if people’s felt need for energy is prioritised over the needs of companies addicted to ‘profit at any cost’. It is time a referendum was held in Haryana and elsewhere in India too to decide whether or not renewable energy is the preferred choice. Will our government pursue the policies needed to travel on an alternative power route by resisting the vice-like grip of nuclear power companies?
Unjustified & Unreasonable
Robust public meetings in Gorakhpur village in Haryana’s Fatehabad show how they have gained a critical mass after 2 years of struggle against the proposed nuclear power plant. Drawing lessons from the Fukushima nuclear disaster, opposition parties, villagers and civil society groups are opposed to the setting up of nuclear power plants. In the meanwhile, former Army Chief, General V.K. Singh, has joined the people’s movement against a nuclear plant. He asked the government to reconsider the proposal as it was unjustified and unreasonable to set up a nuclear power plant on fertile and arable land surrounded by a thickly populated place. Former IAS officer, M. G. Devasahayam also joined the ‘dharna’ of farmers agitating against the proposed nuclear power project.
Prior to this, a writ petition was filed in the Supreme Court in October 2011 seeking direction for stoppage of construction of all proposed nuclear power plants in the country. The petition urged the court to declare as “unconstitutional” the Civil Liability for Nuclear Damage Act, 2010 and “appoint an expert independent body to conduct a thorough safety reassessment of all existing and proposed nuclear facilities across the country”. It has come to light that the Liability Bill was drafted under pressure from and under the influence of the nuclear industry. So far, this petition has been called for hearing thrice, including 17 July 2012, before S. G. Shah, Registrar, Supreme Court instead of the bench.
The petitioners include former Cabinet Secretary T. S. R. Subramanian, former Chief of Naval Staff L. Ramdas, former Chief Election Commissioner N. Gopalaswami, K. R. Venugopal – former Secretary to the Prime Minister, and scientist P. M. Bhargava. They are demanding an expert nuclear regulator, independent of the government. to conduct comparative cost-benefit analysis vis-a-vis other sources of energy. In the case of a nuclear accident, all nuclear operators and nuclear suppliers should be jointly and severally, and absolutely liable for civil damages, and their financial liability. If nuclear plants are indeed safe as is claimed by its proponents, then the liability should be unlimited. This petition is significant in the context of anti-nuclear struggles in Tamil Nadu, Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh, Andhra Pradesh, Jharkhand, Maharashtra, Meghalaya and elsewhere.