Erstellt am: 27. 4. 2011 - 11:12 Uhr
India's Nuclear Renaissance
As there are increasing pressures on many European countries to phase out nuclear energy, in India, a nuclear renaissance is being touted as the only way to satisfy the rapidly developing country’s mushrooming energy needs.
At the moment there are 22 nuclear reactors in India which provide around 3% of India’s energy needs, but the government plans a massive expansion of that nuclear infrastructure to cover 25% of India’s energy needs in the coming decades; and that means building a lot of new reactors - some 40 are in the planning stage.
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The most controversial of these projects is the Jaitapur Nuclear Power Project in the Konkan region, a string of heavily vegetated coastal mountains on India's west coast.
The government has forcibly acquired 931 hectares of land to build six nuclear reactors. Built with the help of massive investment and technical help from the French firm Avera S.A., it is planned to be at 9900 megawatts of power, it is the biggest nuclear power plant ever proposed in the world. It will be built in the Konkan region, in the Western Ghats province, which political activist Praful Bidwai calls an “extraordinarily precious ecosystem”. Greenpeace India says that the area is home to thousands of species of plants and animals, many of which are threatened. “This project, ” the ecological pressure group says, “will put this entire ecosystem at considerable risk.”
The locals are not happy; and not just because of the impact of biodiversity. “Of the 2,275 families whose land was forcibly acquired,” reports Bidwai in the Guardian, “95% have refused to collect compensation, including one job per family. The offer provokes derision.” The fishermen on the coast are worried that no-one will want to buy their fish anymore and the farmers are worried that no-one will want to buy their crops. The area has a rich array of cashew nut, pineapple and coconut groves and is the home of the acclaimed Alphonsoe mangoes. Farmer's representatives have claimed that Western companies have already indicated they will stop buying the fruit after 2018, when the first reactors will go into operation, because of consumer fears of radioactive contamination.
Locals have been sceptical about government attempts to allay their fears. They have been drawing on the proud Indian culture of passive resistance and civic disobedience. "When teachers were ordered to teach pupils about the safety of nuclear reactors," Bidwai told the Guardian, "parents withdrew children from school for a week."
Our correspondent in India, Geeta Pandey, told me that the protests have advanced from a local issue to a national rallying call in the wake of the on-going nuclear crisis at Fukushima . Like Japan, the Konkan is a seismic area - opponents of the nuclear plants in Konkan have listed 95 earthquakes in the area in the two decades between from 1985 to 2005. The authorities have dismissed these as insignificant tremors and have pointed out that the Jaitapur reactors will be of a more modern design than the plant at Fukushima and will safe from tsunamis because they are being built at the top of a high cliff.
But since Fukushima, people are less willing than ever to accept the assurance that a system is fail-proof. The villagers have been joined by high-profile scientists, intellectuals and anti nuclear activists, 50 of whom have written an open letter the government calling for a moratorium on new projects. “The Japanese nuclear crisis is a wake-up call for India,” they wrote. Even the Environment Minister, Jairam Ramesh, has written a letter to the Prime Minister questioning the wisdom of the project.
Pandey suggests that the environment minister’s objections, while appreciated by the protestors, won’t prove decisive in this argument. The decision has already been taken higher up the chain of command: “We are talking about a massive amount of international investment here. The deal between Avera and the state-owned Nuclear Power Corporation of India Limited has been $9.3 billion and they is also a massive amount of prestige involved.” The deal to start building 2 of the planned reactors was signed 6 days before a visit from French President Nicolas Sarkozy in early December of last year.
Indeed, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh seems committed to atomic power. In 2008 he signed a controversial civil nuclear deal with the Bush Administration in the United States that gave access to US civilian nuclear technology and fuel.
It seems that India will get its nuclear plants, whether the local people like it or not. “They want to move the country forward,” a young fisherman told the New York Times, “but they don’t care what happens to the common man.”
To be fair, the government of India is under pressure to find new sources of energy fast. A new census this month recorded the population at 1.2 billion. And the pro-capita energy consumption is growing even faster than the population as India's development hits a dizzying pace and the government cannot put this growth at risk because of power shortages.
This energy has to come from somewhere and there are no easy solutions. At the moment India is currently very dependent on coal. The WWF has warned that two-thirds of India’s CO2 emissions come from coal used in power generation-- they are expected to become the world’s third-largest CO2 emitter by 2015. Coal in India is dirty and unhealthy. It may be more familiar, but science suggests we should be at least as wary of coal as of nuclear energy. A draft report last year by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in the USA found that the ash contains significant levels of carcinogens, and that the concentration of arsenic in ash, should it contaminate drinking water, could increase cancer risks by several hundred times for those living near plants. Ash from burning coal also contains the radioactive isotopes uranium and thorium.
Indian coal is also finite. The WWF speaks of an "imminent shortage of domestic coal"; so the government can't afford to see it as a long-term option. Delhi sees India's nuclear renaissance as a way to increase energy security and help fight climate change.
Geeta Pandey on India's Nuclear Renaissance
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But critics say that India, a country it seems, of hi-tech innovators, has to start developing its renewable sources, particularly wind and solar energy. Indian ecologist Madhav Gadgil has told the Times of India that Delhi needed to follow the Scandinavian model of achieving development and prosperity without harming nature. The WWF's Shruti Shukla has called for, "…rigorous pursuit of alternative solutions." Perhaps solar energy could fill some of the gap:“We have plenty of sun in India,” laughs our correspondent Geeta Pandey. “In fact many people say we have too much."