Sometimes large segments of the human race seem to contract collective amnesia. That is apparently the case with the already-approved, Jaitapur Nuclear Power Project on India’s west coast. But if one thing’s for sure, it’s that greed for electricity profits knows no bounds — or borders for that matter. The green-lighted 9,900 megawatt plan, if carried out, will be the world’s largest nuclear power facility. The “nuclear park” would contain six massive 1650 megawatt reactors, courtesy of Électricité de France (EDF), and would be operated by government-owned Nuclear Power Corporation of India Limited (NPCIL). EDF, which is about 84% owned by the French government, is the largest electricity company in the world, and took over the project from Areva NP, another French government-owned company, after it bought a majority stake in Areva in July of 2015. It is the opinion of the EnviroNews USA Editorial Board, that this project should never be allowed to see the light of day. Here’s why:
The Technology Is Unproven — This Is Not the Place to Test It
The “third generation” technology planned for Jaitapur was developed by Areva and Électricité de France (EDF), and by Siemens in Germany, and is known as a European Pressurized Reactor (EPR). No EPRs are in operation anywhere in the world today, and India’s west coast is not the place to test the technology. EPRs can run on 5% enriched uranium oxide fuel, reprocessed uranium fuel or 100% mixed uranium plutonium oxide fuel — all of which are extremely long-lived and very toxic to the environment and all life. The schematics are similar to those of generation II reactors with a few added safety features, though EPRs are larger, more powerful and potentially more deadly. In November of 2009, the nuclear industry regulators in France, Finland and the United Kingdom issued a joint letter to Areva, rebuking the manufacturer for safety shortcomings, stating:
The issue is primarily around ensuring the adequacy of the safety systems (those used to maintain control of the station if it goes outside normal conditions), and their independence from the control systems (those used to operate the station under normal conditions). Independence is important because, if a safety system provides protection against the failure of a control system, then they should not fail together. The EPR design, as originally proposed by the licensees and the manufacturer, Areva, doesn’t comply with the independence principle, as there is a very high degree of complex interconnectivity between the control and safety systems.
Other EPRs are also under construction in France, Finland and China, and in all three situations, the projects are over budget and years behind schedule. This is not a good sign. EPR technology has been riddled with snags and setbacks since the onset. The fact the EPR reactors slated for Jaitapur are simply massive in size, makes the situation that much more dangerous.
The Would-Be Nuclear Park Is Slated for a Seismically Unstable Area
India has an earthquake hazard zoning map — a ranking system that categorizes seismically active places in the country between one and five — one being the least intense; five being the most. Jaitapur, and surrounding areas in the state of Maharashtra, rank a four on that scale. Level four is titled ‘High Damage Risk Zone.’ Though much propaganda has been circulated claiming Jaitapur is a three, and that no seismic activity has been recorded in the area for “90 years,” this is simply not true. In the past two decades, the region has experienced three quakes measuring five or higher on the Richter scale. An earth-rattling event known as the Latur Earthquake in 1993 measured 6.3 and left 9,000 people dead. Despite what some reports may claim, Jaitapur is susceptible to tsunamis — just like every other coastline on that planet. While some may say oceanic fault-lines in this area are too weak to produce a Fukushima-style wave, EnviroNews thinks it best not to underestimate the power of nature — or the earth itself — best to not temp fate — and best to not gamble for a few billion in nuclear power profits when the health and wellbeing of the planet is on the line. Even if it is true that India’s west coast is less prone to tsunamis than say, Japan, an earthquake is not the only thing that can cause a tsunami — a very small asteroid could do the same thing, and space rocks do strike the earth or come startlingly close to it with surprising regularity. The planet simply can’t afford another nuclear catastrophe of epic scale whereafter India’s government and the operator are sitting there saying, “Well, that was an unforeseeable act of God.” Actual unforeseeable acts of God can be destructive enough, but putting a nuclear power plant into the equation only increases the potential for damage. Humanity has been very fortunate so far that more earthquakes and/or tsunamis haven’t smacked into nuke plants and caused meltdowns, but given enough time, natural disasters are likely to cripple power plants again. Is it really worth the risk?
The Locals Don’t Want It — Opposition Has Been Fierce
Local opposition against the massive, already-approved nuclear park, has been fierce to say the least. Many protests have already been waged against the project with many more sure to come if construction commences. On April 19, 2011, an event turned violent when fisherman Tabrez Soyekar was gunned down by police for vocalizing his opposition. Sadly, governments across India, have a dismally bad track record when it comes to respecting the lives of dissenters. Thousands of people in and around Jaitapur are sustained by agrarian activities and fishing. All-in-all, 40,000 peoples’ livelihoods would be in jeopardy from the project. And it’s these same communities that have lead the charge against the Jaitapur power plant from the onset. The reactor park is slated to engulf approximately 2,400 acres of land, and would destroy the encompassing villages of Varliwada, Niveli, Karel, Mithgavane and Madban. The government has offered to pay villagers for the land they will lose, but only 114 out of 2,375 families affected, have claimed any money — the rest have refused the compensation as an act of protest. It is clear a vast majority of the people inhabiting the region don’t want it, so why should it be built there?
The Project Is Astronomically Expensive
The overall cost of the nuclear mega-park is projected to exceed $17 billion (USD), though many critics say the plant will require way more money than that to reach completion. Some say the true cost of building the park could run in excess of $50 billion. Kumar Sundaram, a senior researcher at Coalition for Nuclear Disarmament and Peace (CNDP), wrote in Truthout:
If we go by the cost of EPRs in the United Kingdom, each Indian reactor may cost as much as $8.9 billion. Two reactors in Jaitapur’s first phase will cost as much as India’s total expenditure on science and technology (including the departments of space, science and technology, biotechnology, and research for the entire country). A diplomatic cable revealed by WikiLeaks quoted the general manager of the Nuclear Power Corporation (NPCIL), saying that India is paying a “high” price for Jaitapur.
The other EPR reactors under construction in France, China and at Finland’s Olkiluoto 3 plant, are behind schedule and badly over budget. This has sounded the alarm to banks and investors and demonstrates the Jaitapur plan will likely take longer, and cost far more than initially anticipated. No matter what the final cost ends up being, it would trump by several folds, the cost of constructing wind, solar or other renewables to generate the same amount of electricity. For this reason, and the aforementioned cost and budgeting problems, the plan should not be considered feasible and should be scrapped altogether.
Jaitapur Is a Biologically Diverse “Hotspot”
Jaitapur is in the majestic Konkan region, considered one of the world’s 10 “biological hotspots.” The area, famous for its lush green environment, harbors rolling hills, creeks, mountains, lagoons and stunning plateaus. Additionally, it is home to 5,000 flowering plants species, as well as 139 mammal, 508 bird, and 179 amphibian species, including 325 internationally threatened species. Konkan is also famous for its agriculture and for the Alphonso mango — the world’s most beloved. Cashews, kokum, coconuts, betel nuts, pineapples and many other fruits and vegetables are also farmed in abundance in the breathtakingly beautiful place. The biological diversity and abundant agriculture in this region make the construction of the world’s would-be largest nuclear power plant questionable at best.
Continual Hot Water Discharges From the Massive Nuclear Park Will Raise the Temperature of the Arabian Sea
If Jaitapur is completed and becomes operational, it is projected that the park will discharge a simply massive 52 billion liters of hot water every single day into the nearby Arabian Sea. With this much hot water flowing into the Arabian, experts say this will raise the temperature of the sea by a staggering 5-7 degrees Celsius. An alteration of water temperature this drastic will undoubtedly have an adverse effect on fish, other aquatic life and the ecosystem at large, in an area heavily reliant on fishing for survival.
The Environmental Impact Assessment Conducted for Jaitapur Was “a Joke”
In the United States, when an industrial enterprise wishes to set up shop on a new facility or other exploit, it is required by law, via the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), to provide an environmental impact assessment (EIA) as part of the permitting process. The enterprise must convince regulatory bodies, whether it be at the local, state or national level, that its endeavors won’t perpetrate unreasonable harm on the affected ecosystem or the environment at large. Granted, the process is often heavily skewed to favor the applicant, often allowing it to provide its own cherry-picked or payed-for science, in an effort to convince regulators and get permit approvals. Even though EIAs are often accepted with little push back or scrutiny and permits are frequently rubber-stamped, shoddily performed EIAs often provide strong grounds for environmental organizations to later sue polluters in court — and judges have often sided with the plaintiffs when they make a strong case that an EIA is flatly false or woefully incomplete. If you think polluters are too cozy with regulators and the procedure is too lax in the United States, try India’s process on for size. Jaitapur’s EIA was conducted by the government-run National Environmental Engineering Research Institute (NEERI). In his report, Sundaram of CNDP wrote, “NEERI did not even look into the crucial aspects of radiological releases, decommissioning and nuclear waste, besides summarily neglecting the vital issues of ecosystems and livelihoods, terrestrial ecosystems and farming, mangrove forests and the fragile marine ecology and fisheries in the region.” For these reasons and more, the project should be stopped until a more thorough environmental review is performed.
India’s Plan to Deal With the Waste Is Weak (if Not Nonexistent)
As with all nuclear power plants, the daunting conundrum is what to do with the radioactive waste that will inevitably stack up on-site, after the electricity has long been generated, transported and burned . Jaitapur is certainly no different in these regards. In the U.S., where 104 reactors pump out power by way of the “peaceful atom,” there is still no longterm workable solution regarding where to ship the dangerous leftovers, and what to ultimately do with them. For decades, spent nuclear fuel, as well as endless barrels of radioactive byproduct, have been piling up on-site at America’s nuclear power plants. The waste oftentimes winds up being stored in a Russian-doll fashion, with barrels inside of barrels inside of containers inside of cement casks. While these dregs will be radioactive for hundreds of thousands or millions of years, this method offers only a short term solution, with no real longterm strategy in sight. 50 years after launching its nuclear program, India, like America and many other nuclear-powered countries, remains without a longterm geological repository for high level radioactive waste. Though the country has commenced surveys to find a suitable location where such a facility could be built, as for now, it remains without one. The Jaitapur nuclear mega-park, if completed, will generate tons of long-lived nuclear waste — materials that will remain toxic to all life for millennia. Bringing Jaitapur online without a way to deal with the nasty leftovers is yet another classic example of putting the cart before the horse.
The Region Encompassing India and Pakistan Needs Less Plutonium Bomb Fuel, Not More
When it comes to making the world’s deadliest bombs, plutonium is the fuel of choice. Though a naturally occurring element, almost none of this remarkable substance existed on the whole of planet earth before the dawn of the nuclear age. It is farmed and harvested from nuclear power reactors — oftentimes under the guise of the “peaceful” electricity-producing atom of course. It’s hard to believe that in 2016 we can still have neighboring countries sitting there with nuclear warheads pointed at each other with their fingers on the button. But that is exactly where we are at in regards to India and Pakistan. With about 120 warheads each, pointed at each other 24/7, the two unforgiving countries remain perfectly positioned to end all life on earth if things get out of hand — and get out of hand they could. India and Pakistan are the only two nuclear-armed countries since the 1960s to engage in military conflict, and those tensions have been escalating as of late. Multiple shootings of the other side’s soldiers have occurred in Kashmir recently, with many policy expert saying war between the two nuclear powers seems likely. The prospect of nuclear war is downright scary, as even a fraction of the two countries’ nuclear arsenals, if detonated, would starve humans across the globe under the dusty radioactive cloud of a nuclear winter. The last thing humanity needs is a plutonium-pumping beast in Jaitapur, piling more of the lethal element into India’s hands — a country that continues to be positioned juxtaposed with Pakistan, where the two continuously hold each other by the balls in a nonsensical nuclear juggernaut.
There Are Far Safer and More Cost-Effective Ways to Generate Electricity in This Area
Nuclear power is, bar none, one of the most expensive forms of electricity generation on the face of the planet. Certainly, it is a ludicrously onerous method of boiling water and generating steam. If all the externalities, including deaths and medical expenses from accidents and environmental contamination, were factored into the kilowatt-per-hour expense, this form of energy would become so costly and out of reach that it would be phased out of existence without further ado. Of course with nuclear, as with other forms of subsidized dirty energy, the taxpayer and other sectors of society continue to foot the bill for the externalities. Even still, without externalities being factored in, nuclear is by far one of the most expensive forms of energy on the market. From front-end uranium mining, through the refining and enrichment processes, to the behemoth projects encompassing nuclear power plant construction, the method seems a ridiculously cumbersome technology, next to even coal or natural gas, let alone things as rudimentary as solar or wind. When you boil it all down (pun intended), let’s face it, there are cheaper, cleaner and more efficient energy technologies than nuclear. If Kumar Sundaram is correct, and just the first two EPRs at Jaitapur would end up costing “as much as India’s total expenditure on science and technology,” doesn’t that seem a bit like putting too many eggs in one basket? Either way, massive stretches of green energy projects could be constructed in place of the already-approved multi-billion dollar nuclear park — and people would surely sleep more soundly at night if India chose that path instead.
Didn’t We Learn Our Lesson? Jaitapur: A Fukushima Waiting to Happen?
As was mentioned in the first paragraph of this editorial, sadly, vast segments of the human race oftentimes suffer from collective amnesia. A prime example of this can be seen with the new Russian-funded, Astraviec Nuclear Power Plant in Belarus — the country hardest hit by Chernobyl’s radioactive fallout in 1986, and a country harboring millions of children still requiring medical attention to this day as a result of that catastrophe. The project has already had an emergency where the government withheld the truth, after crews dropped a reactor during a test lift. Well, apparently thirty years has washed away all the bad memories of Chernobyl, and everybody is now ready for another round. Fukushima is a crisis that is far from over, and a crisis that continues to unfurl deadly plutonium, uranium, cesium and other isotopes into the Pacific Ocean on a daily basis, poisoning the entire food-chain and all life in the process. The site of the Fukushima disaster still poses a huge threat to the world, and will continue to do so for decades to come, yet in India, they are ready to build the biggest nuclear dragon the world has ever seen — right on the coast — right in a seismically active zone. Contemplating humanity’s forgetfulness on the aforementioned catastrophes, one might be left to ask questions like these: Do we humans ever learn anything at all from our mistakes? Or, are we simply doomed from failing to read the writing on the wall, time and again, when we are lucky enough to squeak our way through the next nuclear crisis? How many bullets can we dodge, before we are hit with a fatal, planet-wide, radioactive shot? What will it take for humanity to ultimately learn its lesson? And can humanity learn, before it’s too late?