France's President Emmanuel Macron will visit India in December

Implying that the apprehensions of protesters against the Jaitapur Nuclear Power Plant in Maharashtra were unfounded, the Indian Government has said that it will go ahead with the project in collaboration with the French company Electricite De France (EDF), which will be the world’s largest nuclear power plant.

There have been sporadic protests by a section of the locals against the nuclear power plant. Groups ideologically opposed to nuclear power have also protested against the project. “The protests have mainly been on account of issues related to Rehabilitation, apprehensions about safety of the plant and loss of traditional means of livelihood,” the Union Minister of State (Independent Charge) Development of North-Eastern Region (DoNER), MoS PMO, Personnel, Public Grievances & Pensions, Atomic Energy and Space, Dr Jitendra Singh said in written reply to a question in Lok Sabha during the ongoing Monsoon session.

“Nuclear power is clean and carbon free energy with huge potential that can provide the country long term energy security in a sustainable manner. Considering the huge and growing electricity demand of the country, nuclear power projects including Jaitapur will therefore be pursued,” Dr. Singh added.

Apprising the Parliament about the status of the Jaitapur Nuclear Power Plant Project, the Minister said that the land for the project and residential township has been acquired and agreement for Rehabilitation and Resettlement package has been signed between Nuclear Power Corporation of India Ltd. (NPCIL) and the state government and is being implemented.

The protest against the project had gathered momentum in 2008 as the government began acquisition of 938 hectares of land that will impact 2,335 people. The protests from the residents of the five villages had been the primary reason to push back the construction of the project, initially signed between the NPCIL and Areva. But following the economic meltdown of Areva, it was taken over by the EDF.

The anger among the villagers simmered as they accused the government of taking their land by force. The anti-nuclear lobby also raised red-flags over radiation, earthquakes and tsunami especially in the backdrop of the accident at the Fukushima nuclear reactor. The protests had even turned violent in April 2011 when a fisherman was killed and three others were injured.

The NPCIL undertook awareness sessions to allay the fears of the local population. Now, with over 80 per cent of the villagers agreeing to give their lands in lieu of compensation the protests have fizzled out.

The Statutory Environmental and Costal Regulation Zone (CRZ) clearances have been obtained from the Ministry of Environment and Forest and Climate Change. “Site infrastructure and technology independent site investigation works are on…, neighbourhood welfare and Public Awareness activities are in progress,” Dr. Singh said while talking about the status of the project.

An Industrial Way Forward Agreement was signed between India and France during the visit of France’s President Emmanuel Macron and the NPCIL is negotiating with EDF to finalise a Techno-Commercial proposal in line with it. The Indian Government has been expecting to come at an agreement by the end of this year.

The Minister also acknowledged that in the aftermath of the Fukushima accident in 2011 lot of countries have been shutting down their nuclear reactors. He gave example of Germany that had shut down eight nuclear power reactors that had completed their economic life and announced a plan for gradual phase out of the remaining nine by 2022. Switzerland has also announced a gradual phase out of nuclear power. “These decisions are country specific and depend on factors like the country’s nuclear and energy policies, requirements, availability of various energy options, market conditions etc. However, most countries with nuclear power programmes are continuing with their programmes,” Dr. Singh said in defence of India’s nuclear power programme.

He contended that at present there are 453 reactors in operation (including 7 in Germany) and 57 reactors under construction in the world. Also, there are several new entrants like Bangladesh, UAE, Belarus, Turkey that have embarked on nuclear power. He also said that Japan has also started operating eight reactors which were shut down following the accident.