Like many energy poor countries with rapidly rising economies, India’s government sees the development of a nuclear power industry as a potential godsend to meeting soaring demands for electricity.
But the country’s proposed nuclear program has run into increasing resistance, following the devastating earthquake and subsequent tsunami that on 11 March 2011 devastated Japan’s Daichi nuclear power plant complex, taking all six Tokyo Electric Power Co. (TEPCO) reactors offline. Public opinion in India is concerned because the country is subject to both of the natural phenomena, and authorities are declining to release relevant materials.
The issue is not insignificant, as nuclear power is now the fourth-largest source of electricity in India, exceeded only by thermal, hydro and wind power, with its 19 online nuclear power plants (NPPs) generating 4,560 megawatts of electricity.
In the most recent example of governmental stonewalling, New Delhi is declining to release to the public a geological study of the Jaitapur region in Maharashtra State on the Arabian Sea, where the government intends to construct a NPP.
India’s government has already seen significant public protests over the $2.5 billion Kudankulam NPP in Tamil Nadu state, containing six 1,200 megawatt and two 1,000 megawatt reactors and now nearly complete. On 11 January Nuclear Power Corporation Of India Limited (NPCIL) Technical Director S. A. Bhardwaj told the media, " The Kudankulam NPP was built to our specifications, our regulatory requirements… To my mind as a nuclear technologist, this is the safest nuclear power plant in the world. India is getting into the deep power crises because of the unavailability of coal, oil and natural gas, and as you know everyday prices are going up. So nuclear is the answer. Yes, we will have as much solar power and wind power as possible but that does not satisfy our needs, therefore this (nuclear power) is demanded by India."
But, as the opposition continues to grow, former Indian President A.P.J. Abdul Kalam has urged Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to resolve the Kudankulam dispute by taking up the issue with Tamil Nadu Chief Minister J. Jayalalithaa.
But back to the proposed Jaitapur NPP.
Professor of Geological Sciences and Fellow in the University of Colorado at Boulder’s Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences and Energy and Minerals Applied Research Center Roger Bilham and Dr. Vinod Gaur of the Indian Institute of Astrophysics have coauthored a paper asserting that an earthquake of magnitude 6.0 on the Richter scale can occur in the Jaitapur region.
Bilham observed that Koyna and Latur had suffered earthquakes within the last 50 years. the Koyna rubble-concrete dam, one of the largest in Maharashtra, India.
On 11 December 1967 a 6.5 magnitude earthquake hit Koynanagar near the site of the Koyna dam, killing at least 180 people and injuring over 1,500 people, opening up some fissures on the dam. The region has also suffered several earthquakes of smaller magnitude since then. In March 1996 an earthquake struck Latur District, which also contains a number of hydroelectric facilities.
Bilham said, "Jaitapur lies in the same compressional stress region that caused the Koyna and Latur quakes in the past five decades, it can be argued that a similar sized earthquake could possibly occur directly beneath the power plant. The probability of such a quake is low, but it must be an important consideration while designing the nuclear power plant. India is smashing into Asia, and thus earthquakes will always be a possibility."
While Bilham stated he was not necessarily against a NPP in Jaitapur, he advocates a stronger structural design because an earthquake in the region simply could not be ruled out before noting India's western coast has large sedimentary deposits and so a small earthquake could also trigger massive tsunamis.
Accordingly, New Delhi’s reluctance to release its geological study of the Jaitapur region seems to have a solid basis in scientific fact.
And authorities are bracing themselves for protests, as the people of Jaitapur nuclear project-affected villages have declared that they would undertake a massive “jail bharo” protest on 24-26 January.
In the battle for local hearts and minds the Indian government has yet to make its case, and the withholding of the Jaitapur study can only help fan belief that the authorities in fact have something to hide.
By. John C.K. Daly of Oilprice.com