With Macron visiting next year, India wants to revive Jaitapur nuclear plant. Here's why it is a bad idea
French President Emmanuel Macron’s India visit is now scheduled for early 2018. There is a high chance that whenever he visits India, the issue of reviving the Jaitapur nuclear power plant will be on the agenda.
Work on setting up the 9,900 megawatt power plant in Maharashtra was stalled after massive protests from locals, who were worried about their safety.
Those issues remain, but the Narendra Modi Indian government is eager to revive the project spread over 968 hectares whenever Macron comes to India, sources said. In fact, the Government of India has shown willingness to go soft on the issue of nuclear liability that reportedly kept away the world's top nuclear suppliers from entering into the Indian market.
The attraction of nuclear power are relatively lower costs and less pollution. But safety has been an issue, more so after the Fukushima disaster earlier this decade. India's going soft on fixing liability is worrisome that way.
What we know about the plant?
The Jaitapur nuclear power project was envisaged in 2009. In December 2010 an agreement was signed for the construction of the first set of two third-generation European Pressurised Reactors (EPR) and the supply of nuclear fuel for 25 years.
The project, however, was put on the back burner after protests from environmentalists, villagers and fishermen. India and China did try to revive the project during the then France president Francois Hollande’s visit to India in January 2016.
The project was originally negotiated with Areva under a 2009 memorandum of understanding with state-run Nuclear Power Corporation of India Ltd (NPCIL) at an estimated cost of $4 billion (Rs 26,000 crore). But earlier this year, France-based Électricité de France (EDF) took over the contract from Areva and quoted a figure which higher by Rs 10 crore per MW (from the current Rs 30 crore per MW).
Re-negotiations with France and Macron are necessary to kick this project off, which the Indian government is looking forward to. However, the problems with Jaitapur are many.
What are the risks involved?
The Jaitapur nuclear power plant will be the world's largest once it is fully commissioned. It is also located in an environmentally and geologically sensitive area, something that has troubled the masses living in the vicinity of the proposed plant's location. The area where the plant would be located falls in the high-degree seismic risk zone.
In a paper co-authored by seismologists Roger Bilham and Vinod K Gaur, it has been warned that: “Since Jaitapur lies in the same compressional stress regime that has been responsible for generating both the (moment magnitude) Mw = 6.3 Latur and the Mw = 6.4 Koyna earthquakes 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 this earthquake occurring is low but it is nevertheless possible, and is an important consideration in the analysis of power plant safety.”
It is an irony that in a post-Fukushima world, while every other country is rejecting nuclear energy due to safety concerns, successive Indian governments have remained enticed to the idea of running homes with this clean, but a potentially harmful, source of energy.
And what are the costs?
Over the years, the cost of building and running the power plant has gone up and according to Hindu Business Line, the EDF-proposed cost quotes that the Jaitapur plant will require an investment of Rs 2.97 lakh crore. And the rise in costs mean that the cost of power from this plant, which was supposed to be capped at Rs 7 per unit as per agreements, would rise to three to four times more than the costs for solar or wind power.
With a drastic fall in the cost of power from solar and wind energy, which are being quoted at less than Rs 3 per unit of power, any cost above Rs 5 would be obnoxious. And this makes Jaitapur an unnecessary economic burden.
Moreover, EPR technology has not become commercially operational anywhere in the world. The five under-construction projects using this technology – Hinkley Point in the UK, Olkiluoto in Finland, Taishan in China and Flamanville in France – are all facing the challenges of time and cost over-runs.
According to Multinational Observatory website –
“The EPR has other basic design issues that could cause serious problems in the later stages of operation. The EPR will use 5% enriched uranium, as against the normal 3.5% in current pressurised water reactor (PWR) designs. This improved fuel economy is touted as an advantage of the EPR. What no one has highlighted is that such high burn-up leads to a much higher toxicity of the radioactive waste. According to an EDF study, EPR waste will have about 4 times as much radioactive bromine, iodine, and caesium, compared to ordinary PWRs.”
Hope for sinking a nuclear power industry?
After the Fukushima nuclear disaster, most of the European countries have shunned the nuclear power technology and have begun to invest more on renewables.
This has pushed the biggest of the nuclear power generators in the world towards bankruptcy including US-based Westinghouse and Japanese nuclear giant Toshiba. Earlier this year, Pittsburgh-based Westinghouse – the original developer of the pressurized-water reactor – filed for bankruptcy.
Areva, the company that first signed the contract to build Jaitapur nuclear plant, had to hand over its project to EDF due to financial issues.
And this is not all. Even EDF is under deep financial stress and is relying heavily on President Macron's successful foreign policy negotiations to take forward the deal on the Jaitapur plant.
India has long been a dumping ground for the West's obsolete technologies. Unfortunately, nuclear technology is far too risky and costly to be allowed to be dumped on Indian shores.
Edited by Jhinuk Sen