National Committee in Solidarity with Jaitapur Struggle writes to PM

The National Committee in Solidarity with Jaitapur Struggle — a group of like minded political people opposed to setting up nuclear power projects in the country — has asked Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to cancel the proposed nuclear plant at Jaitapur.

Citing concerns over the safety of the proposed nuclear reactors at Jaitapur and the financial credentials of the French company building them, the Committee has said the Centre and the Maharashtra government do not seem to have paid due attention to the serious objections regarding the safety of the proposed Areva reactors and its costs raised by experts, parliamentarians, public figures and the local people.

In a letter written to the Prime Minister, the Committee has claimed that the project has not been subjected to an independent rigorous scientific techno-economic scrutiny and safety audit in the public domain. “It is being pushed against the will of the local people. The ‘conditional’ environmental clearance granted by the Ministry of Environment and Forests in November 2010 is also based on an unscientific and deeply flawed Environmental Impact Assessment Report,” it said.

Signed by Prakash Karat and Sitaram Yechury of the Communist Party of India (Marxist), A.B. Bardhan and D. Raja of the Communist Party of India, Lok Jan Shakti Party chief Ram Vilas Paswan, Nama Nageswara Rao (Telugu Desam Party) and K. Danish Ali (Janata Dal-Secular), the letter said the environmental clearance had not considered seriously the main environmental issues and expressed doubts over the suitability if the agency that had been chosen to prepare the environment assessment.

“The National Environmental Engineering Research Institute, the agency engaged to prepare the Environmental Impact Assessment, is admittedly not competent on matters concerning nuclear hazards,” the leaders said in the letter dated August 17. “The Environmental Clearance is subject to clearance by the Atomic Energy Regulatory Board (AERB) on matters concerning nuclear energy. We understand that the AERB is yet to consider and approve the Areva Reactor’s design,” the letter said.

It is also claimed in the letter that recent statutory disclosures showed that the company building of the Jaitapur nuclear reactors was also in deep financial trouble. “The Areva group debt stood at Euro 2.77 billion ($3.75 billion) in June 2011. Areva’s operating loss for the year 2011 is more than 2 billion Euros.”

The leaders said the “untested design” of the 1650 MWe European Pressurised Reactors (EPR) of Areva had caused serious concerns among the nuclear safety agencies of different countries.

“There are reliable reports that an internal audit of the French nuclear industry has criticised Areva and Electricity de France (EDF) for the undue complexity of EPR and that EDF itself may be planning to discontinue the EPR design,” the letter said. There were significant cost and time over-runs for the Areva EPR and claimed that the first two EPRs, under construction in Finland and France, were yet to be commissioned and had been delayed by more than four years due to technical and safety issues, the letter said adding that the EPR project at Penly in France had been put on hold indefinitely.

“The initial cost of 3 billion Euros had proved to be a gross underestimation. The costs have already risen to well over 7 billion Euros for Olkiluoto (Finland) as well as Flamanville in France,” the letter said, adding that Areva’s share prices had fallen to 1/10th of its value between 2007 and 2012.

The leaders pointed out that Siemens, Areva’s major technology partner, has announced its exit from the nuclear power business to focus on alternative power sources in line with the plans of the German government. “There are also reports that EDF and Areva have joined hands with a Chinese firm to develop a new reactor of 1000 MWe to replace the EPR in the long run,” the leaders said.

“In view of the above developments, it is unlikely that the Areva EPR would today pass even an elementary test of techno-economic due diligence,” the letter stated. It claimed that the Nuclear Power Corporation of India Limited had refused to disclose the costs and resultant tariff from the Jaitapur plant.

“Our own calculations based on available information show that the investment cost for the Jaitapur plant would be in excess of Rs. 20 crores per MW, which is unacceptable. This would result in electricity tariff of not less than Rs. 9 per unit at current prices,” the leaders said in the letter.