“A deeper think and not a rethink required on nuclear energy and safety issues”

 Though the Fukushima nuclear crisis was a wake-up call, India cannot afford to ignore nuclear energy and it had to increase nuclear power generation from the existing 3 per cent to 6 per cent by 2020 and 13 per cent by 2030, Union Minister of State for Environment and Forests Jairam Ramesh said here on Friday.

The environment clearance for the Jaitapur project stands and if additional safety conditions were required to be imposed, the Ministry of Environment and Forests (MoEF) would consider them, he said at a press conference.

“Jaitapur stays and a ‘deeper think,' and not rethink, is required on nuclear energy and safety issues.  The MoEF is not the authority on nuclear safety; the authority is the Atomic Energy Regulatory Board (AERB), which must be made an independent body. 

 The Ministry had appointed a committee headed by A.E. Muthunaigam to review the environment appraisal procedures and the safety of all coastal power plants.   Mr. Ramesh pointed out that since six plants of 1650 MW equivalent were proposed at Jaitapur, it would be better to have individual safety systems or stand-alone systems for each plant, instead of interlinking them. 

Responding to questions on halting of work of the Posco project in Orissa, he said settlements under the Forest Rights Act were pending in two villages and that they cannot be ignored. Resolutions by the gram sabhas of these two villages were contrary to what the State government had submitted saying that there were no forest dwellers in the area.

Asked why the MoEF or the State government did not take cognisance of the gram sabhas passing resolutions opposing the Jaitapur project, Mr. Ramesh said he had not received such resolutions. Also, Jaitapur was neither in a forest area nor a scheduled area under the Panchayats (Extension to the Scheduled Areas) Act (PESA) where the gram sabha had to be consulted by law.

However, Mr. Ramesh said people must be taken into confidence in Jaitapur.

Instead of abandoning nuclear power, he said, it was important to look at safety audits and Tarapur units 1 and 2 have already undergone such audits.

“We must increase public confidence in nuclear power especially after what has happened in Japan and it was incumbent on the Chief Minister to have a public outreach programme.”