Andhra Pradesh speeds up Kovvada nuclear power project

Orders issued for acquiring 1,000 hectares

 
By M Suchitra
Last Updated: Saturday 04 July 2015

Even as people’s resistance against the Kudankulam nuclear power plant in Tamil Nadu continues to make news, the government of neighbouring Andhra Pradesh has decided to speed up the 6,000 MW Kovvada Nuclear Power Park (KNP) project in Ranasthalam block of the north coastal district of Srikakulam. The state issued an order on 27 December to acquire 1,000 hectares (ha) of land from farmers and fishers of the region, ignoring widespread public protests.

Following the Fukushima disaster in Japan, there is growing public fear over the safety of a nuclear plant in the region. However, the Congress government in power in the state decided to go ahead with the land acquisition process after prime minister Manmohan Singh’s assertion that the Centre was firm on Kudankulam and other nuclear projects.

Safe...

The Nuclear Power Corporation of India Limited (NPCIL) claims the proposed plant will be completely safe. Its special features include: highly sophisticated 3G+ (third generation plus) reactors which can withstand total station black-out in case of tsunami or earth quake or a terrorist attack.

In the post-Fukushima scenario, additional features are embedded in the technology, says NPCIL.

...or unsafe?
But activists, including former Union power secretary E A S Sarma, say the technology for the proposed nuclear reactors at Kovvada is untested and could be unsafe.

They say the US has 104 nuclear-plants, and radioactive tritium has leaked from 27 of them into local groundwater systems. A 1,000 MW plant generates 30 tonnes of spent fuel annually. NPCIL needs to explain how it’s going to tackle the spent fuel the 6,000 MW plant planned in Kovvada, say activists

 
The ambitious Rs 60,000 crore plant is being set up by the Nuclear Power Corporation of India Limited (NPCIL). The proposed plant will have six light water reactors of 1,000 MW capacity each. The technical know-how is from General Electric and Hitachi, an American company. The plant requires 775 ha of land, and another 125 ha for an integrated township around the plant site. The township will accommodate operations and maintenance personnel of the six proposed reactor units along with Central Industrial Security Force personnel.

The government has constituted a 11-member team and has appointed about 30 officials on contract for land acquisition. The NPCIL will pay for the land and salaries to the acquisition staff while the state-run Andhra Pradesh Power Generation Corporation will be the nodal agency for overseeing the entire project.

Just like any other nuclear power plant, KNP too will have a zoning system. Up to 1.5 km from the plant is demarcated as an exclusion zone, up to 5 km as a sterilised zone, up to 16 km as an emergency planning zone. Finally, there’s an impact assessment zone (where radiation levels are regularly monitored), extending 30 km from the plant.

3G+ reactors fail to allay fears

According to the chief engineer of KNP, G V Ramesh, the plant will be installing highly sophisticated 3G+ (third generation plus) reactors which can withstand any eventuality.” We are using state–of–the–art technology and the reactors will be able to withstand total station black-out in case of tsunami or earth quake or a terrorist attack, the possibility of which is remote.” In the post-Fukushima scenario, additional features are embedded in the technology, he adds.

But people in Ranasthalam mandal are not ready to buy these arguments. A majority of them strongly oppose the project. Four villages—Pedda Kovvada-Chinna Kovvada, Ramachandrapuram, Tekkali and Guddem—with a total population of 3,500 fall within the exclusion zone and would be uprooted. Sixty-three villages which are within 16 kilometers will also be directly affected by the project, they point out. The fertile agricultural land of these villages yields paddy, coconut, banana and corn. People also earn a living from fishing.

Determined to keep their livelihood, residents led by voluntary groups and environmental activists have been staging sit-in protests to oppose acquisition of land for the project. “We will not allow not even an inch of our land to be acquired till the environmental impact assessment (EIA) reports are released,” says M Polisu, a staunch opposer of the project. Activists highlight the  possible negative impacts of the plant like radioactivity, pollution, waste generation and the effects on fish and groundwater. They also demand NPCIL should reveal the details of all surveys done earlier, including the surveys by the Andhra Pradesh State Remote Sensing Agency early last year that identified the sites for four reactors and the marine survey by the National Institute of Oceanography at Goa.

E A S Sarma, former Union power secretary and  other activists say the technology for the proposed nuclear reactors at Kovvada are untested and could be unsafe. “It is unfortunate that India has embarked on a nuclear adventure by opening the floodgates to foreign reactors,” says Sarma.  He also points out that the the US has 104 nuclear-plants, and radioactive tritium has leaked from 27 of them into local groundwater systems. A 1,000 MW plant generates 30 tonnes of spent fuel annually. NPCIL needs to explain how it’s going to tackle the spent fuel of the 6,000 MW plant planned in Kovvada, he says.

People on warpath

In the wake of Fukushima nuclear disater in Japan, farmers, fishermen, and other members of the public held a meeting and passed a unanimous resolution opposing the nuclear power plant in their area. Elected people’s representatives also raised their voice against the plant. Ruling Congress party leaders from this area also lent their voices to the opposition. On March 16 last year, local elected bodies of 35 villages passed a unanimous resolution against the plant. 

In the past two months, the community seems have become a bit divided on the proposed plant. Fishers, farmers and other poor sections, who will lose their land and livelihood, oppose the plant, but landlords living away from the plant and ruling Congress leaders support the project. “Congress leaders are campaigning in the villages for the project,” says Polisu.  NPCIL authorities have colluded with political leaders and are trying to weaken the protests, he alleges.

While those opposing the plant have decided to intensify their agitation, NPCIL is in the process of preparing the EIA report which has to be submitted to the Union Ministry of Environment and Forests for obtaining clearance. According to NPCIL authorities, a public hearing will be conducted before June this year.

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