Nuclear plant triggers panic

People stall soil testing

By Rajil Menon
Published: Saturday 31 July 2010

imageTHE preliminary work on the nuclear power plant in Gujarat’s Bhavnagar district has started amid protests.

Government officials who visited the site in Jasapara village on June 11 to collect soil samples were gheraoed for over six hours by angry people. The soil samples were to be collected for laboratory tests in preparation for construction work. But the people of the area do not want the plant, fearing groundwater contamination and mishaps.

The Nuclear Power Corporation of India Ltd (NPCIL) is setting up the 6,000 MW plant costing Rs 50,000 crore. It will be designed using American technology. The government has earmarked 1,000 hectares (ha) for the project in Jasapara where residents of three other villages also own land.

“As soon as the officials arrived, people from affected villages reached the site and told them to leave. Fearing villagers’ ire, the officials left after waiting till noon,” said Shakti Singh Gohil, vice-president of Jasapara gram panchayat. He said all affected villages— Mandva, Khadarpur, Mithi Virdi and Jasapara—have sent protest letters to the collector and the prime minister. “We have the best quality groundwater.

We do not want a nuclear power plant because we fear it will contaminate both land and water,” said Vibhabhai Batda, a 55-year-old resident of Jasapara. The area is fertile. Mithi Virdi, in particular, is famous for its kesar mangoes. About 150 mango trees grow in one hectare and fetch three lakh rupees a year, said Gohil. The villagers grow pulses, vegetables and mangoes. “We may be living in villages, but we know what happened at Chernobyl.

What if there is a nuclear leak?” asked Arvind Singh a shop owner in Jasapara. NPCIL said the site was chosen by an expert panel after a rigorous survey of two to three years, as per the guidelines of the Atomic Energy Regulatory Board. A P Shah, chief engineer of NPCIL and incharge of the Jasapara plant, said the site was chosen as it is close to the sea and seawater can be used for cooling. What’s more, heavy equipment can be brought to the site via sea-route. He said the villagers’ fears were unfounded; only 150 hectares would be used for construction, the rest of the land will be an exclusion zone with no population.

He said NPCIL would go by the rehabilitation package decided by the state. “We are hopeful that construction would begin by 2012,” said Shah. But the project has run into trouble with the Union Ministry of Environment and Forests. The ministry’s expert appraisal committee has rejected NPCIL’s pre-feasibility reports submitted for obtaining the terms of reference (TOR). The TOR is required for conducting the mandatory environmental impact assessment. The panel has pointed out deficiencies in the reports and has asked the company to submit fresh proposals.

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