|Good news at Jaitapur|
|Thursday, 28 April 2011 00:00|
As soon as the Fukushima plant began unravelling in Japan following an earthquake and a tsunami on March 11, it became obvious that the global nuclear debate would hit renewed heights of acrimony. Protesters would gather strength, supporters would need to strengthen defences. So, the escalation of conflict in the Indian heartland should not have come as a surprise. In the specific case of Jaitapur, the government should have made a special effort to improve public outreach, quell rumours, and communicate that people’s safety and other interests were not being neglected. To its credit, the government seems to be finally getting its act together, announcing everything from an enhanced compensation package to an independent regulator and standalone safety systems for each reactor at Jaitapur—the global nuclear watchdog IAEA’s Operational Safety Review Team is to be called in to assist India’s safety reviews and audits of nuclear power plants; the findings of the six safety
review committees set up by the government after the Fukushima accident are to be made public; and each of the 35 conditions stipulated as part of the environmental clearance, NPCIL has said, will be adhered to in a transparent manner.
The independent regulator, the Bill for which will be introduced in the monsoon session, is especially good news since the current position in which the regulator reports to the Department of Atomic Energy was always asking for trouble—this way, there is another, independent layer of authority, to ensure safety interests are paramount. The issue of land for big projects has become especially tricky in the last few years, and this remains a matter of concern. After South Korean steelmaker Posco thought it had finally cleared all hurdles in its five-year journey, Jairam Ramesh’s ministry has withheld forest clearances (it got environmental clearances in January) on the grounds the claims of two villages haven’t been settled—the Orissa government has argued the people living in these two villages have no rights on the forest land on which Posco’s plant will be built. In the Jaitapur case, Ramesh has taken a different view of the protesters, one of whom was killed in police firing, who don’t want the project in their backyard or to give up their land. We welcome Ramesh taking a more holistic view of Jaitapur’s costs and benefits, but surely the standards have to be uniform across projects?