Thousands protest against French-backed Indian nuclear plant

4 Dec
MUMBAI: Indian villagers on Saturday protested at the site of a nuclear power plant to be built with French help, campaigners said, as France’s President Nicolas Sarkozy arrived in the country for a visit.

Greenpeace energy specialist Lauri Myllyvirta told media that at least 10,000 people had turned out to oppose the construction of the facility at Jaitapur in western Maharashtra state amid a heavy policy presence.

India’s environment ministry last weekend gave clearance for the estimated one-trillion-rupee (22-billion-dollar) project, which will see French company Areva supply six, third-generation pressurised water reactors.

The state-run Nuclear Power Corporation of India Limited (NPCIL) is expected to sign a deal with Areva in the coming days after Sarkozy touched down in the southern city of Bangalore for a visit heavily slanted on trade deals.

The protest is the latest by fishermen, farmers and their families who will have to move to make way for the 9,900-megawatt plant, which the government hopes will help alleviate India’s crippling energy deficit.

They have rejected a compensation package and raised fears about the contamination of fish stocks, plus concerns about the loss of agricultural land, including for growing mangoes, which are one of the state’s main crops.

Official assurances that the project would transform the local economy and provide new jobs have also been met with scepticism. “The authorities are trying to spin this as people wanting more money,” said Myllyvirta. “But the people just want to have their land and have the security of that lifestyle and income.

“They’re very concerned about the radiation risk and whether there will be a waste-reprocessing facility on the site.”

Campaigners also say that locating the plant in an earthquake-prone zone is “deeply irresponsible”, with the risk compounded by the lack of an independent regulator to oversee India’s nuclear industry and NPCIL’s safety record.

Greenpeace claims it is not value for money and could require subsidies, including from French taxpayers, because of cost overruns and delays. It calls for more investment in renewable energy.

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