Rafale deal more toxic

Author: 
Sonali Huria

While the Rafale fighter jet deal will entail huge financial losses for the country, the agreement for the world’s largest nuclear power project at Jaitapur in an ecologically diverse and fragile region like Konkan, along with attendant concerns of the safety of EPRs, an unsteady French nuclear industry and its inexperienced Indian counterparts, will pose serious challenges to the environment, biodiversity, health and livelihoods of lakhs of people in and around the region.
While the Rafale deal has already seriously undermined the credibility of the BJP-led government, especially on its claims of zero-tolerance for corruption, there is yet another agreement, with far greater potential consequences, which had received a renewed push on the same day that the Rafale deal was inked 2015, which is little known or debated in the country.
On April 10, 2015, India and France had jointly announced a statement calling for an “early conclusion of the techno-commercial agreement” for the world’s largest nuclear power project in Maharashtra’s Jaitapur. Ironically, when the Narendra Modi-led NDA government had still not arrived on the scene, the BJP had been vociferous and consistent in opposing the deal on the grounds of safety, liability, and cost, without ever questioning the rationale for the imprudent push for nuclear energy per se.
In a significant resemblance to the Rafale deal, the Jaitapur agreement had been signed by the earlier Congress-led UPA government, but was reinvigorated by Prime Minister Modi in April 2015, despite substantially altered circumstances — ever since the signing of the agreement for the Jaitapur project, the situation has progressively worsened for the French nuclear industry, which in effect, is facing a financial meltdown.
In its misplaced enthusiasm for the Jaitapur project, the Indian government has already evicted farmers from their lands, which have been acquired from the five villages of Madban, Niveli, Karel, Mithgavane, and Varliwada. It has also thrust on the people, an environmental clearance, violating basic procedures and ignoring crucial issues related to livelihood, marine life, biodiversity, and potential impacts of radioactive releases.
The Jaitapur nuclear project has faced staunch resistance and criticism from all key constituencies ever since the original agreement was signed in 2008. The local fishing and farming communities, independent safety experts including India’s former nuclear regulator, leading economists, and environmental and democratic activists have raised important questions regarding the project, including the untested design and ever-escalating cost of EDF’s European Pressurised Reactor (EPR), the French Nuclear Regulator’s indictment of EDF over serious safety flaws in the EPR technology and design, potential environmental and health impacts of a nuclear project of such a massive scale in an ecologically diverse and fragile zone such as Ratnagiri, the question of livelihoods of thousands of farmers, fisherfolk and others in the region, and most importantly, questions of transparency and accountability and the bulldozing of peaceful dissent in pushing the project.
That Areva was in deep trouble had become evident in March 2015 itself when soon after announcing record losses for 2014 of USD 5.38 billion, Areva suspended its plans to build the EPR in the United States. In addition, the EPR projects under construction in four (04) other countries – Flamanville in France, Hinkley Point C in the United Kingdom, Olkiluoto in Finland, and Taishan in China, have all experienced huge time and cost over-runs, invariably linked to construction problems and equipment defects.
There is palpable fear among the fisherfolk of Jaitapur that not only will security requirements around the nuclear plant block their access to the two creeks of Rajapur and Vijaydurg, but hot water discharge and dumping of low-grade radioactive pollutants will raise sea temperature and severely affect their fish catch
While these developments — both in India and within the French nuclear industry — had raised serious questions regarding the safety and viability of the proposed Jaitapur project among concerned citizens and experts, it appears that Prime Minister Narendra Modi saw little reason to be alarmed. In fact, just days prior to the said joint statement on April 10, 2015, the French Nuclear Regulator, Autorité de sûreté nucléaire (ASN) had raised serious safety concerns with respect to “anomalies in the composition of the steel of the reactor vessel of the EPR”. Pierre-Franck Chevet, the President of the ASN is reported to have remarked that the defects were “serious — even very serious”.
Narendra Modi declared Jaitapur a “Make in India” project, and much like the Rafale deal, brought into the picture, Indian companies with absolutely no prior experience in the nuclear sector to manufacture components which the French suppliers were no longer willing to risk themselves — a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) was signed between the Indian company L&T and Areva on April 10, 2015 for “cooperation to maximise localisation” for the EPRs in India.
Under the label of “Make in India”, therefore, a nearly bankrupt Areva passed on the burden of manufacturing crucial components of its reactor design to L&T, and to audiences back home, the move was trumpeted as a triumph of the central government in adding “new dimensions to the capabilities of India’s manufacturing sector”.
While the Rafale fighter jet deal will entail huge financial losses for the country and may even dent the 2019 electoral fortune of the BJP-led NDA government, the agreement for the world’s largest nuclear power project in an ecologically diverse and fragile region like Konkan, along with attendant concerns of the safety of EPRs, an unsteady French nuclear industry and its inexperienced Indian counterparts, will pose serious challenges to the environment, biodiversity, health and livelihoods of lakhs of people in and around the region. (IPA/ Courtesy: The Leaflet)

Saturday, 10 November, 2018