Decision was difficult but was a balancing act, says Ramesh.
The Union ministry of environment and forests (MoEF) today okayed the 10,000-Mw Jaitapur nuclear power project in Maharashtra, to be developed by the Nuclear Power Corporation (NPC) in collaboration with French power equipment maker firm Areva. The ministry also laid down 35 conditions and safeguards, of which12 are general and 23 specific.
Today’s clearance comes barely a week after the ministry had granted a similar approval for the proposed Navi Mumbai international airport by laying down 32 conditions.
Union minister for environment and forests Jairam Ramesh, who handed over the environmental clearance to Chief Minister Prithviraj Chavan, admitted the decision had been difficult but was a balancing act. “The decision has been taken in 80 days, based on four crucial factors — economic growth, fuel mix diversification, strategic diplomacy and environment protection,” he said.
NPC will first procure two European Pressured Reactors (EPRs) of 1,650 Mw each from Areva and later four more to bring the total generation capacity to 10,000 Mw. The first unit is expected to come up in 2017-18. The project entails investment of Rs 1 lakh crore.
An agreement between Areva and NPC is expected to be signed during French President Nicholas Sarkozy’s visit to India next month.
MoEF has sought the Maharashtra government’s cooperation in carrying out a capacity study and a cumulative environment impact assessment for Ratnagiri, Sindhudurg and Raigad districts, where 33,000 Mw of power projects, including the proposed nuclear project, are being proposed. The ministry would fund it.
Ramesh said there would be some unhappiness at his decision amongst environmentalists active, particularly those in the Western Ghats, many of whom are instinctively and ideologically opposed to nuclear energy.
According to the environment clearance, a comprehensive biodiversity conservation plan would be prepared for Jaitapur region within 12 months by NPC in consultation with the Bombay Natural History Society, the state forests and wildlife department and local . management committees. This plan would deal with measures needed to maintain the health of mangroves in the creek area outside the plant site. The total mangrove area is around 150 hectares.
NPC will constitute a monitoring committee comprising outside experts and institutions to oversee implementation of environmental management measures stipulated as part of the clearance. A plan would be prepared to put in place safeguards to ensure fisheries in the sea adjoining Ambolgad are not affected adversely. A plan for mitigating adverse impacts on the fishing community in the region would also be implemented.
A cooling water discharge system would be finalised with provision for its extension into the marine area beyond 2.2 km, if needed, to minimise the adverse impact on biodiversity/coral reefs/aquatic fauna in the larger Jaitapur area.
NPC’s ongoing environmental stewardship programme would be substantially strengthened with a focus on the Western Ghats since three of its power-generating complexes — Tarapur, Kaiga and Jaitapur — are located in this ecologically-sensitive region.
The storage, disposal and management of radioactive liquid waste emanating from the plant would be strictly managed in accordance with the procedures prescribed by the Atomic Energy Regulatory Board (AERB) and the International Council for Radiation Protection. The solid radioactive waste would be stored above ground on the basis of the standard European pressured reactor design after it has been duly reviewed and certified by AERB.
The radioactive levels in different components of the environment including the food chain, air quality, water and soil would be monitored regularly and records maintained for public scrutiny. Online continuous monitoring of the temperature of the discharged cooling water would be carried out at the discharge point. It would be ensured that the temperature differential of the discharged water with respect to the intake water does not exceed 5 degrees Celsius at any time.
Additonally, a comprehensive environmental impact assessment would be done when both units 1 and 2 are operational by 2019 and the results of this assessment feed into additional safeguards, if needed, for the operation of the remaining four units.
According to MoEF, the Jaitapur project would be brought back for its consideration if it undergoes project design and technology changes as compared to the one proposed at the stage of obtaining environmental clearance.