Has AP become a dump yard for Nuclear power plants?

Primepost Bureau

Has Andhra Pradesh become a dumping ground for the Department of Atomic Energy (DAE) to set up nuclear power plants? It seems so if we go by the contentions of a former bureaucrat from that state.

E A S Sarma, former secretary to the Government of India, says two nuclear power plants which were originally proposed to be set up in Bengal and Gujarat are being relocated to AP because of strong public opposition to them in those states.

A 6000 MW Russian designed nuclear plant was proposed near Haripur in Bengal. But the move ran into problems over land acquisition. Now, the DAE is reported to have been looking for a site on Prakasam-Nellore coastline to set up the project. The second project pertains to Westinghouse-designed 6000 MW nuclear plant that had been planned to be set near Mithi Virdi in Gujarat. In this case too, the proposal ran into a wall of public opposition. Now, Andhra Pradesh is reportedly ready to base that plant on its soil.

In a letter sent to Dr Sekhar Basu, Secretary, DAE, and Chairman of Atomic Energy Commission, Vizag-based Sarma questions DAE’s nuclear power policy and the norms in setting up plants in different regions of the country.

He asked: “Does DEA have any rationally formulated policy in regard to the quantum of additional nuclear power generation capacity to be added to the grid and locating them in different regions of the country, in consonance with the projected increase in the base load demand in the coming decade? Apparently, the DAE has not applied its mind in planning nuclear power development with the emerging power requirements in different regions.

“To the best of my knowledge, the Planning Commission’s Integrated Energy Policy (IPE) study of 2006 did not recommend reactor imports exceeding 6,000 MW, whereas DAE is now going whole hog to import reactors of 60,000 MW capacity, raising energy security concerns, as both reactors and the fuel would be from external sources. In not a single case has DAE adopted the competitive bidding route, a procedure made mandatory by the established public procurement norms, raising concerns about propriety.

“More important than this is the expected role of nuclear power in the overall electricity supply scenario that is now emerging. With the government opening the floodgates to private power companies, a large number of coal-based power projects have been cleared. Their cumulative capacity is more than three times that projected by the IPE as the requirement up to 2031.

“Most of these power plants have signed Power Purchase Agreements (PPAs) with the States imposing the so-called “deemed generation” clause that requires the States to compensate them for their fixed charges, irrespective of whether they supply power or not. The adverse implications of the surplus coal-based power meant to cater to base loads have already come to the fore, with the average Plant Load Factor (PLF) of thermal power plants at the national level dipping to abnormally low levels. If a large nuclear power capacity is to be added in this scenario, either it will force cheaper coal-based capacity to back down or be forced to operate at very low capacity levels, facing frequent backing down situations that will render nuclear power prohibitively expensive.

“The fact that DAE has nonchalantly agreed to shuffle its new projects across the regions, without ever considering their demand profiles, erodes the credibility of the electricity regulators and raises questions about the DAE’s selection process for its projects.

“In the case of Kovvada in AP, the site selection process is highly questionable. It is beyond any logic that such a large nuclear power generation capacity should be set up in an area where the population density is higher compared to most parts of the State.

“Keeping in view the multiplicity of seismic fault lines around Kovvada, the Site Selection Committee (SSC) had recommended detailed seismic studies covering an area of 300 km around that location, before DAE could proceed any further.  But, without complying with that condition, DAE had chosen to rush forward, apparently under pressure from multinationals supplying the reactors.

“Has the DAE constituted an SSC for alternate locations for the Mithi Virdi and Haripur projects? Is the DAE aware that the east coast of India is tsunami and cyclone-prone? Has it fully seized of the reasons for the public opposition to these two projects in Gujarat and West Bengal? How is the DAE sure that the same factors do not apply in Andhra Pradesh?

“As a part of the central government that is answerable to the parliament and the people, the DAE can’t take decisions in a non-transparent and arbitrary manner.

“Each nuclear power project with 6,000 MW capacity involves a public expenditure of more than Rs 120,000 crores. The Department of Atomic Energy cannot afford to treat mega projects in a cavalier manner, assuming that the DEA is not accountable to the public and the parliament.”

Sarma has urged the DAE to keep the new nuclear power projects on hold pending satisfactory answers.

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