Recently the local newspapers in Jabalpur have revealed that a new nuclear power plant is being conceived in Chutka village of Mandla district next to Jabalpur. Chutka village was displaced due the Bargi dam on river Narmada first and is located right next to the reservoir of the dam. If the work starts on the nuclear power plant the villagers, who are yet to recover from the first displacement – some of them still awaiting their compensation and living in conditions of poverty, will face another displacement. Former village sarpanch Noor Ahmed says that the nuclear power project was originally conceived in 1984. Rock samples upto a depth of 200-250 feet were taken by the engineers. But the Chernobyl accident dissuaded the authorities to go ahead with their plans. For about fifteen years nothing happened.

Then came the nuclear tests of Pokaran in 1998. The budget of Department of Atomic Energy went up by 68%. The nuclear scientists started making claims of setting up a nuclear power production capacity of 20,000 MW – something which Homi Bhabha used to do in early years of Indian nuclear programme. However, the present situation of nuclear power in India is bleak. It contributes to about 2% of total power generated. Contrary to the claims made by scientists that it would be the cleanest and the cheapest means of producing electricity, nuclear power today poses the most serious hazard to human health and is the costliest among all commonly accepted ways of producing power. The money that has gone in to establish the capacity of producing nuclear power for India would have been sufficient to produce 25% thermal power. The performance of Indian nuclear power plants has been extremely poor. In one of the years they consumed more power than they produced. Each power plant has had some accident or the other. They are utterly unsafe and subject their employees, especially the daily wage workers, to serious health hazards. It was becoming difficult for the Department of Atomic Energy to justify its existence. Some believe that the push by nuclear scientists belonging to the establishment to go for the nuclear tests for weapons was to liberate them from this unhappy situation and divert the attention from their poor performance.

Now they have plenty of money and they are making new plans. The plan to revive the Chutka project is probably part of this exercise. The plan is still shrouded in secrecy. The DAE is silent about this project. No information has yet been revealed by the Central Government. It is the visit by officials from Delhi and Mumbai to Chutka which has caught the attention of local people. The local politicians and journalists are happy that a `development’ project is coming to their area. They have a special reason to feel exalted. The late Madhav Rao Scindhia wanted this project to go to Shivpuri district in the same state. But apparently the technical committee has found Chutka as the most suitable spot and given clearance to the project. The visiting officials have told the local people that it is going to be the second largest nuclear power plant in the world. They have promised at least a member of each family to be displaced a job.

A total of about 60,000 new jobs are being promised. The local organization of people displaced from the Bargi dam called `Bargi Bandh Visthapit Evam Prabhavit Sangha’ was alarmed by several frequent visits to Chutka by officials this year and has decided to inform the local people about full implications of establishing a nuclear power plant.

Meetings have already been held in Chutka, neighbouring village Patha, villages Chindwaha, Kindrai, Paudhi and Kedarpur across the river reservoir and people have been informed of the consequences being faced by population living in the vicinity of Rawatbhata nuclear power plant in Rajasthan and the Indian Uranium mining site – Jadugoda in Jharkhand. The first and the only of its kind survey done of the population living in five villages in the vicinity of Rawatbhata nuclear power plant by independent scientists Dr. Surendra and Sanghamitra Gadekar of Vedhci, Gujarat, revealed that diseases like cancer, physical disability, incomplete mental growth, women becoming sterile, infant deaths had gone up four to seven times as compared with a control population. Serious effects on health have also been observed on people living close to the Uranium mining site in a just concluded and as yet unpublished study. Whereas, other countries in the world recognize the hazards due to radiation and take appropriate measures to protect their population, the official stand of Government of India today is that none of the sites related to its nuclear programmes are causing any harm due to radiation. In effect, it simply refuses to acknowledge the ill-effects of radiation.

The scientists and people world over are recognizing the fact that nuclear power is not only costly but dangerous. The scientist of the world have failed to come up with a foolproof way to dispose off nuclear waste. The wastes being generated by Indian nuclear power reactors are accumulating at the plant sites. Last year BARC had to abandon its plan to deposit these wastes in village Sanawada of Rajasthan when it was caught red handed trying to secretly do so and by misinforming the local population. The local activists,organizations and a former MLA took up the matter with the Chief Minister. The CM was not aware of the ongoing activities of BARC in his state. Only when the matter was reported in national press did the BARC order the withdrawl of drilling machines from the village.

Various countries are discontinuing their nuclear power programmes. The US, UK and Germany have stopped commissioning new nuclear power plants. A new constructed nuclear power plant in Austria was abandoned under public pressure. If countries like Japan and France still continue to rely on nuclear power in a big way it is because they don’t have any other resources to meet their power requirements in a self-reliant manner. But then they take adequate care and implement the safeguards sincerely. Their nuclear programme in more transparent and citizens have a say in how things are implemented.

Our government and nuclear scientists seem to be mindlessly pursuing the nuclear programme. Whereas the entire rest of the world has given up on fast breeder reactors, India insists on going ahead with its own in Kalpakkam.

The government cannot force a nuclear power project on an ignorant and un suspecting people. The tribals world over have anyway paid a heavy price for nuclear programmes of various countries. The government will have to justify the establishment of this new power project. It must make its plan public and hold a public debate in the area which will inform the common citizen about the benefits and hazards of such a project. Afterall, why should the tribals of Chutka
and nearby area pay the price for this project. The Chutka village is still awaiting to get an electricity connection years after Bargi dam has been completed. Or is it that the electricity from the hydel power station was never meant for the displaced population? The same story is repeated in case of irrigation. Only about 4% of the promised irrigation benefits have become a reality. The people cheated by one project are not going to tolerate the farce of another one – this time a more dangerous one which is going to affect their generations to come. They are unprepared to buy serious radiation related diseases with the compensation going to be offered to them – howsoever lucrative it may be.

Courtesy: CSC Archive