P K Sundaram

In a brazen contempt for democratic norms and environmental concerns, the NPCIL has started construction work in Gorakhpur nuclear power project. This project in Haryana, at a distance of just 150 kms from New Delhi, has been a tale of govt’s lies and callousness since the beginning.

Arm-twisting and silencing people

The government now claims people of the area support the project. It brandishes successful land acquisition as a proof. What is the reality? The two processes of land acquisition and the clearance for environmental impacts of the project went on separately for last 2 years. While a massive demonstration of farmers from Gorakhpur and nearby villages in August last year forced the govt officials to wind up and flee from the public hearing on Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) report full with omissions and inconsistencies, within the same week the government announced award for land which the farmers accepted. In the prelude, the landholders of Gorakhpur, Kajalhedi and other villages were sent notices by banks to repay their old loans immediately. People from these villages who worked in govt offices in Fatehabad and elsewhere as casual staff were intimidated. This reveals the shrewd tactics of isolating landholders from the rest of the community, who were luring and pressurised to sell their land to the govt. The land acquisition norms, particularly in the case of nuclear and other hazardous industries, should be modified in a way that makes it subject to unanimous clearance in a public hearing where people from nearby villages and communities participate.

Reactor over a dry canal

Gorakhpur project would consist of 4 reactors of 700MW each. This will be India’s largest indigenous nuclear power project. The reactor complex would require 320 cusecs of water for cooling and other purposes. But the entire project will depend for water on a small Canal, Fatehabad branch of the Bhakhra Canal, which is the main source of water for irrigation in the region. This is perhaps the only project in the world to have such limited and unreliable source of water supply. Water would pose three huge problems in Gorakhpur: the water will be inadequate even for the cooling of reactors in their normal operation; in case of an accident, the situation could be worse than even Fukushima due to non-availability of water,; and the high temperature of the discharge water from the reactor would destroy the agriculture in the downstream of the canal which dozens of villages depend use for irrigation. In Koodankulam, the govt’s own affidavit admits the discharged water will be 5-7 degrees hotter.

For last more than 20 days, the Bhakhra Canal is closed for maintenance. The canal is almost dry and both Fatehabad town and surrounding villages are reeling under acute water crisis. When local activists raised their concerns about risks of dangerous accidents in such situations, the NPCIL officials have come up with contradicting and unconvincing assurances in the media.

we are researching for reactors which will consume less water. Then why land acquisition and construction? First do the homework, come up with grand innovation and then proceed.
we will take water from the western Yamuna canal. That is 200 kms away from the proposed site and(if people on the other side of Haryana come to know about this plan, there will be major unrest against it.
we will store water for 1 month . Even the EIA talks of only 1 week of water storage.
– in a meeting with the local activists, the District Collector has apparently said off-the-record that he will recycle the Fatehabad sewage water and supply it to the reactor!

The GNPP’s EIA report does talk about the requirement of 320 cusecs of water, but there is no explanations on how supply of huge amount of water will be ensured throughout the year. The EIA report does talk of maintenance period of the Canal and suggests that the power plant’s maintenance will also be synchronised within same 15 days. But it is certainly fraught with risk as it is extremely difficult to sync two totally bureaucracies where other several variables, including natural scarcity of water, are involved. Even in the maintenance period, the reactors would need water to ensure cooling.

Mr. Himanshu Thakkar, eminent water-rights and water-conservation activist, highlights the water issue in GNPP in unequivocal terms:

“From the EIA it seems the project has been given permission to draw 320 cusecs of water, which comes to 32625 m3/hr. However, most of the places the doc says it will use 18000 m3/hr, and return 5320 m3/hr to the canal. In addition, it will generate 828 m3/day sewage. Sewage to be treated and recycled. Return of the 5320 m3/hr to the Bhakra canal and implications there off, including spread of radio activity and other pollutants is one angle.
Then the taking away of 12680 m3/hr from the canal and those using the canal water is another angle. There has been no study of the impact of this extraction, it seems. Haryana govt has given this written assurance (in 2006, now being updated) without any impact assessment.”

Endangering Bio-Diversity and Wild Life

Fatehabad district of Haryana is home to black deer, a revered animal to the local Bishnoi community. Bishnois have been known for their love for nature and the black deer. The region has many legends of Bishnois sacrificing themselves to save the deer, including an incident in British period when the community rose up in revolt against the British who hunted the black deer. Recently, the wild life department has asked for a clarification from the NPCIL, underlining the impacts of the fencing that it has started on the black deer in the area. The NPCIL wants the local civic administration and “zoo authorities” to determine how much lands the black buck would need and to allot that much extra land to the NPCIL, where it would construct a park to rehabilitate the animals !