Dr. E A S Sarma

Former Union Power Secretary, Govt of India
Know more about Dr. Sarma HERE.

14-40-4/1 Gokhale Road
Visakhapatnam 530002
Tel. Nos. 0891-6619858/ 9866021646

Dr. Manmohan Singh
Prime Minister

Dear Dr. Manmohan Singh,

Subject:- Kovvada Nuclear Power Project in Srikakulam district in AP- Appeal to direct DAE to comply with the law of the land


My letter dated 7-1-2-12 addressed to you
NPCIL DO letter No. NPCIL/ED(CP&CC)/2012/M/60 dated 27-3-12

I refer to my letter 1st cited addressed to you (enclosed for ready reference) in which I had raised several important concerns about the proposed Kovvada nuclear power project. Evidently, your office had routinely forwarded my letter to NPCIL for sending me a reply, though it was your office that could alone answer some of the questions I had raised. I have since received a letter from NPCIL (reference 2nd cited-enclosed) which fails to provide atisfactory replies to the issues I raised.

In order to help your office evaluate the reply given by NPCIL, I have listed below the Corporation’s reply to each of the points raised by me and how it fails to understand its significance..

Point 1 (Land acquisition prior to Environment Clearance):

NPCIL’s reply at paras 1-3 refers.

The point I made was that it would run counter to natural justice if NPCIL and the State Govt. initiate land acquisition prior to Ministry of Environment & Forests (MOEF) appraising the project for environment impact and issuing a statutory Environment Clearance (EC). The idea underlying my concern is that if the land is taken forcibly from the villagers and, in case MOEF rejects EC subsequently, would it not be unfair to the project oustees as it would have dispossed them of their lands for no valid reason? NPCIL has totally missed this point and tried to explain that MOEF had approved the Terms of Reference (TOR) for the Environment Impact Assessment (EIA) prior to the State Govt. intiating the process of land acquisition. The TOR is different from EC and NPCIL should know the difference between the two. TOR does not guarantee NPCIL of an EC. Apparently, NPCIL has tried to confuse the issue rather than addressing it in a truthful manner!

On this issue, keeping the public interest implications in view, the Dept. of Atomic Energy (DAE) should have consulted the Ministry of Law, rather than routinely referring it to NPCIL.

Point 2 (Need for a cummulative impact assessment):

The site selected is such that it affects 66 villages, 74,237 people and 26,773 acres of agricultural land. There are several industrial units already set up in the area and they have not only caused toxic pollution all around but also disrupted the lives of the people.

When I referred to the need for a cummulative analysis, I meant the impact of the nuclear power project on the lives of the villagers and the impact on agriculture and food security. All these aspects would have got appraised had the government waited for MOEF to carry out a comprehensive EIA and examined the merits of the site for issuance of EC. MOEF, as the regulatory agency, could have asked NPCIL to select another site. Without awaiting this statutory process, to start land acquisition is like putting the cart before the horse. By such preemptive action, DAE and the State government are making a mockery of the due statutory processes and the legitimate role of MOEF. NPCIL, instead of appreciating these implications, has brushed aside my concern in para 4 of its reply, in a highly simplistic manner, by trying to convince me that nuclear power plants are not “polluters”, as if radioactive contamination is not one virulent kind of pollution.

The concept of cummulative appraisal has another important dimension. Each of these proposed nuclear power complexes will have about 10,000MW of generation capacity comprising of 6-10 giant reactors clustered together. It is important that the environment impact procedure and the safety appraisal system take the total number of reactors to be set up into consideration, evaluate the compound risk probabilities and the possibility an accident in one reactor triggering an accident in the other reactors, so as to afford an opportunity to the residents within 80-100 km to understand the potential dangers involved. Perhaps, NPCIL has not cared to carry out any such analysis but the people residing around these complexes wish to be fully informed about the same.

DAE should have consulted MOEF in this matter, considering the importance of the concerns expressed by me from the public interest point of view.

Points 3-8 (Not taking people into confidence on their location within the danger zones):

As stated above, 74,237 people are residing not only within the area selected for the project but also within the “exclusion”, “sterilised” and “emergency planning” zones. The number will be far more than this if the radiation impact assessment xone were also to be taken into account.

NPCIL should have, on its own, informed all those likely to be affected about the potential risks to which they will be exposed. Under Section 4 of RTI Act, NPCIL has the obligation to make a public disclosure of all such information in advance. Till date, neither DAE’s website nor NPCIL’s website has any such disclosure nor have they made this information openly available to the people. It is unfortunate that NPCIL has conveniently shifted the burden to individual concerned citizens to invoke the time-consuming procedures of RTI Act, incur expenditure and demand for the information. By now, NPCIL should have contacted the residents of the villages and the urban agglomerations falling within the impact assessment zones extending up to 30 km and informed them of the risks and other implications. In its reply 2nd cited, NPCIL is silent on this specific point. To say that one daily had published a fleeting news item does not exonerate NPCIL from its statutory obligations. The reply has conveniently skirted these important points.

DAE should have directed NPCIL by now to make a public disclosure of this information and publicise the zoning system and the risks associated in each and every village and urban settlement falling within 30 km from the rim of the project site.

Point 9 (Review of the boundaries of the zones in view of the Fukushima experience):

In my letter 1st cited, I had enquired from you whether NPCIL would enlarge the boundaries of the various zones in view of (i) the Fukushima experience and (ii) that USA has demarcated the corresponding zones up to 80 km. NPCIL’s reply has no reference to it.

In fact, after Fukushima, by now, DAE should have reviewed the zoning concept and fallen in line with the USA limits, to allay the apprehensions on the part of those who reside near nuclear power projects, both existing and new.

Point 10 (Infructuous expenditure on misleading public relations campaign):

NPCIL has tried to justify what it is doing rather than correcting itself. One look at NPCIL’s website, especially the window in which the subject of “safety” is dealt with, shows how facile is its effort to convince the public of the “safety” of nuclear power. This window has less on the safety measures taken, no disclosure of the past audits and more on the awards received by the Corporation for its great record in safety.

What NPCIL spends is public money. We wish to see that every rupee that NPCIL spends is for the public good, not for misleading the public. We hope that the Parliament takes cognizance of this.

Even at this late hour, DAE should stop being in a denial mode and direct NPCIL to fulfill the assurance given by PMO in April, 2011 that all past safety audits and the “action taken reports” will be disclosed to the public.

One year after the Fukushima calamity, the nuclear regulators and the industry in Japan are still trying to understand the full impact of the disaster and the factors that caused it. At the nuclear security summit in South Korea a week ago, where you were present, the Japanese Prime Minister,

Yoshihiko Noda cautoned all the nations that the “world must not be lulled into the ‘myth of safety’, following the lessons learnt from Fukushima”. He said, “a man-caused act of sabotage will test our imaginations far more than any natural disaster”. We need to take his words seriously, as an accident can get triggered, not merely by tsunamis or earthquakes, but even by wanton acts of terrorism, human lapses and mechanical failures in a nuclear power plant, irrespective of what the nuclear technologists may say.

As a person having my ancestral home within the danger zone of Kovvada, I feel I am entitled to demand from you a satisfactory examination of the issues I have raised. Under Article 21, the residents near Kovvada have the fundamental right to life. If DAE feels that such rights are dispensable, some of us will have no other alternative than to seek judicial intervention.

As the Minister heading DAE, Mr. Prime Minister, you have the obligation to get these issues examined with the seriousness they deserve. I hope you will discharge that obligation, keeping in view the enormous public interest involved.

Yours sincerely,

Former Union Power Secretary