During Macron’s visit, agreement for Jaitapur signed without diligence: read former Union Power Secretary’s open letter to the PM

Dr. EAS Sarma

EDITOR’S NOTE: Dr. EAS Sarma, India’s former Union Secretary in Power Ministry wrote this open letter to Prime Minister Narendra Modi, highlighting the lack of diligence in signing the Framework Agreement for Jaitapur nuclear power project during the recent visit of the French President Emmanuel Macron. We are reproducing the letter below:

To

Shri Narendra D Modi
Prime Minister

Dear Shri Modiji,

During the recent visit of the French President to India, I understand that you have signed a bilateral agreement with that country on cooperation in the field of nuclear power with special reference to the nuclear power project being set up by the French MNC, EDF/Areva at Jaitapur in Maharashtra.

I have the following important concerns about the Indo-French agreement.

  1. Chief Minister of Gujarat, Shri Vijay Rupani informed the Gujarat Legislative Assembly as recently as on March 9, 2018 that the proposal to set up a nuclear power plant in Bhavnagar district (near Mithi Virdi) had been scrapped owing to a movement by panic-stricken locals following the 2011 Fukushima nuclear accident in Japan. I enclose a copy of the PTI report (“N-power project junked due to Fukushima disaster: Gujarat CM”) for your ready reference. Is it not ironic that India and France should sign an agreement to expedite work on an equally unsafe nuclear power project at Jaitapur in Maharashtra? A technology that is considered portentously dangerous for the people of Gujarat, your home State, cannot be considered safe for the people living near Jaitapur! If Mithi Virdi residents had agitated, so have the people of Jaitapur! Would it not imply double standards in the matter of treating the people of one State in comparison with those in another State?
  2. According to the enclosed news report, France has asked EDF to close down one-third of its existing nuclear reactors, mainly on safety considerations. It is ironic that India should go out of the way to bale out EDF whose financial condition is unenviable and whose business is on the decline. The proposed Jaitapur project in Maharashtra will perhaps restore profits to EDF and create employment opportunities in France more than benefitting the people of Maharashtra.
  3. The French nuclear regulatory authority has found fault with the capacity of Areva company (now taken over by EDF) to supply nuclear power equipment of satisfactory quality, after it detected the use of sub-standard components by that company. I have enclosed here a Reuters report (“Areva factory ill-equipped to make nuclear parts – French watchdog”) to corroborate this. How prudent is it for India to go ahead with EDF’s project at Jaitapur, when there are serious concerns about the safety of EDF’s EPR reactors? Has not DAE briefed the PMO about this?
  4. EDF/Areva will be supplying six EPR reactors of 1000MWe capacity each. Similar reactors have been supplied by Areva to Finland where the Finnish regulatory authority has expressed concerns about the shortcomings in the design of those reactors. To ignore this aspect is to ignore the welfare of the people of India.
  5. The nuclear power project being set up by EDF/Areva in Finland has undergone unconscionably huge time and cost overruns, escalating the overall cost of the project. EDF’s performance at Jaitapur cannot be accepted to be any better.
  6. Atomic Energy Regulatory Board (AERB) in India is subordinate to DAE which that authority is expected to regulate. Immediately following the Fukushima disaster in March, 2011, under public pressure, DAE introduced a Bill to create a regulatory authority that is comparatively more autonomous. About six years ago, the concerned Parliamentary Committee had made far reaching recommendations to improve that Bill but neither UPA nor NDA has made any attempt to get the improved version of the Bill enacted till date. As a result, one cannot repose confidence in the ability of AERB to enforce safety norms on DAE, however professionally competent that authority may be otherwise.
  7. Compounding this is the unconscionably low statutory cap of approximately Rs 2,000 crores (India’s civil liability Act) on the liability that will devolve on EDF in the event of a Fukushima-like accident, if it were to happen anytime, as a result of the shortcomings in the design of its EPR reactors. This could incentivise EDF to cut the corners in designing its reactors for Jaitapur in conformity with the highest standards of safety.
  8. The bilateral agreement with France precludes transparent competitive bidding procedures for procuring reactors for Jaitapur, creating space for rent seeking and a high price.
  9. The Indo-French agreement permits EDF to supply Uranium to fuel Jaitapur plant, as and when it is completed. Considering that India has limited Uranium resources available indigenously, fuel for Jaitapur will necessarily have to come from external sources. However, the companies mining and supplying Uranium globally are reported to be forming cartels which will control the world market price of Uranium, denominated in foreign currency. This is likely to push up the fuel price for Jaitapur and result in a high volatility in the price of electricity generated from Jaitapur. It is doubtful whether DAE has made an assessment of this risk and apprised the PMO before the PM signed the bilateral agreement with his counterpart from France.

One would have expected the government to exercise utmost diligence in going ahead with such agreements. In the instant case, no such care seems to have been exercised by DAE.

I will be grateful if you can get the above concerns examined objectively and take the public into confidence before proceeding further. I am confident that you will accord the highest priority to the safety of the people while moving forward in such matters.

Regards,

Yours sincerely,

E A S Sarma
Former Secretary to GOI
Visakhapatnam
15-3-2018

 

 

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