Jaitapur’s communities and bio-diverse ecology must count: EAS Sarma raises crucial concerns regarding India’s EPR project

Editor’s Note:

We are publishing below the text of a letter written by (Mr) EAS Sarma, Former Secretary to the Government of India, addressed to the Secretary, Department of Atomic Energy. Sarma raises crucial questions about the EPR reactor technology that has been marred by technical and safety flaws and massive cost overruns worldwide, to address which nuclear regulators in France and Finland for instance, are taking proactive measures.  In India however, there continues to be no visible attempt on the part of India’s nuclear authorities to address these concerns, even as six of these EPR reactors have been earmarked to be set up in Jaitapur along the Ratnagiri coast. 


Shri K N Vyas
Secretary (Dept of Atomic Energy) & Chairman (AEC)
Govt of India

Dear Shri Vyas,

I refer to the enclosed letter dated 12-1-2021 addressed by me to the Prime Minister about the safety of the EPR reactors proposed to be supplied by EDF/Areva for the proposed Jaitapur Nuclear Power Project in Maharashtra.

In my letter to the PM, I had specifically referred to the closing down of two nuclear power reactors set up in the past by EDF at Hunterston in North Ayrshire in Scotland due to technical snags detected. There have been numerous complaints about the Flamanville EPR reactors installed by EDF/Areva in Finland, in which anomalies were detected in the main primary and secondary system welds. Flamville reactors have already gone through inordinate delays in implementation, raising serious concerns from both the French and the Finnish regulatory authorities about their design. (https://www.french-nuclear-safety.fr/asn-informs/news-releases/epr-reactor-information-letter-n-23)

The latest reports are about Civaux and Chooz nuclear power plants in France, where similar technical snags have been detected that has forced EDF to close down the reactors (https://www.edf.fr/en/the-edf-group/dedicated-sections/journalists/all-press-releases/reactors-of-the-civaux-and-chooz-nuclear-power-plants-replacements-and-preventive-checks-on-parts-of-the-piping-of-a-safety-system)

France’s nuclear safety authority has also served EDF with a formal notice to repair deviations and reinforce five reactors at its 5.4 GW Gravelines nuclear power plant urgently (https://www.montelnews.com/en/story/french-nuclear-watchdog-demands-edf-fix-faults-at-5-reactors/1121918)

There are two important inferences that one should draw from these reports.

EDF’s EPR reactors are facing technical problems at more than one location, suggesting overall shortcomings in their design and in the material used in their manufacture

The French nuclear regulatory authority is ever vigilant about the safety of the nuclear reactors supplied by the French public sector companies like EDF and it has not hesitated to make a public disclosure of the shortcomings in the performance of the reactors, as it concerns the safety of the people.

On the other hand, even though EDF is going to supply EPR reactors to India for installation in Jaitapur, the website of AERB remains blank about the technical status of the French reactors to be supplied. AERB seems to be passively watching the extraordinary rigour with which its counterpart in France has been functioning, without trying to set its own house in order. The reason for this is quite obvious. AERB does not enjoy the same autonomy as its French counterpart does.

Soon after the disastrous nuclear accident at Fukushima in Japan in 2011, in the heat of the moment, in view of the concerns expressed globally about the safety of nuclear power technology, DAE brought out a Nuclear Regulatory Authority Bill in 2012, which was scrutinised by the concerned Parliamentary Standing Committee that made far reaching suggestions to improve upon it in line with the norms laid down by the International Atomic Energy Regulatory Agency (IAEA) and the Comptroller & Auditor General of India. The UPA government failed to move forward for the next two years and so has the NDA government for the next seven years till date. Apparently, the successive governments that the people have elected are insensitive to the welfare of the public and the potential harm that nuclear power projects can cause.

Against this background, I have the following suggestions for the DAE.

DAE should strengthen the Nuclear Regulatory Authority Bill of 2012 in line with the suggestions made by the Parliamentary Committee and come up to the Parliament for enacting a law that will set up an autonomous regulatory authority which will remain accountable to the Parliament and the public at large.

DAE/AERB meanwhile should obtain all regulatory filings made by EDF/Areva on the technical aspects of the EPR reactors, review the same from the point of view of the Indian context and place the material in the public domain for the people to see it.

This is the least that the DAE should do to elicit the public trust and confidence in the way it will ensure the safety of the EPR reactors to be set up in Jaitapur.

Meanwhile, according to a reply given recently in the Rajya Sabha by the Minister in charge of the DAE (https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/india/govt-has-given-in-principle-approval-for-setting-up-6-n-power-reactors-at-jaitapur-minister/articleshow/88328732.cms?from=mdr), “in principle approval has been accorded for the six EPR reactors to be supplied by EDF for the Jaitapur nuclear power project. There are reports about the costs of these reactors escalating sharply, which implies that the project will cost India dearly. In the absence of a competitive bidding procedure, DAE will not be able to discover the price of the reactors accurately. Considering that the Uranium fuel for the reactors will also come from outside and the recent trends indicating that the Uranium prices are hardening in dollar terms, the per kWh cost in rupee terms, of electricity from Jaitapur is going to be very high.

In my view, the DAE should take the people into confidence about the safety of the project and its costs, so that they may get a clearer picture about how the Department will ensure that the Jaitapur reactors and the other reactors to be set up elsewhere will be safe and cost effective.


Yours sincerely,

EAS Sarma
Former Secretary to Govt of India


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