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Concerns with Jaitapur nuclear power plant

iasparliament
January 08, 2019
3 months
546
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What is the issue?

The Indian government has to be transparent on the project details of the Jaitapur nuclear power plant.

What is the project about?

  • The EPR (European Pressurised Reactors) is a third-generation pressurised water reactor, capable of achieving around 1,650 MW of power output with a higher yield than previous models.
  • It can supply electricity to up to 1.5 million people, yet requires 17% less fuel and produces less long-term radioactive waste.
  • India has initiated the idea of importing 6 nuclear EPRs more than a decade ago but made little progress due to economics and safety concerns.
  • In March 2018, the French company Électricité de France (EDF) and the Nuclear Power Corporation of India (NPCIL) signed an “industrial way forward” agreement.
  • Recently, EDF submitted a proposal to the Indian government for the Jaitapur nuclear power project in Maharashtra using EPR design, along with a proposal to start the project ASAP.
  • It will become the largest nuclear power plant in the world on completion.

What are the risks associated with the project?

  • Cost - Electricity from the Jaitapur project will be more expensive than many other sources of electricity, including solar and wind power.
  • It was estimated in 2013 that first-year tariffs from the Jaitapur project would be around Rs. 15 per kilowatt-hour.
  • This figure must be revised upwards to account for the construction experience with EPRs over the past five years.
  • While nuclear costs have been rising, other low-carbon sources of electricity, especially solar energy, have become cheaper.
  • In recent auctions for solar PV projects under the National Solar Mission, winning tariff bids in the range of Rs. 2 to Rs. 2.50 per unit have become routine.
  • Delay - Across the world, EPRs have experienced delays and cost increases and has also locked consumers into a risky and expensive project with uncertain strategic and economic benefits.
  • Debt -  Power-generating capacity in India has grown faster than demand causing projects to run into financial difficulties.
  • The parliamentary standing committee on energy listed 34 “stressed” projects, including NPAs and “those which have the potential to become NPAs”, with a cumulative outstanding debt of Rs. 1.74 lakh crore. (2018)
  • Since the NPCIL’s debts would ultimately be underwritten by the Indian government, if the project encounters financial difficulties, the costs would fall on Indian taxpayers.

What are the concerns about safety measures?

  • In addition to the high costs, safety problems with the reactor design and construction have emerged in several EPRs.
  • The most serious of these pertained to the pressure vessel, which is the key barrier that prevents the spread of radioactive materials from the reactor.
  • There are cases of substandard welding in the reactor’s pipes or high carbon in the reactors’ steel in EPR design as reported the French nuclear safety regulator.
  • These safety concerns are further exacerbated by India’s flawed nuclear liability law.
  • In the event of an accident, the nuclear liability law would require the public sector NPCIL to compensate victims and pay for clean-up, while largely absolving EDF of responsibility.
  • However, under the law, NPCIL can obtain compensation from EDF for the supply of equipment with defects or for sub-standard services.
  • But the joint statement issued by the two countries might limit the operator’s (NPCIL) right to obtain compensation.
  • This is because the statement promises that the “enforcement of India’s rules” would be in accordance with the International Convention on Supplementary Compensation for nuclear damage.
  • This might prevent the NPCIL from exercising its right to claim compensation from EDF as allowed by Indian law.
  • If that is the case, then EDF can escape with limited or no consequences even after a severe accident.
  • Thus, without any responsibility, EDF will look more towards lowering operational costs for the plant than maintaining the highest safety standards for it.

What should be done?

  • Jaitapur
  • Both the countries emphasized the need for the project to generate cost-effective electricity.
  • To ensure that, the government should clarify on –
  1. The entire project cost
  2. Accountability for cost increases and delays
  3. Agreement on sharing liability
  • Unless it is transparent about these details, the implementation of the nuclear power plant will become difficult to materialise.

 

Source: The Hindu

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