Ecological Disaster

Kaiga Nuclear Power Project

Shankar Sharma

The environmental Clearance (EC) accorded by MoEF&CC (IA Division) vide a communication dated 5th August 2019 to NPCIL, Mumbai for the expansion of the capacity of the Kaiga Nuclear Power Project in Uttara Kannada district, Karnataka, will pave the way for ecological disaster. This EC refers to the proposal by NPCIL/DAE to add two nuclear reactors of capacity 700 MWe each to the existing capacity of 4 reactors of capacity 235 MWe each within the core area of Western Ghats which is designated by MoEF&CC as an ecologically sensitive area (ESA), within the ESZ of The Anshi National Park, with the additional status as Dandeli-Anshi Tiger Reserve, and on the bank of the river Kali surrounded by some of the richest biodiversity of tropical forest in a biodiversity hotspot of a global perspective.

Despite massive protests by the locals; despite a detailed submission on the serious associated concerns during the official public hearing as per EIA rules of 2006 on 15.12.2018; despite a detailed representation in this regard to MoEF&CC on 18.12.2018; and despite another representation to Atomic Energy Commission on 23.12.2018, MoEF&CC has conveyed the EC, which obviously has ignored everyone of the credible concerns, and without even trying to ascertain the associated concerns.

The communication dated 6th Sept. 2016 by MoEF & CC, informing NPCIL on Terms of Reference for the project proposal, had clearly stated that the area within 10 km is predominantly forest land with dense growth of tall and stout trees, and that the forest is categorised as reserve forest. The Anshi National Park, with the additional status as Dandeli-Anshi Tiger Reserve, is at a distance between 718 m to 1,734 m from Kaiga project site as per the EC. MoEF&CC vide its Circular dated 27.02.2007 and Office Memorandum dated 02.12.2009 has delineated a procedure for consideration of developmental projects located within 10 km of National Park/ Wildlife Sanctuary for grant of environmental clearance under EIA Notification, 2006. Hence, it is a clear violation of its own policy that this project proposal, as a part of the nuclear power project being a red category industry as per the Pollution Control Board norms, should get environmental clearance.

The region around the Kaiga NPP, which also has an important river Kali flowing through it, is ecologically very sensitive, and is considered to be of very high ecological value from the global warming perspective. This area, around Kaiga NPP including the three villages of Kaiga, Mallapur and Virje, which are identified as project area in the EIA, is anyway declared as Ecologically Sensitive Area by a draft notification (3rd Oct. 2018) of the MoEF&CC. The decision to set up the Kaiga NPP in such an ecologically sensitive region in 1990s itself was an enormous policy blunder, which has resulted in incalculable ecological damage to the rich biodiversity here. Three reports from the scientists of IISc, Bengaluru under the title, (i) “Ecological Sustainability of Riverine Ecosystems in Central Western Ghats”, 2018; (ii) “Stimulus of developmental projects to landscape dynamics in Uttara Kannada, Central Western Ghats”, ELSEVIER, 2016, and (iii) “Salient Ecological Sensitive regions of Central Western Ghats, India”, Springer Nature 2018, have all copiously highlighted the ecologically critical importance of the area around Kaiga NPP. The society should not be seen as continuing with such policy disasters by permitting further destruction of more than 54 hectares of thick forests at a time when these tropical forest are considered by IPCC as the most effective and cost effective option to address the threats of Climate Change.

These issues clearly emphasise the need for MoEF&CC to view all the related issues with the highest level of responsibility as the custodian of the environment, and not to dilute its own Acts, rules and policies. Obviously the MOEF&CC needs a very strong mandate from PMO to carefully review the existing forest and environment related policies to ensure the sustenance of ecological services through the sustainable forest management strategies. The ongoing policy of MoEF&CC to accord EC to almost all such project proposals to divert thick original forest lands, especially for those of the Union and state governments, can be seen as a serious dereliction of its Constitutional responsibilities.

With the proposed increase of about 250% in the overall reactor capacity at the project site, the Kaiga NPP site will face exponential increase in radiation emission risks with the presence of six nuclear reactors in close proximity with each other and sharing many technical services. Nuclear safety experts identify such a scenario as "enhanced risk for NPPs with multiple reactors and shared technical facilities". A serious issue noticed in the EIA was the unanswered questions over the inadequate preparedness on part of the concerned authorities during any unfortunate accident of the type which occurred in Chernobyl (USSR) and Fukushima (Japan).

The EIA is without any action plan in this regard, and seems to be keen to pass on all the associated responsibilities to the local district administration, which shall not be acceptable to the people of the state. It is a general public opinion that the concerned authorities in the country are ill-equipped and ill-prepared to face such industrial level disasters as experienced in the case of Bhopal gas tragedy in 1984. A detailed representation highlighting the serious concerns to the public in this regard addressed to the Atomic Energy Commission.

Few critical considerations for the country in this context should be: (i) at a time when the country is seeking to be a global leader in combating the threats of Climate Change, it can be said to be a criminal act to destroy 54 hectares of dense tropical forest of very high ecological value; (ii) at a time when the country is finding it hard to fight the water crises impacting many millions of people, and at a time when it is hosting 14th Conference of Parties (COP 14) of the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD), the MoEF&CC seems to be oblivious of the fact that losing the natural forest cover is the first step in desertification; (iii) whereas, against the national forest policy target of 33% of the land area to be covered by forests and trees, and the present status is only about 21%, the ministry instead of focusing on increasing this percentage cover, seems to have no qualms in permitting the diversion of large chunks of forest lands, as is evident from the reports of thousands of hectares of forest lands being diverted every year in the name of development projects.

A clear conviction of IPCC with respect to the forests is represented by two associated statements: “Emissions from deforestation are very significant—they are estimated to represent more than 18% of global emissions”; “Curbing deforestation is a highly cost-effective way of reducing greenhouse gas emissions.” In this context it may even be termed as a crime against humanity to even consider diverting more than 54 hectares of thick tropical forest lands to the proposed project, whose net benefit to the larger society can also be argued as negative, when one takes into account the life-cycle cost of the nuclear power beginning from the nuclear ore mining till the nuclear wastes are safely.

The major concerns mentioned above, in addition to many other concerns raised in the Public Hearing, have serious implications to not only the people in the district and adjacent areas, but also to the entire region, if not addressed adequately.

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Vol 54, No. 25, Dec 19 - 25, 2021