The site for the proposed 9,900 MW nuclear power plant in Jaitapur, India, guarded round the clock by a police outpost. Photo by Vikas Khot
Field of Fissures
By Anuj Chopra
JAITAPUR, INDIA - The fishing trawler's groaning engine is abruptly shut down a couple of nautical miles off the coast of Sakhri Nate, a seaside hamlet fringed with palm trees and mango groves. Sakshil Kotawadekar, 25, stands on the deck under the broiling sun, surrounded by a group of men untangling a spidery web of fishing nets and sorting their catch. "Look, that thing there," he says, pointing at a lighthouse perched atop a barren cliff along the jagged coastline. "It threatens to rob us of our lands, our livelihoods, our way of life. It will imperil our very existence."
Kotawadekar isn't describing a haunted lighthouse. Adjacent to it is the site for the proposed 9,900 MW nuclear power plant to be built by the French state-owned company Areva. In all, six 1,650 MWe (megawatt electrical) European Pressurised Reactors (EPR) will be installed by Areva in phases within the next 15 to 18 years, with the first two reactors expected to come into operation by 2018-19. At full capacity, this plant at Jaitapur in Maharashtra's Ratnagiri district will trump Japan's 8,200 MW Kashiwazaki-Kariwa plant to become the world's largest nuclear power project.
Local fishermen like Kotawadekar, who owns two trawlers and whose family has been in the trade for generations, fear that the project could cause irreparable damage to the region's environment and marine ecology. The plant is expected to guzzle 52 billion litres of sea water every day--15 times Mumbai's daily water supply--and disgorge the same volume five degrees warmer back into the sea. Environmentalists say that would push away marine life along the coast into deeper waters, depleting the catch and forcing local fishermen to go further out into the sea. Ratnagiri boasts an annual catch of 1,25,000 tonnes of a variety of fish, including pomfret, surmai (kingfish), bangda (Indian mackerel) and rawas (Indian salmon), but with the project, those numbers could dwindle significantly. Environmentalists also fear that the radioactive waste generated in the nuclear plant could permeate the alluvial soil, stunting the local mango, cashew, rice and jackfruit plantations.