With the governments of France and India fully supporting the project, the Jaitapur Nuclear Power Plant project is firmly put back on track.
In June 2018, French electricity utility company Electricite De France (EDF) and American multinational General Electric agreed to jointly build six nuclear reactors for the Jaitapur Nuclear Power Plant (JNPP). For years, the JNPP has been mired in delays due to several setbacks. In 2015, during Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit to France, a memorandum of understanding (MoU) between French firm Areva SA and India’s Nuclear Power Corporation of India Limited (NPCIL) was signed to set up six nuclear power plants in Jaitapur. Despite the delays, the power plant now seems to be back on track with India and France determined to take this project forward in all earnestness.
The Project And Initial Delays
The JNPP project, in Ratnagiri district of Maharashtra, once commissioned, is expected to generate approximately 10,000 megawatt (MW) of electricity and, therefore, along with the Tarapur Atomic Power Station, a total of 110,000 MW of electricity would be generated, giving Maharashtra the capability of producing maximum power in the country. The project is reported to be about 10 times the size of Chernobyl power plant.
This ambitious project, which was signed between France and India in 2010, has, however, been saddled with delays in the past due to many reasons. First, there was a change in government in both France and India, and then Areva underwent a financial crisis following which it had to be bailed out by the EDF. The EDF also quoted a higher price of about 25 per cent from the original quotation of Rs 30 crore per MW. This quoted price did not suit India’s demand for cost-effective nuclear energy. Second, in the first instance, both Areva and NPCIL agreed upon the reference plant, which was producing 1,430 MW of electricity while Areva later on turned to demand for a reference plant with more power generation capacity, which could produce 1,600 MW of electricity. This became a bone of contention, since, according to the Department of Atomic Energy, “if the technology (more power generating capacity) has been enhanced, even then the reference plant cannot be changed”.
This demand from Areva was also not taken to positively by the Atomic Energy Regulatory Board (AERB). Third, the project was mired in controversy due to political and public resistance to the nuclear power project on the pretext of environmental concerns and threat to livelihood of the local population. The local population vehemently opposed the project since they felt it would have an adverse effect on their livelihood. Fourth, the controversial Nuclear Liability Act 2010 was also a sticking point. Fifth, following the Fukushima accident in Japan, France got entangled in ensuring and reviewing nuclear safety measures. It must be noted that in April 2017, there were reports that a delegation representing the French government and the EDF assured India that they would implement technologies to build the nuclear power plant in such a way that it would avoid Fukushima-type disasters.
It is important to note that between 2005 and 2015, NPCIL had done all it could to educate and inform the local people and the political parties about the benefits of nuclear power plant project. The NPCIL has organised various meetings to clear any queries or doubts of the local population as well as political parties regarding the project. NPCIL also confirmed that the setting up of the power project would “not have any adverse effect on the livelihood of the local population” and will have “no major impact” on activities such as fishing. Moreover, NPCIL also confirmed that the power plant project would provide employment to many people and preference would be given to those who have been affected by the construction of the nuclear plant. The French government also assured in 2017 that, “implementation of the project will be on the norms of Make in Maharashtra Initiative”, ensuring maximum employment generation for locals. Around 60 per cent of project will be built domestically, thus helping the local industrial sector benefit.
In addition, India’s External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj and her French counterpart, in 2017, clarified that civil nuclear cooperation would remain an “important pillar” of India’s engagement with France and both the countries would also look for ways to expedite the JNPP project.
However, EDF is not the only company to be involved in this project. According to a report, Assystem, Egis, Reliance and Bouygues are the four companies that could be involved in installation of an engineering platform for Jaitapur. In addition, Larsen and Toubro, AFCEN and Bureau Veritas of France would provide a training centre for design and construction standards that need to be kept in mind during the manufacturing of equipment crucial to the JNPP. The NPCIL, on the other hand, is tasked with the role of securing certifications as well as being responsible for overall monitoring of JNPP.
With growing demand for energy to drive development, nuclear energy would remain crucial to India. This is more evident from Maharashtra Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis’ remarks on the project in April 2015 post-Modi’s visit to France that the project would move ahead and be a crucial step towards generation of power. Nevertheless, this cooperation will open several avenues for India to cooperate with France in nuclear technology-related matters, which include nuclear waste management, developing nuclear proliferation-resistant technologies and nuclear safety measures.