Jaitapur—20 years in the making

On site - Jaitapur Nuclear Power Plant. Photo credit: Priya Prasad

On site – Jaitapur Nuclear Power Plant. Photo credit: Priya Prasad

 By Priya Prasad and Eeshanpriya M.S

The agitation against Jaitapur nuclear power plant has all but died down. With doubts and speculation surrounding the plant, will the project see daylight?

The Jaitapur plant is estimated to have a total electricity generation capacity of 9,900MW, of which 50% will be used by Maharashtra. Of the six reactor units commissioned, two have received government sanction. Building a high capacity power plant requires safety measures. “Yet, is the common man benefitting?” exhorts Abhijit Minakshi, member of Lokayat, a Pune based NGO.

“The government has increased the ex gratia amount of land settlement to Rs 9.5 lakhs per acre,” says Satyajit Chavan, media coordinator for Konkan region. Yet for the fishermen, the situation is complicated. The sea cannot be compensated for. Satish Lad, electrical engineer from the Nuclear Power Corporation of India (NPCIL), said, “As a form of compensation, the government will provide the fishermen with boats, nets and cold storages”.

However, the fishermen fear that water released from the plant will increase the temperature of sea water and affect fish stock. Dr. Surendra Gadekar, an anti-nuclear environmentalist and physicist said, “All the research available about nuclear power plants is conducted abroad, with colder countries as models. In India, a rise of 5 to 7 degrees in water whose temperature is already over 25 degrees, will kill marine life”.

Mr Lad said “The pipes disposing warm water into the sea will be constructed 20 to 25 meters under the sea and there will be several nozzles diffusing it. Water will be disposed about 2km from the shore. When it comes to the surface, it’s temperature will be around 1 degree higher. According to environmental clearance committee, temperature can rise by 7 degrees.”

Why build the plant near the sea? Large amount of water is required for cooling. Steam rotates the turbines. To condense this steam, it is estimated that 2,500 crore litres of water will be used per day.

“The site for Jaitapur is the Madban Plateau which is 25 meters above sea level. The government plans to chop this plateau down to eight meters. If water has to be raised to a height of 25 meters, the amount of electricity consumed will be equal to half the electricity produced by the plant”, said Rajendra Phatarpekar, an environmentalist.

The Madban plateau prevents sea water from gushing into the villages around. It is also a sweet water reserve. Chopping it off spells disaster.

Then there is the fear of radiation but Satish Lad said, “Jaitapur won’t be allowed to reach the uncontrolled supercritical stage.” Mr Gadekar counters this point. “Nuclear fission is a chain reaction, and it is uncontrolled. The number of elements released after the atomic fission will react with each other and produce many toxic gasses.”

Mr Lad further said, “The world today is seeing nuclear power as green power because these plants do not harm the environment. The waste generated from the plant will be uranium, which will be used as fuel for the reactor. There will be zero leakage. ” This uranium will then be converted to plutonium which is recycled and used in a second stage reactor at Kalpakkam.

Ratnagiri falls in the Seismic zone. “The region comes under seismic zones 3 & 4 and has witnessed more than 93 Earthquakes of magnitude up to 6.3 on Richter scale during the period of 20 years from 1985 to 2005. It is extremely dangerous to construct heavy structures like the series of nuclear reactors in this area,” said Dr. M K Prabhu, in a letter appealing withdrawal of Jaitapur.

Lad said, “The nuclear reactor buildings have double containment of 1.5 meter thickness each. Between these walls is a space of one meter with six to seven mm of steel plating. The known epicentre for this seismic zone is several hundred kilometers into the Arabian sea. It will take three hours for the impact of disturbed water (in case an earthquake should occur) to be felt on the plant. On the other hand the plant will take 20 to 25 minutes to shut down completely.”

There is still a long way to go. Construction on the first unit of the plant will take a minimum of five to six years, according to Lad; additionally, Areva is yet to iron out issues with the Department of Atomic Energy regarding final cost of the plant.


The Inequities and Inefficiencies of Electricity

'Powerless,' a documentary, looks at electricity theft in Kanour. Image source: www.powerless-film.com

‘Powerless,’ a documentary, looks at electricity theft in Kanpur. Image source: http://www.powerless-film.com

By Priya Prasad

In 2012, India suffered a massive power outage in its north and eastern parts. According to media coverage of this incident, people across various sectors were affected, from industry to agriculture, from urban to rural. What does this say about our dependence on electricity?

The problems of power in India are well documented. A documentary film, ‘Powerless,’ traces the issue of electricity theft. Considered the “leather capital of India,” Kanpur suffers electricity outages for 12 to 15 hours. The power crisis in the city has directly and indirectly created a number of problems for the citizens—high rates of tuberculosis, substandard living conditions, extensive pollution from the widespread use of diesel generators are just a few. As the price of electricity is very high, theft is rampant in the city. Enter the protagonists of ‘Powerless’—Loha Singh, an electrician who steals electricity from paid connections and Ritu Maheshwari, head of the state electricity company in the city, KESCO, who is attempting to control the chaos surrounding the theft and power shortages.

What ‘Powerless’ captures is a microcosm of the electricity crisis in India. Such stories as well as the power failure of 2012 are symptomatic of the uneven distribution of electricity in India. Demand and supply of electricity is unbalanced.

According to a report by the Central Electricity Authority (Load Generation Balance Report, 2013–2014), India’s total energy requirement (including thermal, hydro, gas, coal, etc.) for the current fiscal year is 10.4 MU and the availability is 9.7 MU, thereby indicating a shortage of 6.7 per cent. This has been attributed to “transmission constraints,” in the northern, eastern and southern grids.

An Imbalanced Power Grid

What also contributes to the imbalance in power and electricity in the country is the division of the national power grid. The Indian grid is divided into five sections—northern, western, eastern, north eastern and southern. With the exception of the southern grid, the remaining grids are integrated with one another. According to a 2012 Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry report (Lack of Affordable & Quality Power: Shackling India’s Growth Story), the distribution of power is as follows:


Power Distribution

Western Grid

66,757 MW

Northern Grid

50,000 MW

Southern Grid

30,000 MW

Eastern Grid

26,838 MW

North Eastern Grid

2,455 MW

Source: (i) Lack of Affordable & Quality Power: Shackling India’s Growth Story, FICCI Report. (ii) Report on Grid Disturbances on 30th and 31st July 2012, Central Electricity Regulatory Commission

Although the western grid produces the most power, the northern grid caters to a larger number of people and covers a wider geographic area, 31 per cent according to the FICCI report. Furthermore, the north eastern grid is dependent on the northern one, while the southern one lies in isolation. With such an uneven distribution of power, it is not difficult to see why the power outage in 2012 occurred on such a massive scale.

Operational Efficiency

Efficiency of running a power plant is another factor that accounts for losses and inefficiencies in electricity. Plant load factor (PLF)— the rate or frequency with which a power plant is used—is one measure to determine a power plant’s operational efficiency. According to a report from the International Energy Agency (IEA), the PLF fell exponentially from 90 per cent in FY 2007/08 and 2008/09 to 67 per cent in FY 2011/12. This drop in performance has been attributed to poor maintenance of power plants in addition to shortages in fuel supply, namely coal and gas and the poor quality of coal. When the frequency with which a power plant is utilised is not optimal, it has a direct effect on the finances of the power company, which in turn leads to a reduction in the amount of electricity generated.

In such scenarios where power plants are unable to provide sufficient electricity, people rely on diesel generators. A New York Times India Ink report mentions that during the electricity failure in 2012, diesel generators kept some businesses and hospitals functioning, but this was only in the urban areas, particularly the more affluent neighborhoods. The article attributed this to the high price of diesel, which, according to the New York Times report, is subsidised by Rs 13 per litre.

Similarly, in Kanpur, since the amount of electricity generated is less, people use diesel generators which besides being intensely polluting are also extremely expensive. When the generators become unaffordable, the last resort is theft.

Electricity Theft

In ‘Theft and Loss of Electricity in an Indian State,’ Miriam Golden from Princeton University and Brian Min from University of Michigan take an in depth look at how politics, particularly, electoral votes is associated with electricity theft in the state. They cite three ways in which electricity is stolen—drawing electricity from illegal connections, meter fraud and unmetered use. Meter fraud involves bribing an official to produce inaccurate readings; another form of meter fraud is tampering with the mechanism of meters to provide more electricity to users than what they have paid for. Unmetered use of electricity is widespread not only in urban areas but in rural as well. They state that since the advent of the Green Revolution in the 1970s, power to farmers has been subsidised. Farmers use electricity to power irrigation pumpsets and tube wells to draw up groundwater. What Min and Golden conclude in their analysis is that unmetered theft is most common in agricultural areas, and this involves farmers receiving more electricity that what they are due. Moreover, this extra power is given to rich farmers who comprise “a powerful interest group” for the local politicians.

Rural Electrification

The power failure of 2012 put the spotlight on India’s electricity problems, including those of the rural areas. In 2005, the government launched a scheme, the Rajiv Gandhi Grameen Vidyutikaran Yojana electrifying 115,000 villages and 23.4 million BPL households by 2012. An Economist article on rural electrification states that although this was the official plan, with a reported 90 per cent of electrification achieved, it does not indicate the actual amount of electricity reaching those villages. The article then enumerates the work of several “social entrepreneurs” and NGOs in providing “rural off-grid power.” These organisations are using solar power to electrify rural households. For example, Mera Gao Power, an organisation in Uttar Pradesh provides solar panels and has claimed to have serviced 9,000 homes.

If the electricity grid in India in unable to cope with current demand, could alternatives like solar power offset imbalances in the grid?

Solar Power: An Alternative?

According to a Times of India report on India’s burgeoning solar power industry, there are about 1.8 GW of installed solar power plants in India. Furthermore, the report mentions a programme—Jawaharlal Nehru National Solar Mission—implemented by the government which aims to install 20,000 MW of solar power by 2022, all in three phases. A recently released World Bank report commended the programme, stating that it has played a key role in reducing the price of solar power and dependence on depleting fuels such as coal and gas. However, the question still remains, will such technology meet rising demand? And what about existing inequalities, how are those going to be addressed? Is solar power the only way out?

Power sector in India in graphs

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Related Links

Understanding Energy Challenges in India – Policies, Players and Issues

Energy Statistics 2013 from the Central Statistics Office, Govt of India

Lighting Up Rural India

Ministry of Power, GoI – All India electricity sector at a glance

Theft and Loss of Electricity in an Indian State

An Area of Darkness

Solar power in India

An Energy Alternative

World Bank report on rural electricity in India, 2010

FICCI report: Lack of Affordable and Quality Power: Shackling India’s Growth Story

NYT India Ink – The Diesel Generator: India’s Trusty Power Source

Addressing an agricultural crisis in the context of climate change

By Priya Prasad

Labelling itself as “A Foundation for Food Security,” former politician and executive director of the Global Crop Diversity Trust, Marie Haga emphasised the need for a “specific mandate for food security.” “There is a need to conserve diversity of major food crops and making it available to farmers and breeders,” she adds. She says this in the context of climate change, which scientists say will benefit crops in certain areas but would have adverse effects worldwide, bringing down food production by 2%.

“The challenge facing agriculture is that there are too many people. This would need a 15% increase in food production in 10 years, and this will occur in the midst of climate change,” Haga says. In a document prepared by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), climate change will have a negative impact on agriculture. A one degree rise in temperatures globally will lead to a 10% reduction in rice yields. “Agriculture has to adapt, and it has to adapt quickly,” says an emphatic Haga.

Haga praised India’s Food Security Act, saying that more countries need to make food security and its conservation high on their political agendas. “Now they are working in the UN for the 2015 development goals. I don’t doubt that food security will be on the agenda but we’ve got to make sure that it is sufficiently strong,” she says.

According to Haga, crop diversity is the way forward. Having varieties of food crops available will help address the agricultural shortage that will occur. But the challenge now lies in making this diverse food crop available to farmers and this would require conserving crops. Plant genebanks are one such method of storing a variety of seeds. This is where the role of organsiations such as the Global Crop Diversity Fund come in, which was established at the United Nations Johannesburg Summit in 2002. “Genebanks are not meant to be museums, but seeds need to be stored and made available to farmers,” she adds.

The Trust works under the International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture. It was established as a system of sharing the benefits of storing seed varieties with the global community. A back-up facility was  created on an island near the Arctic pole, Svalbard which houses 781,148 samples of seeds from all over the world. The facility includes major international collections from organisations such as Africa Rice, Secretariat of the Pacific Community, Biodiversity International to name a few as well as national collections from individual member states.

The collection at Svalbard is supported via an endowment fund from the various governments that are part of the International Treaty. The proceeds of this fund account for 15% of the overall costs of managing the collection.

Questions were raised regarding patentcy issues of sharing the national collections of seeds at Svalbard with other countries. Haga and her colleague, Luigi Guarino, a senior scientist at the Trust said that this would only apply to countries that fall under the International Treaty.

The talk on food security, “Feeding a Growing World Despite Climate Change,” was held at the M S Swaminathan Research Foundation. In his opening address, Mr Swaminathan said that the work of such organisations such as the Global Crop Trust Fund is to keep “genetic resources in trust for posterity” in order to ensure the wellbeing of future generations.

Pallikaranai: Conserving Biodiversity

Much has been written about the Pallikaranai marshlands, a site famous for its diverse ecological habitat of plant and animal life. In recent years, the site has been in the news as its viability is under threat. A visit to the marshlands and you will know why.

Pallikaranai Wetlands

Pallikaranai Wetlands

Located near the wetlands is a 200 acres garbage dumping site. Senthil is a Conservancy Inspector working at the garbage dump yard at Pallikaranai. His job is to oversee operations at the yard and to ensure that the garbage being gathered is properly weighed. He says that about 150 acres of that land has already been filled with garbage, which approximates to about 2,500 to 3,000 tonnes.

Another hazard that the dump yard faces, he says, is frequent fires which is caused by methane gas. The gas develops because of the excessive amount of garbage that is collected there. Besides this, sewage water is also accumulated from the neighbouring areas and treated near the yard which then connects back to the city’s main drainage system.

Sewage treatment plant at Perungudi garbage dump

Sewage treatment plant at Perungudi garbage dump

The issue of preserving the Pallikaranai marshlands has been taken up by a consortium of NGOs led by Care Earth, an environmental conservation and advocacy group. In a study, Management Plan Conservation of Pallikaranai Marsh, the consortium has highlighted the various ways in which the marshlands are being destroyed because of ‘man-made activities’. The consequence of such destruction, they say, results is increased flooding in the area.

The importance of this marshland cannot be further underscored. In an effort to curtail the degradation of the wetlands, the consortium has put down several recommendations—setting up of a coordinating agency to conserve the wetlands; according the marshlands a Ramsar site; promoting education and awareness regarding Pallikaranai; and developing a ‘Detailed Management Plan’. These recommendations serve as “a reconciliation of conservation and development goals”.

While preservation efforts are being undertaken by such advocacy groups, the government too is doing its bit: the garbage at the dump is divided into biodegradable and non-biodegradable trash. Rather than setting up a treatment plant, the Chennai Corporation calls in rag pickers to segregate the rubbish. They regularly collect all the biodegradable trash, thereby helping in recycling.

Garbage Dump, Perungudi

Garbage Dump, Perungudi

Given that approximately 50 lakh tonnes of garbage are dumped in the yard, the Chennai Corporation is now planning to close the present dump yard site and start two new ones outside the city limits. The fate of the Pallikaranai marsh is yet uncertain, but with such conservation attempts from both private and public enterprises, there is much hope for the future of Pallikaranai.