21 May 2011

I admit our nuclear energy programme must be transparent - Jairam Ramesh

STRESS ON SAFETY : Union Minister of State for Environment and Forests Jairam Ramesh talks to students of the Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Mumbai, who protested on Wednesday against the environmental clearance for the Jaitapur nuclear plant in Maharashtra. — 

Mumbai: The Central government is set to form an independent regulatory authority, which will be responsible for nuclear safety and enforcement of safety standards. A bill to that effect will be introduced in the monsoon session of Parliament this year, Union Minister of State for Environment and Forests Jairam Ramesh said on Wednesday.

Mr. Ramesh was talking to journalists on the sidelines of a convocation ceremony at the Tata Institute of Social Sciences here.

The Minister agreed that for more than half a century there was no transparency in the nuclear energy programme in the country. “I admit that our nuclear energy programme must be transparent, accountable. It was not. I admit that the government should communicate with the people and take them into confidence about the nuclear programmes,” he said.

Mr. Ramesh said that considering the rising population, India would have to create 8-11 million jobs per annum. “No other country in the world has such a big challenge. For that kind of growth we will require energy. For the foreseeable future, I do not see any alternative to coal, hydel and nuclear power for fulfilling such energy needs,” he said, adding that the share of nuclear energy would increase from 3 per cent to around 6 per cent in the next 20 years.


Talking about endosulfan, Mr. Jairam said India was part of an international agreement to phase out the insecticide in the next 11 years. “We have to develop cost-effective alternatives to endosulfan. We are committed to using pesticides which are safe,” he said.

He said the insecticide had a disastrous effect only in Kasaragod in Kerala and it had not created any big problem in Orissa, Bihar and Punjab. “In 1998, the State plantation corporation of Kerala indiscriminately indulged in aerial spray of endosulfan on 10,000 hectares of cashew plantation. So far, the only district where such a large-scale negative impact has been seen is Kasaragod.”

He said there had to be a proper study to ascertain if the problems in Kasaragod were directly attributable to endosulfan. “I think if we have evidence that there are adverse effects on human health, we should take action.”

‘Don't paint me villain'

During the convocation ceremony, Mr. Ramesh was greeted by students protesting against the Jaitapur nuclear power plant project.

He said he had given clearance to the project in November last year based on environmental factors. “Considering the concerns raised after the Fukushima incident, the government has taken a large number of steps to assuage public concern, but I cannot expect people who are opposed to nuclear power on ideological grounds to change their minds,” he said.

He said, “the Prime Minister instructed [us] that when we construct more than one reactor, each reactor would have stand-alone safety and operational maintenance. This will stop the cascading effect, which happened at Fukushima,” he said.

On the fact that Jaitapur was in a seismic zone, he said the entire country lay in a seismic zone.

“There is also a possibility of tsunami. But the last tsunami in the Arabian Sea was in 1945 and it affected Balochistan. “We have to see the possibility of tsunami hitting Jaitapur,” he said, adding that the site was at such a height that it might not get affected due to tsunami.

“Don't paint me villain in the Jaitapur issue. There is need for greater communication with the public, especially by the NPCIL and the government of Maharashtra.”

He said the present growth in India was imbalanced. “We have growth at all costs. It is imbalanced.” He was increasing awareness among the policy-makers of the environmental cost of growth. “We also don't want environmental protection at all costs. We need a balance,” he said.

-Vinaya Deshpande
(The Hindu Thursday, May 12, 2011)

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