Jaitapur: A risky and expensive project for UPSC

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Indo-France Civil Nuclear Deal for UPSC IAS Exam

The French company Électricité de France (EDF) submitted a “techno-commercial proposal” to the Indian government for the Jaitapur nuclear power project in Maharashtra.

Background:

India signed civil nuclear deal with France in 2008 which involves building a nuclear power plant in Jaitapur in Maharashtra. As part of this agreement, 6 European pressurized reactors (EPRs) would be constructed with a total capacity of 9,600 MW, making it the world‟s largest nuclear power plant.

Important Point:

  • India has initiated the process of importing six nuclear European Pressurised Reactors (EPRs) more than a decade ago, but the project had made little progress due to concerns about the economics and safety of the EPRs.
  • After meeting the French Foreign Minister, Jean-Yves Le Drian, External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj announced that “both countries are working to start the Jaitapur project as soon as possible.
  • This act creates a mechanism for compensating victims of nuclear damage arising from a nuclear incident. It caps the liability of the operator at Rs 500 crore. For damage exceeding this amount, the central government will be liable to pay up to 300 million SDR.
  • Recently the government has taken several steps towards actuating the project without considering the safety factor and people concern.

Concerns:

  • Jaitapur project will be more expensive than many other sources of electricity, including solar and wind power.
  • While nuclear costs have been rising, other low-carbon sources of electricity, especially solar energy, have become cheaper.
  • The first EPR entered commercial operation in December 2018 at the Taishan site in China, five years later than originally projected.
  • Its final capital cost was estimated by industry sources to be “40% over the original estimate”. The story in Europe is more dramatic.
  • The EPR at Flamanville in France, for example, went from an expected start date of 2012 to 2020, and a cost estimate of €3.3 billion to €10.9 billion.
  • Two EPRs have been planned at Hinkley Point in the U.K. Even before construction began, the estimated cost has risen significantly to £20 billion (about ₹1.75 lakh crore).

Safety problems:

  • Safety problems with the reactor design and construction have emerged in several EPRs. The most serious of these pertained to the pressure vessel, which is the key barrier that prevents the spread of radioactive materials from the reactor.

Liability law issue:

  • Under the Civil Nuclear liability act,the nuclear liability law would require the public sector NPCIL to compensate victims and pay for clean-up, while largely absolving EDF of responsibility.
  • The Indian law provides NPCIL with a limited opportunity to obtain compensation from EDF for the “supply of equipment… with… defects… or sub-standard services”.
  • But the joint statement issued in March 2018 promises that the “enforcement of India’s rules” would be in accordance with the international Convention on Supplementary Compensation for nuclear damage, which severely limits the operator’s right of recourse
  • Thus, thereby EDF can escape with limited or no consequences even after a severe accident, having little material incentive to maintain the highest safety standards, particularly if the requirements of safety come into conflict with the imperative to lower costs.

Source:The Hindu Editorial

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