By Tony Munroe
JAITAPUR, India | Fri Apr 15, 2011 11:33am EDT
(Reuters) – As far as Taramati Vaghdhare is concerned, there is no question of accepting compensation to make way for the world’s largest nuclear power plant.
“If you want the land, make us stand on the land — shoot us — and then take the land,” said the feisty 53-year-old, wearing a blue and gold sari and gesturing with a spatula.
In the yard outside her house, a young man sorted green mangoes of the prized Alphonso type from her family’s orchards.
“Our land is our mother. We can’t sell her and take compensation,” said Vaghdhare, who was among villagers detained during recent protests against the plant.
The stakes are high for chronically power-short India. The plant would eventually have six reactors capable of generating 9,900 megawatts of electricity — enough to provide power to 10 million Indian homes.
Long-running opposition to the proposed plant at Jaitapur has hardened amid the unfolding nuclear crisis in Japan, with village posters depicting scenes of last month’s devastation at the Fukushima plant and warning of what could be in store for this region in the Western Ghats north of Goa.
Even if villagers and fishermen manage to derail the plant, India is unlikely to back down from its broader nuclear ambitions given surging power demand and a lack of alternatives.
India suffers from a peak-hour power deficit of about 12 percent that acts as a brake on an economy growing at nearly 9 percent and causes blackouts in much of the country. About 40 percent of Indians, or 500 million people, lack electricity.
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh staked his political career on a 2008 deal with the United States that ended India’s nuclear isolation dating to its 1974 test of a nuclear device, opening up a $150 billion civilian nuclear market.
India now operates 20 mostly small reactors at six sites with a capacity of 4,780 MW, or 3 percent of its total power capacity. It hopes to lift its nuclear capacity to 7,280 MW by next year, more than 20,000 MW by 2020 and 63,000 MW by 2032 by adding nearly 30 reactors.
Shortly after the earthquake and tsunami that crippled the plant at Fukushima and triggered a global rethink of nuclear power, Singh said India’s atomic energy programme was on track but regulators would review safety systems to ensure that plants could withstand similar natural disasters.
“I do not believe that there is any panic reaction in terms of calling for a halt for the nuclear projects,” said M.R. Srinivasan, former chairman of the Atomic Energy Commission of India, who selected the Jaitapur site.
“We will certainly review, in respect of new projects, the safety of those sites and the installations we propose to bring there in the context of an extreme, low probability but nonetheless possible natural event such as occurred in Fukushima,” he said.
VANDALISM AND CRICKET
A recent visit to the 938 hectare (2,216 acre) site saw few signs of activity other than a group of policemen playing cricket. Defaced signs and milemarkers on the road to Jaitapur, about 300 km (185 miles) south of Mumbai, are evidence of the opposition to the plant.