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Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Power to the States

India's grand ambitions of developing 50,000 MW of nuclear power capacity in the next 15 years cannot be realised without getting the States on board.

Tamil Nadu Chief Minister Ms J. Jayalalithaa's staking a claim to the entire electricity to be generated from the 2,000 megawatt (MW) Koodankulam nuclear power project merits consideration. Not because of the acute power shortage that the State is currently reeling under, but to give practical shape to the national goal of ensuring energy security consistent with the multilateral commitments on controlling greenhouse gas emissions. For all the Centre's protestations on having done ‘due diligence' with regard to site location, engineering design, plant safety, etc, the fact remains that sections of the public, especially those in the project area, have serious misgivings about nuclear power. Compounding the problem is the model of nuclear power generation, which involves setting up plants in a few select places, with each such project site housing significantly larger capacities than what used to be the norm earlier.

The existing 20 nuclear plants in India have a combined capacity of less than 5,000 MW, each typically of 220 MW and going up to 540 MW. As against this, Koodankulam alone is expected to have at least another two 1,000 MW reactors, if not more. Similarly, the proposed nuclear complex at Jaitapur in Maharashtra is seen to eventually house 10,000 MW of generation capacity. Implementing projects of this scale requires bringing the respective States, too, into the picture, not just for acquiring land and managing the local environment amidst growing NGO activism, but even to handle emergency evacuations of the sort seen after the Fukushima nuclear disaster of 2011. It calls for an altogether different level of Centre-State cooperation, including establishing joint risk management and safety assessment mechanisms. The right precedent here would probably be the Delhi Metro, which succeeded only because of the Delhi Government under Ms Sheila Dikshit being made an equal partner in the venture. In the case of Koodankulam, one should give some credit to Ms Jayalalithaa's Government for announcing a Rs 500 crore package for infrastructure development in the area, with a view to allay apprehensions of the local communities. And it is not only in Koodankulam; in all large nuclear projects under conception, States would have to play a more active role. Common sense, then, demands that the Centre endows them with a stake in the success of projects, going far beyond the existing 50:50 formula of power sharing between the host State and those in the neighbourhood.

While allocating the entire power from Koodankulam to Tamil Nadu is one way of ensuring its success, one can offer other justifications as well for the State Government’s stance. For instance, if States are entitled to royalty on their coal reserves used in thermal power stations, why cannot a similar incentive be given to those bearing the disproportionate risks on account of hosting nuclear plants? The broader point is that India's grand ambitions of developing 50,000 MW of nuclear power capacity in the next 15 years cannot be realised without getting the States on board.

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