April 28, 2011 / 1:29 PM / in 7 years

India green panel recommends deferment of nuclear plant plans

NEW DELHI, April 28 (Reuters) - A panel backed by India’s environment ministry has suggested holding off green approvals for four proposed nuclear reactors on concerns over coastal degradation and safety that intensified after last month’s nuclear disaster in Japan.

The four nuclear reactors, of 1,000 Megawatts each, being built in southern India, had initially received approvals from the environment ministry in 2008. Two of them are almost ready for commissioning.

But the nuclear disaster in Japan, triggered by a massive earthquake, has forced the Indian government to tread cautiously, though it has made it clear that it continues to pursue atomic energy as a key component in its power basket.

The panel’s recommendation on the four reactors at the Kudamkulam nuclear power plant, being built jointly with Russian help, is not binding.

An official at the environment ministry told Reuters that a decision on the recommendation could come in early June.

Giving its reasons for suggesting that approvals for the project be held off, the Environment Appraisal Committee said the data provided by India’s state-run monopoly nuclear power producers, NPCIL, were from 2004 and hence dated.

“Due to various environmental problems including the adverse impact on the marine life, the present proposal is not acceptable,” the panel said in its report to the ministry, a copy of which was obtained by Reuters.

“Overall, the reports submitted (by NPCIL)were not readable/legible and far below the basic requirements for consideration of CRZ (coastal regulatory zone) clearance.”

India operates 20 mostly small nuclear reactors at six sites with a capacity of 4,780 MW, or 3 percent of 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.

While nuclear energy is seen as crucial to power an economy growing at 9 percent but hobbled by peak-hour power deficit of about 12 percent, it also is seen as helping the world’s third-worst emitter reduce its carbon footprint. About 40 percent of Indians, or 500 million people, lack electricity.

But, opposition to nuclear power has grown in India after the disaster in Japan, and protests against a proposed nuclear plant site in western India have turned violent in recent weeks, leaving at least one person dead in police firing and many injured. [ID:nL3E7FJ1M1]

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has said India’s atomic energy programme is on track but regulators would review safety systems to ensure that plants could withstand similar natural disasters. (Reporting by Krittivas Mukherjee; Editing by Jo Winterbottom)

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