April 26, 2011 / 12:54 PM / 9 years ago

India pledges nuclear plant safety amid Japan crisis fears

NEW DELHI, April 26 (Reuters) - India will tighten safety systems at a proposed $10 billion nuclear plant, potentially the world’s largest, a minister said on Tuesday, after protests against the plan turned violent in recent weeks following last month’s nuclear disaster in Japan.

Clashes between protesters and police last week killed one person and injured at least 20 near the plant site in Jaitapur, western India, where anger over land acquisition has intensified on fears of a similar disaster in India. [ID:nL3E7FJ1M1]

In farming and fishing villages near the proposed site, posters depict scenes of last month’s devastation at Japan’s Fukushima and warn of what could be repeated at the proposed 9,900 megawatt (MW) plant 300 km (185 miles) south of Mumbai.

India’s government has reaffirmed its intent to scale up its nuclear power capacity, seen as a key way to meet the country’s energy thirst, despite safety fears. [ID:nSGE72E04Y]

A high-level body including Prime Minister Manmohan Singh met on Tuesday to draw up plans including tightening safety standards for reactors and inviting an International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) team to conduct an audit.

“The pause was to look at the safety issue. Today, a very important decision has been taken that each reactor in Jaitapur... will have a stand-alone safety system, a dedicated operating and maintenance system,” Environment Minister Jairam Ramesh told a press conference after the meeting.

“This is a very major step forward. Fukushima saw the cascading of the failure of one reactor, and that is what caused much of the public concern on Jaitapur.”

During a December visit to India by French President Nicolas Sarkozy, the two countries signed a framework agreement for state-owned Areva CEPFi.PA to build two of its next generation 1,650-megawatt EPR reactors at Jaitapur and supply reactor fuel for 25 years in a deal worth 7 billion euros ($10.1 billion).

The site in the western state of Maharashtra may host up to six reactors, India says, which would make it the world’s largest.

During last week’s protest, piles of burning tyres blocked roads to the plant site, buses and a local hospital were attacked, and a police station near Jaitapur was ransacked.

“We are engaging with the society there,” Prithviraj Chavan, Chief Minister of the state of Maharashtra said.

“A substantial compensation package has been worked out by the government of Maharastra and NPCIL (Nuclear Power Corp of India Ltd) and will be announced soon,” he said.

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.

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. (Writing by Henry Foy; Editing by Andrew Marshall)

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