News / Asia

Protest Escalates at Proposed Indian Nuclear Site

Indian police officers use batons on a villager opposing a government plan to build a nuclear power plant in Jaitapur, Maharashtra state, India, April 19, 2011
Indian police officers use batons on a villager opposing a government plan to build a nuclear power plant in Jaitapur, Maharashtra state, India, April 19, 2011
Kurt Achin

Protests at the site of a proposed nuclear plant in India are heating up well in advance of a mass rally scheduled there next week. There has been at least one death so far, and demonstrators say the government is ignoring their concerns about the threat the reactor poses to their safety and livelihoods.  

India's Maharashtra state ordered an investigation Tuesday into the deadly shooting of a protester in the Indian city of Jaitapur. Police said they had "no option" but to fire live ammunition after protests against construction of a nuclear facility in the area turned violent.

The deal to build the Jaitapur complex was signed with a French company during French President Nicholas Sarkozy's visit in December. Indian officials say Jaitapur and 20 other nuclear facilities will generate one-fourth of India's rapidly growing energy needs by 2050.

Local residents are bitterly opposed, complaining the project would displace them from their land and disrupt traditional livelihoods like fishing. The recent disaster at Japan's Fukushima reactor has fueled further opposition, with protesters claiming the coastal Jaitapur reactor is in an earthquake prone area, and may be just as susceptible to the forces of a tsunami.

Indian Environment Minister Jairam Ramesh has called for a safety review of India's nuclear facilities, but says the government is not about to "rethink" the Jaitapur project.

He says he has raised certain issues, and the government is debating those issues, and it is very necessary that we mull over these concerns. But, the environment minister says, there is no alternative to pursuing nuclear energy.

India's main nuclear power company says all 20 Indian nuclear plants have been inspected and are capable of handling natural disasters.

Opponents of the planned set of nuclear reactors vow they will press forward with a mass rally set to culminate in Jaitapur next Monday.

Karuna Raina, a nuclear campaigner with the environmental group Greenpeace in India, expects there will be clashes at next week's protest, and blames the draconian behavior of police for tension in the area.

"If you look at what has been happening since last December: People have been arrested in the middle of the night and, I mean, there has been a kind of police state going on in Jaitapur," said Raina.

Raina says the state and national government have fueled anger by failing to take opponents of the Jaitapur project seriously.

"They have been patronizing and condescending, and they haven't even heard people out. The least the government can do is be open and transparent, and listen to people's concerns," she said. "They let it build to this level."

Hardline Hindu nationalist party Shiv Sena, a dominant political force in Maharashtra, is backing the protests. Senior Indian officials from India's ruling Congress party accuse Shiv Sena of stoking the rallies for political gain.

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