Ratnagiri, Apr 19: Jaitapur used to be an ancient and medieval period port on the Arabian Sea coast in Ratnagiri district in wouthwestern Maharashtra. Located at an average elevation of 80 metres at the coast, this town has now come to limelight for the proposed nuclear power project by Nuclear Power Corporation of India.
French multinational company Areva has been awarded the contract to construct six nuclear reactors, each of 1650 MW capacity totalling 9,900 MW. The actual plant site is located at Madban, a village near Jaitapur.
If commissioned, the 9,900 MW Jaitapur nuclear power station will be the largest in the world, overtaking the current largest 8,200 MW Kashiwazaki-Kariwa plant in Japan.
But Fukushima has changed all this.
Farmers here stand to lose mango orchards, cashew trees and rice fields, as the government forcibly acquires 2,300 acres to build six nuclear reactors — the biggest nuclear power plant ever proposed anywhere.
But now, as a nuclear disaster unfolds in distant Japan, the lonely group of farmers has seen support for their protest swell to include a growing number of Indian scientists, academics and former government officials. “We are getting ready for bigger protests,” said an environmentalist.
Fishermen too fear for their livelihoods.
Farmers say that some customers in Western countries have already indicated that once the plant starts operating in 2018, the fear of radioactive contamination will keep them from buying the area's acclaimed Alphonso mangoes. The fruit this season is fetching 900 rupees (or $20) for a dozen in Mumbai markets, reports New York Times.
Fishermen complain that even before the first reactors start operating, their ability to navigate the nearby waters will be restricted by security officials.
And once the plant starts, locals say it will discharge millions of gallons of hot water into the sea. That, they say, will make the coast uninhabitable for mackerel and other fish, ruining an industry that provides jobs to more than 20,000 people and supplies seafood to Mumbai and Europe.
They say that about 160 miles north of the Jaitapur plant site, fishing has been severely curtailed by hot water from a controversial gas-fired power plant, built by Enron before it went bankrupt.
“Nobody will buy our fish when they know that this nuclear plant is nearby,” Atiq Hathwardkar, 22, said on his family's fishing boat near the plant site. “They want to move the country forward,” he said of government officials, “but they don't care what happens to the common man.”
Many local residents, as a form of protest, have refused to accept payment for the land the government forcibly acquired for the plant. The government is offering Rs 15 lakhs per hectare (about 2.5 acres). But only 153 of the more than 2,000 landowners have taken the money.
Pramila Gawankar, the wife of the mango farmer leading the protests, said she had no use for the money the government was offering and was adamant that she would reclaim her orchards and fields.
“It's nice to look out on the fields,” she said. “We have the sea. We have fish. We want nothing else.”