Activists Protest Against Westinghouse Officials' Visit to Andhra Pradesh's Kovvada

The visit is meant to resuscitate plans for the Kovvada nuclear project.

New Delhi: Members of a large number of civil society groups from various countries have come together to oppose a planned visit by members of the company Westinghouse Electric to resuscitate plans for the Kovvada nuclear project in Andhra Pradesh.

Westinghouse went through bankruptcy proceedings in 2017. A Canadian consortium bought the company from Toshiba last month. The financial crisis at the US reactor maker and its Japanese parent Toshiba Corp. meant that the project faced multiple delays – an agreement between Indian officials from the government and the Nuclear Power Corporation of India, Ltd., and Westinghouse was supposed to have been reached by July 2017.

According to a report in the Hindu, a team of executives and engineers from the company will be in Mumbai next week to discuss whether the deal for nuclear reactors at the Kovvada project can be reworked. While the original negotiation result was that Westinghouse would set up the plant in its entirety, Westinghouse has now announced that it will only provide reactors and components, not construct the plant, the newspaper reported.

The plant was originally supposed to be in Gujarat, in Saurashtra’s Bhavnagar district, but was moved to Andhra after local farmers protested for about a decade.

File photo of a farmers' protest against the Westinghouse plant in Gujarat. Credit: PTI

File photo of a farmers’ protest against the Westinghouse plant in Gujarat. Credit: PTI

Apart from the delays caused by uncertainty and then bankruptcy within the company, activists argue that the project has been facing local resistance ever since it was first moved to Kovvada.

In a statement issued by organisations based in India, the US, Germany, Japan, Australia, Taiwan and the Philippines, activists have said that “The communities in and around the village of Kovvada in the state of Andhra Pradesh see it as a threat to their environment, health, livelihood and traditional lifestyle.” The online signature campaign started by the group – including the National Alliance of Anti-nuclear Movements, People’s Movement Against Nuclear Energy, Poovulagin Nanbargal, and Lokayat from India – against the visit has more than 500 signatures.

Calling the project an “all-round disaster-in-the-making”, the statement says, “The financially destitute Westinghouse wants to supply India with six 1,208 MW reactor units of its AP1000 design. However, the AP1000 design is untested and has run into regulatory issues, massive cost and time over-runs and serious safety questions in the US, UK, China and other countries. Westinghouse has no business preying upon communities in India by pushing its untested nuclear technology on an unwilling population.”

On Tuesday, fuel loading at the world’s first Westinghouse-designed AP1000 nuclear reactor on China’s east coast has been delayed due to “safety concerns”. This project too has faced a long line of setbacks. The third-generation reactor, located in Sanmen in Zhejiang province, was originally expected to make its debut in 2014.

The activists’ statement also bring up Westinghouse’s poor track record within the US, and says that “The manner in which the US government has been pressurising India to further dilute the nuclear liability law to reduce liability devolving on the reactor supplier in the event of an accident attributable to shortcomings in the safety of reactor design has raised serious public apprehensions on the safety of Westinghouse reactors.”

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One of the company’s two projects in the US has already been abandoned. “One of its two projects — to build two AP1000 reactors in South Carolina — has already been abandoned, leaving ratepayers with a $9 billion debt burden. The two plants were so massively over budget and behind schedule they were predicted to have cost at least $26 billion if completed, nearly three times the original projected price of $9.8 billion. A second Westinghouse US project for two AP1000 reactors in Georgia is more than five years behind schedule. Costs there have at least doubled and are predicted to rise to more than $27 billion, double the initial estimate of $14 billion. It was re-evaluated late last year and given the continued green light, but it is ratepayers again who will bear the burden of the project’s vast expense,” the activists have said.

Members of the Communist Party of India (Marxist) and the trade union associated with the party held a protest on February 8 at Seven Road Junction, Srikakulam, demanding that the visit be cancelled. According to a report in the Hindu, leaders at the protest alleged that the government had started acquiring land for the project even before the Atomic Energy Regulatory Board had given a site clearance certificate.

Both the Nuclear Power Corporation of India and the Department of Atomic Energy have maintained that the project meets adequate safety standards and that the technology being used is state of the art.

“Only two years ago, the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission approved AP-1000 designs and which is why those reactors will be used for new projects being constructed by Westinghouse both in China and the US. People should not give credence to the false campaign designed to thwart India’s development. Without human intervention, the reactors with advanced technology would shut down automatically in case of emergency,” Kovvada Atomic Power Plant Project Director G.V. Ramesh told the Hindu in July 2016.

(With Reuters inputs)

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