Recently Industries Minister Jai Kumar Singh announced that Bihar government plans to set up a 3,000 MW nuclear power plant at Rajauli in Nawada district.
His argument is that he wants to provide power and an investor-friendly environment for those who want to invest in the state. Though nuclear power generation itself hardly creates one job or two per 100 MW of installed capacity in the state, it is argued that indirect jobs would come from regular and reliable power supply to the agriculture sector. Agri-business would be attracted to invest in agriculture for export and create agricultural labourer jobs, he presumes.
The Minister said that “if we support Prime Minister Narendra Modi in the initiatives that he takes for the development of the country, then I see no reason for not getting clearance for the project."
What he means is that the nuclear power plant would be set up with central government financing. The unspoken premise is that Bihar should take up anything the centre suggests because it is a technical, financial and managerial package for which the state government need not do much except provide land.
These then would be the pros of nuclear power for the state.
The cons are greater however. In terms of job creation in power generation, many more jobs are created locally if we set up and run a biogas plant, a solar energy micro-grid, a biomass gasifier based power plant, or another form of renewable energy such as a storage hydro power plant for combined power generation and drinking and irrigation water provision.
This consideration is of importance in a state with severe underemployment. In Bihar, the population density is 10 people per hectare, that is, there are 10 people dependant on 1 hectare of land. At least 10 jobs should therefore be created on 1 hectare of land to secure the livelihood and income of the present and future generations. But the nuclear power plant on 1200 hectare will create at most 10 jobs that is not even 0.01 job per hectare.
The claim that the supply of centralised nuclear electricity will attract investments in sectors like tourism, IT and infrastructure is also doubtful as a claim for nuclear power, as if the same claim could not be made for renewable forms of electricity. The question should be posed as to what kind of electricity we want and how to provide it to attract investment.
Is it not the case that we want investment in Gram Panchayats directly that give the local inhabitants direct government over the type and extent of jobs in their jurisdiction? Take for example MGNREGA2005. In principle, the Government of Bihar can get a ruling from Narendra Modi to get 200 days of full time work in agriculture to Bihar from MGNREGA2005 itself. This would be a direct investment of state funds on the marginal landholdings of the cultivators to the tune of Rs 0.8 lakhs per household of 2 working people per year, with additional assured wages also to the households of the labourers of a similar quantum. MGNREGA2005 is a scheme designed to be managed by the Gram Panchayat and the Gram Sabhas. Such a plan for guaranteed rural employment may include vermicomposting, biogas, as well as storage based hydropower as part of the asset creation for the Gram Panchayat. Labour is as much a form of energy as electricity is. Electricity should be a supplement to local jobs, it should not replace local labour.
Could it be that the reason Patna is not interested in taking up the MGNREGA2005 scheme is because it requires more effort to train local people to do their own work than it does to order nuclear power equipment from Russia or France?
A nuclear power plant can be imported lock stock and barrel and all local people need to do is watch the plant and the fence around it get erected, charge their mobile phones to watch videos all day, eat food from the Public Distribution System, and stay out of trouble. They have no work in the creation of the asset.
Finally, we come to the price. The Nuclear Power Corporation of India Ltd. is notoriously lacking in transparency with respect to the cost of generation of nuclear power. Revenues from operations of NPCIL for the financial year 2016-2017 was Rs 10,000 crores. Running expenses alone were Rs 6542 crores. Total assets are Rs 64,663 crores. NPCIL owns 6780 MW of installed capacity. So even without taking one Rupee of reserves for decommissioning of such dangerous plant into account, - which would easily wipe out the difference in income and expenditure the NPCIL in any given year-, NPCIL admits to spending at least 10 crores per MW of nuclear power on capital costs. This compares with Rs 4 crores per MW for coal and biomass. And if you google "cost of installed capacity of various electricity technologies" there is not a single article that does not agree with Christiana Figueres, the former Secretary of the UN’s Framework Convention on Climate Change secretariat, that: "Offering ever greater bang-for-buck, renewables are quite simply the cheapest way to generate energy in an ever-growing number of countries."
Solar electricity in India today is cheaper than coal, which is why India is not installing any more coal-fired power plants after 2022, according to Narendra Modi himself. And it is much much much cheaper than nuclear electricity. It, therefore, makes no sense whatsoever for Bihar to opt for the most expensive and most dangerous form electricity generation in the world.
In fact, if solar energy is provided in a decentralised manner with tail end generation and distribution, to support and supplement the grid power - which should also come from solar energy as mentioned, thanks to its cheapness and renewable character- then not only do we have cheap power we also have local job creation through installation and operation of local energy generation and distribution.
All in all, solar energy does everything that nuclear power does, more cheaply, with more local job creation, and more safety.
Need one say more? Are we being made into stooges of military nuclear arsenal, which is after all the underlying driving motivation of the nuclear industry in toto, where money is no object and the safety of the public is the least concern?
Anandi Sharan was born in Switzerland, lives in Bangalore, and worked in Araria District in 2016. She mainly writes about India and how we need a better money policy to help agricultural labourers and women especially to adapt to man-made climate change.