Andhra locals up in arms against nuclear project

The announcement by India and the US to begin preparatory work on building six nuclear reactors in India has led to considerable unease among those likely to be affected by the projects.

Tuesday's declaration during Prime Minister Narendra Modi's visit to Washington has fanned a fresh bout of disquiet in Ranasthalam block of Srikakulam district in Andhra Pradesh, where the six reactors with total capacity of 6,000 MW are to be built.

The reactors were originally planned to be built in Gujarat, but opposition by locals over land acquisition forced the authorities to relocate the project to Andhra Pradesh.

A similar protest is now brewing at the proposed new site that is dotted with coconut groves. Villagers likely to be displaced are demanding higher compensation while those in adjoining areas are also seeking payout in view of the potential nuclear ''hazards''.

To be built by the Nuclear Power Corporation of India Limited (NPCIL) in technical collaboration with US-based Westinghouse Electric, the contractual agreements between the two are expected to be concluded by June 2017.

''The first two reactors will come up in the next five years and thereafter, one reactor will be built every year,'' The Hindustan Times quoted G V Ramesh, chief project engineer of NPCIL, as saying.

Andhra Pradesh is a power surplus state and these reactors will go to augment the national grid. But Ranasthalam locals are wary of the nuclear project, saying it threatens their future. The reactors will require 2,071 acres of land and will displace 1,983 families in five villages: Kovvada, Ramachandrapuram, Gudem, Kotapalem and Tekkali.

As with every big development project, compensation for land is the issue. According to state revenue officials, the locals will be paid roughly  Rs13-14 lakh per acre. But the villagers are demanding more.

''The government has offered to pay Rs25 lakh per acre to the people who are getting displaced by the international airport coming up at Bhogapuram in the adjacent Vizianagaram district, which is hardly 20 km away. Why can't we be given the same amount?'' asked Rama Rao, a local resident.

Ravi Kiran of Ramachandrapuram, who is likely to lose 20 acres, insists even Rs25 lakh is not enough. ''My poultry farm in the area itself fetches me Rs24 lakh a year, besides another Rs3 lakh from coconut plantation in seven acres,'' he said.

Suri Babu, a farmer of Kovvada, feels helpless. ''I have no other means of livelihood, if they take away my land. They have to pay me good compensation,'' he said.

That's not all. Residents of 42 villages within a five-km radius of the proposed plant are also seeking compensation and have threatened an agitation if their demands are not met.

In anticipation of the Washington announcement, local revenue officials completed the survey for land acquisition earlier this week.

''Of the total extent of land, 1,470 acres belongs to the government but was assigned to local farmers. Another 600 acres belong to private individuals,'' Srikakulam revenue divisional officer B Dayanidhi told HT.

''The land acquisition notification will be issued soon after the completion of the social impact assessment of the project,'' he said.

But, acquiring land is going to be easier said than done. Antinuclear activists had been protesting ever since Ranasthalam was identified by the NPCIL as an ideal site for a nuclear power project a decade ago.

''There are several issues such as extent of radioactive emissions, pollution to be caused by nuclear dust, and the impact of effluents on fish and groundwater,'' pointed out EAS Sarma, a former union energy secretary and an important voice against nuclear power.
With resentment high among locals, such voices of opposition are set to get louder.