India rethinks reliance on nuclear energy

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Audio Transcript:

Marco Werman: As we heard earlier there was an antinuclear protest in Toyko today. The ongoing radiation leaks from the crippled Fukushima plant have caused many around the globe to reconsider nuclear power. That's certainly the case in India. Here's how a group of fifty scientists, academics and activists there put it, "The Japanese nuclear crisis is a wake up for India." The group is calling for a moratorium on new nuclear projects in their country. India's galloping economy is hungry for energy and the government has plans to build many new reactors. The goal is that by 2050 a quarter of the country's energy needs will be covered by nuclear power. That would be up from just 3 percent right now. New York Times correspondent Vikas Bajaj is in Bangalore, India. He says he the Indian government is facing stiff resistance to its nuclear plans.

Vikas Bajaj: People are saying let's pause. Let's rethink this. Let's rethink the pace of our redevelopment. Let's think about the size of our development. And figure out if the new reactors that we're building are safe and are safe for Indian conditions. Not just in general.

Werman: Let's focus for a moment on the protest in Jaitapur. That's where India's government essentially took more than 2000 acres of land from local farmers to build 6 nuclear reactors. It would be the biggest nuclear power plant proposed anywhere in the world. What's the latest on that plan and has that turned into a national debate?

Bajaj: Yes. That becomes the center point of the debate in the country right now because it is the biggest proposal in the world right now and of course in India. It is also a very large project for a small area. The government says that it's still going to go on. That it's within its rights. It hasn't done anything illegal. But, the number of people coming out against this project suggests that there will have to be some changes. They'll have to be some compromises. Because the local people there are very opposed to it. They don't want this project to happen.

Werman: So you've got the government taking land away from people for these plants, there's also environmental problems. What do you do with nuclear waste and what happens in the event of an accident. There's also the liability issue in India. There's this law that allows nuclear plants that have a failure or some accident to hold the builders of those plants responsible. And in the case of some of these new plants a number of them are being built by American companies like General Electric. How has that played into the debate?

Bajaj: Yea, so the American companies at the moment are saying we're not going to enter the Indian market until this liability issue is worked out in our favor. GE doesn't want to be held liable for any accident that occurs down the road. You know, you take the example of what happened in Japan, if the Indian liability law was in practice in Japan GE which built those reactors that are now in trouble would be responsible for paying damages to the people of Japan. If it is found, you know, that some fault of the GE technology was responsible for the catastrophe. GE is at the moment staying away from India. They really want to be here but at the same time they want the liability laws changed.

Werman: India is no doubt a major emerging power with huge energy needs. I'm just wondering if you could quantify what those needs are going to be and is there any alternative to nuclear power to satisfying those needs?

Bajaj: There is wind. There's biomass. There's solar. There's hydropower. India's already a big user of hydropower. About 20 percent of its power comes from dams. One stark statistic that stands out is that 40 percent of Indian people, mostly living in the villages do not have electricity connection. So they are reliant on kerosene for lighting, for instance, or to cook their food. It's not just a question of building power plants but you also have to string the wire to every home and every hut before you can sort of address that 40 percent.

Werman: Well, Vikas, we'll leave it there. Vikas Bajaj the New York Times correspondent in India. Thank you very much.

Bajaj: Thank you.