x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 22 January 2018

20 injured in protests over India nuclear power plant

Hospital and buses targeted over project touted as biggest in the world, one day after anti-nuclear activist is shot dead by police.

MUMBAI // Indians protesting against a planned nuclear power plant attacked a hospital and torched buses on Tyesuesday, resulting in at least 20 people being injured.

The rioting came a day after an anti-nuclear activist was killed by police gunfire.

Protests led by opposition politicians shut down towns near the site of the $10 billion (Dh37bn) plant in Maharashtra state, western India, where anger over land acquisitions has intensified after the nuclear crisis in Japan.

"The situation is very tense out here," protester leader Amjad Abdul Latif Borkar said.

Five demonstrators were taken to hospital with bullet wounds and at least six policemen were injured, an official in the town of Ratnagiri said.

Chief of police in the town, 60km north of the site of the planned plant at Jaitapur, said at least 20 people had been injured.

Protesters attacked and damaged a hospital to prevent a government post-mortem examination on the activist killed on Monday, believing it would not be impartial.

Police wielding wooden sticks tried to disperse the protesters, who set fire to tyres to block a road to the planned 9,900 megawatt plant, television pictures showed.

The small Hindu nationalist Shiv Sena opposition party called for a strike in support of the demonstrations.

Last week, Environment Minister Jairam Ramesh restated the government's intention to go ahead with construction of six reactors in what is being touted as the world's largest nuclear power complex.

The conflict is one of many battles across the country between villagers and planners of industrial projects that have sharpened the debate on how Asia's third-largest economy sustains its economic boom.

The plant site, which is flanked by several small fishing hamlets, is 300km south of Mumbai.

Protesters stormed a police station near the site on Monday, smashing computers and ripping up papers.

Mr Ramesh said the government's opponents were whipping up opposition and India had no option but nuclear power.

"They have just made this a political issue," he told the Times Now news channel, referring to the Shiv Sena party.

"I have said it before and say it again, apart from nuclear energy, we have no other choice."

Opponents of the plant have put up posters in Jaitapur depicting scenes of last month's devastation at Japan's Fukushima plant and warn of what could be in store for the region in the Western Ghats, north of Goa.

India suffers from a peak-hour power deficit of about 12 per cent that acts as a brake on an economy growing at nearly 9 per cent and causes blackouts in much of the country. About 40 per cent of Indians, or 500 million people, lack electricity.

India operates 20 mostly small nuclear reactors at six sites with a capacity of 4,780 MW, or 3 per cent of total power capacity. It hopes to lift its nuclear capacity to 7,280 MW by next year, more than 20,000 MW by 2020 and 63,000 MW by 2032 by adding nearly 30 reactors.

* Reuters