Refusing to give in to protests against Jaitapur nuclear plant, the government on Tuesday decided to go ahead with the project but made it clear that safety aspects would be given top priority in a transparent manner and a bill will be moved to set up an independent regulator.
The decision to push the project in Maharashtra, to be built by France, was taken at a meeting chaired by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh which considered the apprehensions and concerns arising from the radiation leak scare in Japan and the steps needed to address these.
At the meeting attended by Environment Minister Jairam Ramesh, Maharashtra Chief Minister Prithviraj Chavan and Atomic Energy Commission Chairman Srikumar Banerjee it was underlined that Jaitapur plant was crucial as part of India's aspirations to raise the proportion of nuclear power in the energy mix.
It was noted at the meeting that the protests against the Jaitapur project were mainly because of "political" and "ideological" reasons fuelled by Shiv Sena and efforts would be made to convince the locals that the plant would not be harmful but beneficial for them.
"There is no question of pause (on Jaitapur project)," Chavan said addressing a press conference along with Ramesh, Banerjee and V Narayansamy, Minister of State in the PMO.
He was responding when pointed out that Ramesh had recently suggested a "pause" on nuclear projects in India in the wake of the Fukushima disaster, which was triggered by a tsunami last month.
At the meeting, Singh is understood to have expressed displeasure over Ramesh's "pause" remarks, saying such comments fan the protests.
The Prime Minister is also learnt to have directed Ramesh to attend the press conference to announce the government's intention to go ahead with the Jaitapur project, sources said.
Making it clear that the project would go ahead, a PMO statement said it would be "implemented in a phased manner with two 1,650 MW reactors to begin with."
A comprehensive environmental impact assessment of these reactors will be done when both are operational by 2019, it said.
Acknowledging that "apprehensions" and "genuine concerns" have increased after the Fukushima incident, Chavan said he was ready to discuss and address these and hoped the people would realise that the project in totality was beneficial for the state.
As part of boosting confidence about safety of atomic plants, the government decided to introduce in the next session of Parliament a bill for setting up an autonomous Nuclear Regulatory Authority that will subsume the Atomic Energy Regulatory Board.