Anti-nuclear mob ransacks hospital in India

A mob opposing a government plan to build a nuclear plant in the western Indian state of Maharashtra ransacks a hospital and sets buses on fire during a protest strike.
Police officers beat a man during a protest in Ratnagiri, south of Mumbai, on Tuesday. Indians protesting against a planned nuclear power plant attacked a hospital and torched buses. (Reuters)

A mob opposing a government plan to build a nuclear plant in the western Indian state of Maharashtra ransacked a hospital and set buses on fire Tuesday during a protest strike.

Residents of Jaitapur have been protesting the proposed plant since the government's plans became public four years ago. The opposition has grown since Japan's nuclear crisis, with critics noting that Jaitapur is in a seismic zone.

The general strike was called after police fired to disperse protesters who attacked a police station Monday, killing one person.

The town's streets were mostly deserted as the strike took effect. But by midday, groups of people converged on the street, shouting slogans against the government. The mob later ransacked a government-run hospital and set at least three public transport buses on fire, police said.

Construction is to start this year on the first of six units at the proposed $10 billion plant, billed as the biggest in the world.

The project by the French nuclear energy company Areva will generate 9,900 megawatts of power when completed. The first unit is expected to start producing power in 2018.

India's Environment Minister Jairam Ramesh has said additional safeguards will be taken in light of the troubles at the Fukushima nuclear power plant. The Fukushima plant's cooling systems were destroyed by an earthquake and tsunami last month, and the Japanese operator has struggled to get the plant back under control.

Fukushima a 'wake-up call'

Ramesh described the events unfolding at Fukushima as a "wake-up call," but said India could not abandon nuclear energy in its quest for clean energy to fuel its rapid economic growth.

The government has countered protesters by asserting that the site is safe and the plant's location on a high cliff would save it from being hit by a tsunami.

Jaitapur is about 420 kilometres south of Mumbai, India's financial hub and the Maharashtra state capital.

Anti-nuclear protesters plan to march Saturday from a nuclear power plant near Mumbai to Jaitapur to oppose the new project.

At present, nuclear energy forms only three per cent of power available in India. The government has announced plans to increase the share of its nuclear power generation to 13 per cent of its energy basket by 2030 to meet the rising demand for electricity.