Koodankulam must be a symbol of prosperity

The New Indian Express
Saturday 12 May 2007

Online at: http://www.newindpress.com/newspages.asp?page=2&Title=Second+Article&

Koodankulam must be a symbol of prosperity


When you hear of Koodankulam the image that conjures up is that of the nuclear power plant coming up there with Russian help. Two reactors which have been imported from Russia will have an installed capacity of 1000 MW each. No functioning reactor in India is so big. However, if you were to visit Koodankulam, what strikes you most is not the nuclear power plant so much but the hundreds of continuously rotating wind mills. Whereas the nuclear power plant is yet to be commissioned, the wind mills are already generating more than 2000 MW of power in Tamil Nadu.

India has developed an installed capacity of 5,340 MW from wind power just over the last decade compared to 3580 MW from nuclear power developed over the last five decades. Nuclear power is expensive and dangerous. Its raw material is in short supply, as a result of which India is forced to sign a deal with the US, and scientists have no idea how to dispose off its radioactive waste. Wind power is dependent on naturally flowing wind which is in abundant supply available for free and doesn’t generate any regular waste. That is probably why the Koodankulam nuclear power plant has installed eight wind mills inside its premises!

An Indian official has admitted in a public interview that India doesn’t have enough uranium to sustain its nuclear power programme beyond the current year. The existing mines in Jadugoda, Bhatin, Narwa Pahar and Turamdih, all in East Singhbhum district near Jamshedpur, produce a very low grade uranium ore and are not likely to be productive for very long.

Attempts to initiate fresh mining activities in Andhra Pradesh and Meghalaya have not succeeded mainly due to public protests. Though the Government of India officially doesn’t acknowledge this, people have become aware that the entire nuclear cycle from mining to power production poses health hazards due to radiation. Members of almost every family in East Singhbhum district living close to the mining area are affected by some mental or physical disorder.

The Indo-US nuclear deal is anachronistic. The 45–member Nuclear Suppliers Group, ignoring the contravention of Non- Proliferation Treaty, is willing to exploit the Indian ambition of being recognised as a legitimate nuclear power with possibly a seat in the Security Council, so that a big new market is available to them.

The deal, which does not have approval of the Indian parliament is not in the interest of people of this country and must be rejected. India must implement strict international safeguards in handling nuclear technology and materials and must develop an environment friendly power programme based on renewable resources. India has enough potential in solar and wind energy.

In a public hearing conducted by the people, after the authorities had postponed their public hearing thrice, in Tuticorin on March 30, 2007, there was an informed unanimity in opposition to the nuclear power plant. The speakers consisted of ordinary fisherfolk, priests, intellectuals, doctors and scientists. As it happens in any big project the people who get affected the worst are poor.

Koursingh, a young fisherman from the vicinity of Koodankulam, said that his community was never afraid of rough sea. Tsunami created some fear in the minds of people but that didn’t last long. However, the talk of nuclear power plant has given rise to uncertainty in their lives. The horrible stories of damage to human health due to radiation has created a psychological fear in the minds of people which has taken away all the peace and happiness. Initha, a woman from the community, said that when there were children born with deformities earlier they attributed it to the design of God.

But now, with cases of fisherfolk women around Kalpakkam reporting still births, miscarriages, thyroid disorders and other gynaecological defects, they feel it is a disgrace and humiliation to the community as well as to the nation. Initha went on to say passionately that she didn’t mind sacrificing her life if it would help to have future generations. Siluvai Antony asked when there would be displacement of their lives and livelihood where will they get another place and another sea for their survival? The fisherfolk community, which is the largest population to be affected by the Koodankulam nuclear power plant, is in no mood to give up easily.

Dr Kuglandi from Kalpakkam informed that based on random sampling it was found that 2-4 cancer deaths in a population of one lakh per year is normal. However, in Kalpakkam this ratio is 3 in a population of 25,000. The tourists who come to Mamallapuram avoid eating the fish here, which strangely enough does not attract flies like it does elsewhere.

Obviously, for the people in Koodankulam the nuclear power plant is an impending danger which has created a disturbance in their lives. The only way to dispel this fear is to give up the nuclear option in favour of the innocuous wind mills. Koodankulam should become a symbol of prosperity based on power from the wind. The monster that is the nuclear power plant must not come to life. The plan to add more reactors must be junked.

The threat to fishing and farming in all the southern districts of Tamil Nadu and Kerala like Thoothukudi, Tirunelveli, Kanyakumari, Thiruvananthapuram, Kollam and Pathanamthitta, the coconut trees, palmyra trees, tamarind trees and banana plantations must be warded off. The fisherfolk and farmers must continue to live happily as before.

The author is recipient of Ramon Magsaysay Award 2002 for emergent leadership, and leads National Alliance of People’s Movements in India.