Hasty Commissioning of Koodankulam Nuclear Power Plant is Against People's Interest

Indo-US Nuclear Deal was the first attempt by the Indian government to open up its nuclear establishment to the outside world. It was only after approval of International Atomic Energy Agency that India was officially allowed to do business with the Nuclear Suppliers Group countries in nuclear materials and technology. But the agreement to set up a nuclear power plant in Kudankulam with Russia predates Indo-US Nuclear Deal and hence was done outside the internationally accepted non-proliferation regime in an undemocratic manner. Essentially Russia, secretly and without any fuss, did what the US took one and a half years and much trouble to convince its Congress to do.

This is also the first time the scientists of Department of Atomic Energy of India are dealing with an untested technology and hence they have to rely on Croatian experts to carry out the inspections after the test run with dummy fuel assemblies and before loading the enriched Uranium fuel assemblies. The only nuclear power experience Croatia has is in running a plant jointly with Slovenia, which is a Westinghouse design and not the VVER type being built at Kudankulam.  One wonders where the Croatian experts earned their expertise except if they were working at some nuclear power plant in Russia. In that case why are the Russians themselves not coming? Either the DAE is misleading the people or their own scientists are incompetent.  In any case, it raises the question about what would happen in the case of some accident. Would we have to wait for Russian or Croatian scientists to come and tell us how to handle the calamity?

Ms. Jayalalitha must show the same kind of sensitivity towards her own people as she is presently demonstrating towards the Tamils of Sri Lanka. She is willing to approach the United Nations to raise this issue and has accorded the same status to Tamil refugees from Sri Lanka as her own citizens except for the voting right in her state. For the roughly fifty thousand people living in Idinthakarai, East and West Vijaypathi, Thillaivanamthoppu,  Avoavaioapuram, Kuttapanai, Kuttankali, Ovari, Periyatalai, Koodtalai, Perumanal, Kuttapulli, Kudankulam, Vairavikinaru, Chittikulam and Thommyarpuram it is a human rights violation when they are kept in the dark about the implications of setting up a nuclear power plant in their neighbourhood. 

The government must ensure that people receive the Site Evaluation Study, Safety Analysis Report, a fresh Environment Impact Assessment report, Inter Governmental Agreement on liability with the Russian government, etc.  The people also want training in disaster management and evacuation exercise to be prepared for the worst. They also want to know how the radioactive waste is going to be disposed. The PM will appreciate that any 'thinking' people would like to have this information. If a nuclear power plant was going to builtbe in his neighbourhood the PMwould like to be informed of all the consequences of such a plant for the health of his family members. The people need to be assured about the hydrological, geological, oceanographical and seismological issues which might impact their lives and livelihood, which for most of the people here is fishing. The Kudankulam plant is also going to devour the only lobster and prawn breeding spot at Chenkulaneerodai. But instead of treating people with respect which they deserve in a democracy they have been slapped with cases of sedition and waging war against state. About five thousand people face legal cases in a total of 197 FIRs. From these figures it would appear to be a very violent movement. On the contrary the movement has remained so peaceful till date that even police have not been able to provoke the
protestors like in some of the other peaceful movements around the country. That there has been no violence in this movement so far which is a unique feature of this movement and the credit goes to the fisherfolk of Tirunelveli. The government must withdraw all the false cases and release two of the activists still in jail, Sathish Kumar and Muhilan.

 The PM has also claimed that the Indian nuclear plants are safe because none of them had had any accident so far. The truth is quite the opposite. Almost, all nuclear power plants run by DAE, like Kalpakkam, Narora, Kaiga, Kakrapar, Tarapur have had some accident. Can we forget the fire in Narora in 1993, or the collapse of containment dome under construction at Kaiga in 1994, or the heavy water leak at Kakrapar in 1997, or the valve failure leading to massive radiation doses to workers at Kalpakkam in 2003?  It has been just our sheer luck that things have remained under control so far. But it is quite obvious that PM has not been informed about the facts.

The PM says that when it comes to safety there will be no compromise. On one occasion earlier he said with respect to corruption he will follow a policy of zero tolerance. Mega scams in the country have proved how hollow his words are. He must realise that his words will not provide safety. When a technologically much superior country like Japan with a highly conscientious citizenry could not handle the Fukushima disaster does he expect his half prepared and reason blind DAE scientists and ill-informed people to do the job?

Finally, the attack on school run by Meera Udayakumar needs condemnation as well as attempts by some Hindutva fundamentalist groups to give the anti-Kudankulam struggle a communal colour. The nuclear radiation will not distinguish between a Christian and a Hindu. Rather than be motivated by some obscure national interest people's interest must be considered sovereign. The impounding of S.P. Udayakumar's passport and filing of false case against him of beating Panchayat President's husband are examples of desperate and unethical attempts to browbeat the activist. The government should demonstrate the same dignity with which the movement has been carried out and respect the democratic right of people to protest

Dr Sandeep Pandey
The author is a Ramon Magsaysay Awardee and a National Convener, NAPM