India is aiming to become a developed nation giving tough competition to China and in the course, her power consumption demands have increased. There is a huge gap between demand and supply. States are trying their best to supplement the requirement through conservative and austerity measures by scheduling power cuts in urban areas and limited supply to rural areas. Lately, there has been a spreading propaganda that nuclear power would be an optimum solution, calling it clean and emission free. As it is apparent, the advocates of Nuclear power have overplayed its benefits not considering the probability of environment catastrophes and social injustice.
The Kudankulam Nuclear Power Plant (KKNP) in Tamil Nadu is just another conspiracy around the local dalits and villagers in the name of sustainability and development. Like any other business, the project was incepted starting with luring the local people, promising better lives, permanent jobs etc. This project is the result of multiple corrupt dealings within organisations, indigenous and foreign, working hand in glove. For people of the three districts of Tamil Nadu- Kanniyakumari, Tirunelveli and Thoothukudi, who live in the vicinity of the KKNP project, it is a routine to take blows from police lathis and water cannons since the past 20 years.
Before discussing any further we need to cognize what happened back during the Indira Gandhi and Rajiv Gandhi regime. India had conducted a nuclear test in 1974, the Pokhran. Following this test, the West had passed sanctions on India except for humanitarian aid. Major members of the Non-Proliferation Treaty had voted for suspending all defence equipment supplies to India. In 1988, Rajiv Gandhi signed a pact with a Russian company, Rosatom. This deal was going to result in a negotiation that would extend the deal to a defence side supply. It has been 20 years and the plants (Unit-1 and Unit-2) have not come into operation yet, definitely because they would have faced unanticipated problems. Meanwhile, the elites in the region cautioned and enlightened the people about the hazards of Nuclear Energy. Many agitations, processions and movements emerged against the KKNP project. Now, the Russian company is pressuring officials in India to commission the project as it has been 20 long years since it was proposed and established. Leaders in our country are bent upon impressing their foreign vendors at the cost of the welfare of people at home.
Why the protests?
1. The land to construct the nuclear project at Kudankulam was seized from farmers at pretty low compensations. For most of them, it was the only asset and mode of livelihood. They were promised jobs in the construction of the plant. Slowly, they were receiving intimidations of displacement. The plant was constructed in violation of the rule that there should be no human habitation up to 30 kms of its vicinity.
2. The equipment and subparts for the construction of the nuclear plant was supplied by Russian based companies Atomstroyexport and ZiO-Podolsk. In 2012, the Russian government slapped accusations on ZiO-Podolsk for manufacturing sub-standard equipment for both domestic and foreign customers. The director Sergei Shutov has been arrested for purchasing low quality material at low cost and bagging the difference in the amount. Following this development the Prime Minister, the Atomic Energy Regulatory Broad (AERD) and Department of Atomic Energy received many letters questioning the safety of the project and recommendations to stop the construction. But, the authority as high as PMO is silent about the issue.
3. In India, the project is owned by the Nuclear Power Corporation of India Limited (NPCIL). According to our constitution, a public sector unit has the responsibility and accountability to make transparent and fair purchases in public interest which the board has failed to oblige.
4. The power that would be generated through the commissioning of this plant would serve up to 20 years of requirement. The cost and method of decommissioning the plant has not been discussed.
5. The problem of management of radioactive waste has not been discussed.
6. In the wake of the Fukushima Nuclear disaster, new and stronger questions have been put forth by the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) on whether India is prepared to face such accidents.
7. When countries like Germany, Italy and Switzerland have scraped their plans to build Nuclear power plants, why India is batting over the issue so insensitively?
8. The government has not answered on what would happen to the biodiversity of the Gulf of Munnar and the aquatic life in the sea with the release of hot water. Fishermen would be deprived of their livelihood.
9. We don’t have an independent body which regulated all functioning of Nuclear power plants.
10. There are many villages around KKNP. How would the government deal with evacuation and displacement of lakhs of people?
11. The support for the power plant is a power play of Centre-State politics. Nuclear Energy is a Centre subject and it is a prestige issue for the states to be able to attract a centre project to their state.
12. The delay in commissioning the KKNP has now turned out to be a liability issue for the GOI whose burden would be pushed on the tax-payers.
13. Why do we have to go for Nuclear power? Why can’t we consider Tidal and Solar power by sponsoring the research on these?
14. Even though the plants generate a good deal of power enough to distribute among the states, are there sufficient numbers of substations to transform it?
Dr. Gopalakrishnan, former Chairman of India’s Atomic Energy Regulatory Board had exposed various loopholes justifying why the plant should not be commissioned. The plant has sub-standard equipment installed in it, manufactures by ZiO-Podolsk. The valves are defective proving that there is every probability of a leakage. The plants have not been subjected to Environmental safety assessment yet.
The People’s Movement Against Nuclear Energy (PMANE) is carrying out rigorous hunger strikes with people participating in huge numbers. Women are the strong fighters in this movement. The NGO has been accused of receiving funds from foreign sources and also alleged that it was back by US agencies to block the project. The leader of the NGO, Udaykumar, and his wife who live 30kms from the KKNP have been subjected to various pressures by the state and central agencies.
The protestors have been put through a great testing time. The police had arrested some protestors on wrong charges and refused to give any information regarding their whereabouts to their kin. They spread rumours about the torture they were subjected to in order to induce fear among the people. Some villages in the Tirunelveli district have been besieged by paramilitary and police forces curbing the movement of the villagers. Sometimes they are not allowed to even visit the hospital in the next town. Children here who have to give their board exams are at great risk and disadvantage.
It is very surprising to hear from a person of a stature as high as Abdul Kalam who called the fears of the people as comic-bookish apprehensions in his article in the Hindu. Somebody had rightly quoted that it is easy to write an article from far than face the upshots of a state sponsored crime.
How far is it fair to put thousands of lives on stake in the name of progress, sustainability and development? The spirit of struggle is still intact in the people of Tamil Nadu. As you are reading this, the fishermen of Tamil Nadu along the coast are combating a great deal in seizing the ships of the company and stopping its commissioning. As you are reading this, many more are being taken away by the police, charged with wrong accusations and detained at far places. It is time the government acts with responsibility towards its citizens and deemed that the SC shall uphold the social justice of the people of Tamil Nadu.