Aruna Roy

Aruna Roy is India’s leading social and political activist. She is a member of the National Advisory Council of the Government of India

As you know we are all very distressed about the action being taken on the non-violent protests against the establishment of a nuclear plant in Kudankulam, Tamil Nadu. There are several questions which have been raised about the safety and viability of these reactors as well as the environmental damage they are liable to cause. These questions cannot be ignored after the Fukushima disaster especially as Kudankulam is on the coastline, parts of which have been effected by the Tsunami in the past.

Place for dissent is shrinking in our country which is evident here where non-violent protests being seen as intolerable by the Indian government. The cracking down on protests against the nuclear plant being set up in Koodankulam is an example of intolerance by the Government of Tamil Nadu, towards peaceful modes of expression of democratic concerns and differences.

On my visit to Koodankulam on 24th July 2012, I met ordinary people from the nearby villages of Koodankulam and Idinthikkarai. I also met many panchayat members and community leaders. All of them expressed their anguish and dismay at the government’s insistence on going ahead with the plant, turning a deaf ear to their legitimate concerns of safety and survival. Each one of them had been charged with police cases for expressing their dissent. This included charges of sedition. Aadilingam, a visually challenged sixty-year old man from Koodankulam village had been charged with 200 cases. His is not an isolated case. Selvamani, Ward Member of Koodankulam panchayat says she has no clue about the number of cases that she had been charged with. SwayambhuNadar, a resident of Koodankulam village, an old man with severe diabetics and hypertension, barely able to walk, was imprisoned for 15 days. During this period, he had to be hospitalized. Thousands of people were sent to jail, all of them charged with non-bailable offences. There are innumerable cases where passports of local people, (including young persons absent from the struggle and protests, but inhabitants of the area ) have been impounded and where fresh applications for passports have been turned down. People in the villages recalled how land acquisition by the KKNPP authorities destroyed their agriculture. Deprived of agriculture, beedi-making is today one of the prominent livelihoods for most of the women in the near-by villages, which gives a maximum of Rs 2000 a month.

There is something fundamentally wrong in the way the state handles protests and protestors. Thousands of people from neighboring villages have surrendered their voter ID cards, claiming, “we are surrendering our freedom and democratic rights at the altar of a few hundred megawatt of destructive nuclear power.”We need to understand that Aadilingam, Selvamani, Poomani and so many others whom we met, have been living here for generations, leading peaceful and ordinary lives. When Fukushima happened they realized with urgency that what happened in Fukushima could happen here too. The fisher folk in Idinthikkarai will also lose their access to fishing which is the source of their livelihood with the contamination of the sea by irradiated water discharged into the sea. They demand greater clarity on the exact amount of sea water that will be used for desalination. They also want clear information on the quantity of water that will be discharged from the nuclear plant, the resultant increase in the temperature of sea water and the impact of these routine radioactive releases on marine life, especially on the fish.

On the one hand, the state and central government states that the panchayat is the basic unit of governance. On the other hand, crucial decisions of the panchayats are overturned by the government. While neighbouring panchayats have expressed their dissent about the project, their dissent has been completely sidelined. In addition to the villages of Koodankulam and Idinthikkarai located in the immediate vicinity of the plant, the villages of Vyravikenaru, Kurunjikulam, Vijayapathi, Aavadiyalpuram, Kamaneri, Kudutala, Tillainagar, Arasarkulam, Puthenkulam, Puthenpuli harbor serious concerns about the project.

It is stipulated that nuclear power plants be located away from human habitation. In the case of the KKNP, an estimated 1.2 million people live within a 30 kilometre radius. Relocating such a large population, in the event of an emergency is a serious question. An equally serious question is the complete reliance on desalination to meet the water requirements for regular cooling of the reactor core. It may be remembered, that the Fukushima disaster was due to the failure of the cooling system when the tsunami struck in 2011. It is a matter of grave concern that the 2004 Tsunami had flooded the KKNP installations. In fact, a tsunami rehabilitation colony is located just a kilometer away from the nuclear plant.

Another pertinent matter is that of the Nuclear Safety Regulatory Authority Bill 2011 (NSRA Bill) which attempts to amend the Right to Information Act (RTI Act), to deny access to information relating to nuclear safety matters. It also permits the creation of special nuclear safety regulatory authorities, which will be born vaccinated from the RTI Act. There is no rationale for safety and regulatory authorities to be outside the purview of the RTI. Therefore, we would like to highlight that the instructions of the Central Information Commission (CIC) to the Department of Atomic Energy (DAE) and the Nuclear Power Corporation of India Ltd. (NPCIL) be implemented immediately.

At a time when other countries like Germany and Japan are shutting down their nuclear plants, why is India spearing ahead with four new nuclear plants.These new nuclear power plants are facing resistance everywhere. Farmers have begun protests at the Gorakhpur village in Haryana also.In India, the Nuclear Power Corporation intends to enhance overall capacity from the present 4780 MW to 20,000 MW by 2020. This calls for an open and transparent debate on the use of nuclear technology, the safety dimensions, the potential risks to human health and environmental contamination, and the alternative sources of energy like solar and wind.

This is an issue of great importance to Kerala. In the event of an accident, Trivandrum will be the first major city to be affected. In addition as Tamil Nadu meets a significant part of Kerala’s food requirements, ranging from vegetables, milk, poultry and meat, Kerala should be on the alert about the routine radiation risks of food items from the Koodankulam impacted area.

Aruna Roy, (MKSS )MazdoorKisan Shakti Sanghathan, Rajasthan.
Socio-political Activist
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