Editorial: The Stateman, Dec 5, 2011

THE Experts Group on Koodankulam constituted by the Centre to allay fears of the Tamil Nadu government and the People’s Movement Against Nuclear Energy has proved to be a mega failure. Its 39-page report evades critical questions to which people want answers. Some members of the Central group hinted at the competence of people to ask such questions and even doubted their motives for seeking answers. The report is flawed as it is premised on obsolete demographic data and is evasive on the risks from sub-volcanic activity near the site. Lava rocks are found at Abhishekapati, just north of Koodankulam, of the kind that prompted the US government to abandon the Yucca Mountain site for nuclear waste storage for fear of its structural integrity. The Koodankulam site is also prone to mega tsunamis arising out of the presence of the East Comorin slump and the Colombo slump, agglomeration of loosely bound sediments that could trigger tsumanis in the Gulf of Mannar. The 2004 tsunami produced waves that covered the 133 ft. tall Valluvar statue off the Kanyakumari coast.

The Experts Group’s report only confirmed the worst fears of the people that the Nuclear Power Corporation of India had cut corners, compromised on safety and failed to perform statutory due diligence in implementing the project. The report claimed environmental impact assessment and CRZ clearances were obtained in 1989 when such norms did not exist. On meeting the cost of decommissioning the plant after its expected life-span of three to four decades, the report says 2 paise per unit would be charged on the sale of energy which adds up to Rs.640 crore only. The estimated cost of decommissioning the Fukushima nuclear power plant in Japan is Rs.100,000 crore.

The experts were of the opinion nuclear liability was beyond their purview. For the people of Tamil Nadu, Russian liability is very much relevant to the Koodankulam plant. Clause 13 of the agreement that the governments of India and Russia signed in 2008 states that the Russian government would not be liable for any accident at the Koodankulam site. Having put foreign interests above those of citizens, New Delhi has not shared terms of the 2008 agreement with the public or Press. Nuclear liability, for which rules have just been framed, takes away rights of victims to approach courts of law against the supplier. This right remains with the government which often seems more concerned with appeasing the foreign supplier. In the Bhopal case, the government arrogated to itself the right to represent all victims and let Union Carbide off the hook. Though there is no emergency in the country, the Centre has successfully used its might to browbeat the media, to ensure that activities of people opposed to the Koodankulam plant are not reported. How many people in the country are aware that more than 3,000 activists of PMANE, including its leader Dr. SP Udayakumar, have been charged with waging war against the country and sedition? In a sermon to media persons after taking over as chairman of the Press Council of India, Justice Markandaya Katju, said: “One of the basic tasks of the media is to provide truthful and objective information to the people to enable them form rational opinions, which is a sine qua non in a democracy.” Will the learned judge censure those who have reined in the media from discharging its legitimate duty?