Sudipta Sengupta | Times of India

Just about 68 km from Visakhapatnam, the Kovvada village in Srikakulam lies in ruins. Rows of hutments here have been swept away and dozens of boats lining the shore have been damaged in the razing Hudhud that took the coastal belt by `storm’ on Sunday. Still shaken by its impact, people here are now struggling to bounce back to normalcy, while dreading to wonder just what the scale of destruction at the site would’ve been had the proposed Kovvada Nuclear Power Plant come up in the area by now! First given shape close to a decade ago, this project has been firmed up by the Centre over the past three-four years, with the Nuclear Power Corporation of India Ltd (NPCIL), in 2013, even going ahead and enhancing the capacity of the proposed plant from the initial 6,000 MW to 10,000 MV. To be spread over 2,000 acres (roughly), the plant is likely to adversely affect four villages -Pedda Kovvada-Chinna Kovvada, Ramachandrapuram, Tekkali and Guddem -that house over 3,000 people.

Kovvada site

“The cyclone should serve as a wake up call to the authorities to pull the project, designed to come up right on the sea shore, out of this site,” said environmentalist Saraswati Kavula, associated with the National Alliance of Peoples’ Movement. Sounding a serious word of caution she added: “This plant is said to be two and half times bigger than Japan’s Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant, one of the largest in the world, that was hit by tsunami in 2011. Over three years later the disaster is still haunting people there. Imagine what catastrophe would befall residents here if the Kovvada plant gets caught in a natural calamity.”

Apart from displacing over 1.5 lakh people, who are yet to return to their homes, the Fukushima tragedy raised grave environmental and health concerns due to radioactive contamination of the water around the plant.

“Worse can happen here because no nuclear plant is immune to natural calamities. Also, this project does not have the clearance of the Atomic Energy Regulatory Board (AERB), as is the norm,” rued Capt J Rama Rao. His petition against the project -though it stayed the government’s plans briefly -was eventually dismissed.This, even as his plea highlighted that a corner of the plant (as per its design) dangerously lay within the Coastal Regulation Zone.

Human Rights Forum general secretary V S Krishna, who has been opposing the move tooth and nail for years now, made similar observations. “It would be a nightmare if the plant was here,” he said while lashing out at the Central government for systematically destroying India’s coast -all nuclear plant projects are either housed or set to come up along it -and ignoring repeated warnings of a major calamity waiting to happen here. Even the last cyclone, Phailin, did little to deter NPCIL, he rued.

“To go ahead with such a project without conducting a comprehensive study to analyze the ultimate public damage that such a plant can lead to (in case of a natural calamity) is definitely not advisable,” said A Gopalakrishnan, former chairman, AERB. He pointed out how in a thickly populated country like India, evacuating lakhs of people from around the site at a time of emergency, would prove to be a herculean task. Especially because the displacement, in case of meltdown of reactors, would need to be long term.

“Such concerns will have to be looked into by the NPCIL, which is instead hurrying to complete the land acquisition process. I sincerely hope that cyclone Hudhud can slow down the pace of the government,” Rama Rao added.