Nonviolence confronts Nuclear Insanity in India

P K Sundaram

To people who are asking is this the village-centric India that Mahatma Gandhi wanted to build, the government is sending its scientists who are in love with their reactor designs. Could a state be farther removed from its citizen?


“Earth provides enough to satisfy every man’s need, but not a single person’s greed”: Mahatma Gandhi

Nuclear Expansion and Democracy: 

The drive for neoliberal ‘development’ in recent decades in India, and in particular its nuclear expansion is marked with undermining of democratic ethos. Not only was the parliament bribed and undermined to get approval for the Indo-US nuclear deal, the ruling establishment in India is using repressive, undemocratic and divisive means to push for the planned massive expansion of nuclear power program.

While PM Manmohan Singh lauded Indo-US nuclear deal as a great rendezvous between ‘world’s oldest and largest democracies’, he has shown scant regard for people’s aspirations and their grassroots democratic institutions.  Local self-governance bodies (Panchayat) have passed resolutions to oppose nuclear power plants in their backyards not only in Koodankulam, but also in Jaitapur and Fatehabad. Same is true in case of Uranium mining in Jadugoda.

Scholars have identified this urgency, violence and flouting of democracy as intrinsic to the historical modernist project of creating industrialized societies and nuclear states.

Mere over-reaction to Fukushima?

Reducing the nature of massive protests to misplaced apprehensions triggered by Fukushima accident is nothing but an elitist contempt for the people and their wisdom stemming from real life experiences. Koodankulam movement has raised a wide range of questions pertaining to displacement, livelihood, environmental damage, safety and economics of the project. So  have done the people in Jaitapur and Fatehabad in Haryana.  But the government has largely handled this issue as a PR problem: awareness and education of people. To people who are asking is this the village-centric India that Mahatma Gandhi wanted to build, the government is sending its scientists who are in love with their reactor designs. Could a state be farther removed from its people !

However, even our experts are avoiding the crucial question in Koodankulam: why this reassurance when the Russian agencies themselves have questioned the safety of VVER design being built in Koodankulam, in their post-Fukushima safety audit. And how ‘scientific’ it is to impose reactors on people when radiation has a life of thousands of years while the knowledge about reactor safety, seismology, environment and climate change, radiation and health etc is still evolving and is based on a data of few hundred years at the most. Apart from natural factors, we also have human factors like political turmoils, sabotages and terrorism – how can our technocrats and policy makers pre-empt them for thousands of years when we know how volatile human history has been.

Dividing protests on communal lines: A dangerous precedent

The intelligence agencies in Koodankulam are reported to be doing religious profiling of the agitators. This is a very unfortunate precedent and totally unacceptable when the state itself is doing so. Incidentally, majority of the fishing communities in the region is Christian and it results in active participation of their community and religious organisations. The two decade old protest in Koodankulam has been entirely non-violent, broad based and multi-religious.

Independent India’s first Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru had an innocent belief that scientific advancements bring scientific temper in the society. Today, when the most undemocratic regimes like North Korea can acquire nuclear weapons and technology, we need to seriously question the promise of social enlightenment that is supposed to necessarily follow great technological advancements. In fact, nuclear industry is known for indulging in worst forms of racism throughout the world. Nuclear accident in Fukushima, like the nuclear bomb in Hiroshima has resulted in social ostracism of radiation-victims. Not unsurprisingly, the nuclear tsars inIndia have also indulged in malicious tricks, cover-ups and callous indifference for people’s health and lives.

For a nuclear-free world, we need a new society

When it comes to nuclear energy, we can’t avoid its linkages with the overarching societal, systemic and civilisational questions. Nuclear issues concern public health, environment, labour and human rights, economic and political transparency, accountability and above all – an evolved and mature society that reprioritises its consumption pattern. The insane rush to economic growth and American dream comes as handy justifications for nuclear energy in a ‘risk society’ (although even this is untrue: nuclear energy production on global scale is on a consistent decline worldwide and actually no source of energy can feed the current growth fetish.)

A Nuclear-free society cannot just be today’s society without nuclear reactors and weapons. The unending ‘consumption’ that capitalism deems necessary for human existence and growth, and for which nuclear energy is supposed to be essential, is nothing but a farcical mirage. Despite large growth of electricity production in the country in last two decades, the actual consumption in rural areas has increased only marginally. In the present growth model, only a limited part of electricity generated goes for actual consumption and the rest is wasted in energy-guzzling sectors such as advertising, military industrial complex, excessive bureaucracy etc.

Seeking Strength in Non-Violence

The anti-nuclear movement recognizes that it can pursue its goal only by fighting for this larger perspective. In context of Fukushima disaster also, leading thinkers of Japan have outlined this necessity. Strengthening democracy and practising non-violence is an imperative in this regard that the anti-nuclear movement has always adhered to. It’s not a coincidence that India’s anti-nuclear activism found its cradle in Gandhian institutions. Anumukti, a group engaged consistently in opposing nuclear energy and weapons, and mobilizing public opinion against them since 1980s runs under the leadership of Shri Narayan Desai, a veteran Gandhian who spent 25 years of his life with Mahatma Gandhi.

Despite attempts by some to instigate violence, S P Udayakumar, spearheading the movement in Koodankulam for last two decades has also shown an unflinching commitment to nonviolence. Last month, Tokyo saw more than 60,000 people protesting on the streets against nuclear power, but there was no hint of violent and disruption. In Germany, the anti-nuclear movement is known for adopting creative nonviolent methods for decades and finally it has brought the government to accept phasing out of country’s nuclear program.

Our policy elites would do well to listen to the soul of India as reflected in these grassroots voices rather than push the country into a dangerous and unsustainable future.



Nuclear safety in India: Some Crucial Questions

  • On the VVER design being installed in Koodankulam, the Russian agencies themselves have raised serious safety issues, while our nuclear theocrats are giving it a clean chit.
  • In case of Jaitapur, more than 3000 serious safety issues with Areva’s EPR reactor design have been highlighted by safety regulatory bodies of Finland (STUK), UK (HSE), France (ASN) and EU. Engineers working on the EPR have serious apprehensions of a “Chernobyl style” meltdown in the design because both the materials and workmanship were substandard, as per leaked EDF documents. In 2009, safety authorities had issued a joint request for EPR design improvement. The American Nuclear Regulatory Council (NRC) has also delayed the safety certification for the EPR for a year. Independent experts have raised serious questions on safety and viability of EPR projects.
  • Contrary to the government’s claims, India has a poor record when it comes to nuclear safety. A list of serious nuclear accidents in the recent past can be seen here.
  • Far from being open about safety issues, the DAE is known to be utterly secretive and undemocratic. The nuclear establishment has a history of avoiding public scrutiny by labelling its own safety audits ‘top secret’. The nuclear establishment has also badly victimized the whistle blowers and critics in the past.
  • The post-Fukushima safety review in India has been hastily done by the NPCIL, the public nuclear operator itself, in one month whereas the other countries have gone for detailed process. The report does a rather selective reading of events in Fukushima in the first place and, not surprisingly, has come out with reassurances about nuclear installations in India being totally safe. In the wake of Fukushima, people and independent experts had raised serious issues but for the government it remains just a public relations exercise.
  • In case of a Fukushima-like accident, people of India are left helpless as the government’s Nuclear Liability Bill caps the maximum liability arbitrarily. Even the watered-down provision for suppliers liability is not acceptable to the American and other international nuclear corporate and these countries are pushing India to do away with the suppliers liability and ratify the CSC.
  • The proposed Nuclear Safety Authority and Regulatory Bill 2011 which the PM has lauded in his letter to Ms. Jayalalitha, has been widely criticized for being toothless. Not only the new NSRA’s jurisdiction and role be even more limited than the existing AERB, the govt has overarching powers to supersede it and take any installation out of its purview citing ‘national security’ imperatives.  The NSRA bill provides no security to the whistle-blowers. The NSRA will operate under the under a Council of Nuclear Safety (CNS) headed by the PM. Experts have raised questions about real independence and efficacy of this new mechanism.





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