Sulochana Ramiah Mohan

Sulochana Ramiah Mohan is a senior Journalist at Lakbimanews (an independent English newspaper) of Sri Lanka. She is the Deputy Business Editor and writes on various contemporary topics.

Courtesy: LakbimaNews

The People’s Movement Against Nuclear Energy (PMANE) protesting against the Kudankulam Nuclear Power Project (KKNPP) is puzzled and perturbed on hearing the news that the Russians who sold the nuclear power plant to Kudankulam (KKNPP) insist that “the liability for ‘all’ accidents that may occur in the 13-2reactor sold to India must rest solely with the Indian operator and not with the Russian companies involved in supplying components.”

Commercial production of electricity at the KNPP project will commence in the middle of September when the plant is expected to get critical and go on steam.

According to the Indo-Russian Inter-Governmental Agreement (IGA) Article 13: “The Indian Side and its authorized organization at any time and at all stages of the construction and operation of the NPP power units to be constructed under the present Agreement shall be the Operator of power units of the KKNPP Site and be fully responsible for any damage both within and outside the territory of the Republic of India caused to any person and property as a result of a nuclear incident occurring at the NPP.”

Adding to this, the International Atomic Energy Authority (IAEA) stated that “The final decisions and legal responsibilities in any licensing procedures rest with the States.”

Indian Premier Manmohan Singh reading the liability clause has asked the ministries concerned to check whether it would be proper to sign an agreement with the Russians, without incorporating the nuclear liability clause.

PMANE says, “If the Russian reactors are the best in the world, as claimed by Russians, why do they refuse to offer any liability?” PMANE asks.

Other flaws
Apart from the project being commissioned without any legal Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA), a fact admitted by the Ministry of Environment & Forests in a sworn affidavit filed in the Madras High Court, PMANE also claimed that the Nuclear Power Corporation of India Ltd (NPCIL) and the Atomic Energy Regulatory Board (AERB) had accepted a lower-quality Reactor Power Vessel (RPV), which had two welds in the core area, against the contracted design without welds. This could be a breach of the Indo-Russian agreement.
The reactor pressure vessel was found to be an obsolete model developed by Russians during the early 1980s, they claimed.

The RPV, a 19m high, 4.5m wide cylindrical structure made of 200 mm steel, is critical to radiation safety as it houses the reactor core (fuel assembly) and the coolant system, the activists alleged.

“Tremendous care must be taken to ensure that the steel casing used for RPV does not become brittle with time after it is bombarded by neutrons,” said Padmanabhan, a PMANE member. The activists said the locals and parliament should know from the AERB what tests were conducted and the results.

IAEA and the European Union insisted that welds in the core area, if any, should be subjected to tests that assess their strength under rapid temperature fluctuations. “Such tests can’t be conducted after the insertion of fuel rods,” said activist Ramesh.

According to this affidavit, environmental clearance for reactors 1 and 2 was given ‘as early as 9th May 1989’ and renewed on 6th September 2001. Since EIA Notification under the Environmental Protection Act came into existence only on 27th January 1994 and provision for public hearing was introduced only on 10th April 1997 there was no need for KKNPP to go through these critical processes.

Heavens are not going to fall if a few hundred megawatts of nuclear power are not added to the grid in a mad hurry said the activists.

No public hearing has been conducted for the first two reactors either. The KKNPP project has been imposed on an uninformed and unwilling population throwing all democratic precepts and values of our country to the wind.

The local fishing community, backed by PMANE, is protesting against KKNPP. Work at the project had come to a standstill in October last year due to the protest by the local people, who said they fear a risk to their lives in case of a nuclear accident. In the latest development, the eight-month anti-Kudankulam agitation appears to have cost the Tamil Nadu state exchequer INR 1,446 million.

While a nuclear power plant is to be commissioned in Kudankulam , Sri Lanka has not yet attempted to find out how safe such power plants are to Sri Lanka or cleared many of the doubts and allegations put forward by South Indians who claim the whole plant has several serious safety issues .

Minister of Power and Energy Champika Ranawaka when contacted about how safe Sri Lanka is with KKNPP only about 200km away, said, “India is a sovereign country and we cannot stop the commissioning of the nuclear power project”.

“Only 1/3 of the power plant has been commissioned (2000 MW) and the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) has given it clearance,” he said.
However, Sri Lanka has not exchanged its views and concerns with regard to the safety of Sri Lanka with the Indians.

IAEA convention says the country that is commissioning nuclear power should exchange data with the neighbouring country; (evolve) a joint decision and plan in case a nuclear accident occurs and a system to gather information related to variations of radiation detection in other countries should be worked upon.

Sri Lanka, basically, will be prepared to face any nuclear accidents but not be able to prevent accidents, said the minister.

“We will receive eight radiation alert systems fixed in the coastal areas of Sri Lanka to detect radiation levels in case an accident occurs in South India,” he said.

The minister himself is unaware of the protests carried out in South India which have exposed several serious flaws of the KKNPP reactors designed by the Russians.

“We cannot question India and their technology unless IAEA says there are flaws in the plants. Besides we won’t be able to pinpoint these flaws that the South Indians protesters claim to exist. Ask the protesters to forward their complaints to headquarters in Vienna,” he said.

An expert Sri Lankan panel will be leaving for India this month (August 2102) to meet the nuclear experts to discuss details on KKNPP the minister revealed. “Surely we would ask them about some of the allegations we hear,” he said.
Earlier, LAKBIMAN EWS also exposed that the nuclear waste of KKNPP would be dumped in the Indian Ocean.