SP Udayakumar, Coordinator, People's Movement Against Nuclear Energy


People’s Movement Against Nuclear Energy (PMANE) coordinator SP Udayakumar has been at the forefront of the agitation against the Koodankulam nuclear plant in Tamil Nadu. A 12-day fast by the locals ended after the state Cabinet passed a resolution requesting the Centre to stop work at the plant. A delegation also met PM Manmohan Singh. The PM remained non-committal, forcing the people to resume their fast. Kunal Majumder speaks to Udayakumar about the reasons for opposing the nuclear plant.

Why have you resumed the hunger strike?
The prime minister promised our delegation that the construction work at the plant will stop. But he later wrote to Tamil Nadu Chief Minister J Jayalalithaa asking for her cooperation in continuing the project. The people are upset with the Centre for not honouring the state Cabinet resolution.

Do you think that the state government is serious about the issue?
We don’t know. The state government should press the Centre to honour the Cabinet resolution and act on it. The underlying grievance among Tamils is that the Centre is indifferent to their feelings.

There are allegations that it’s a partisan movement…
It is propaganda to say that this is a Christian movement. There are people from all castes and religions. And it is not funded by any NGO. It is a real people’s movement.

What is your concern about the nuclear plant?
The plant is unsafe. The safety analysis report and the site evaluation study have not been made public. No public hearing was held. It’s an authoritarian project that has been imposed on the people. There have been serious lapses in the environmental impact assessment. A report commissioned by the Russian government reveals that there are 20-25 defects in the reactor design. It concludes that their technology is unsafe and the reactors are not equipped to withstand natural or man-made disasters.

The plant was commissioned in 2001. Why are the people agitating only now?
The people became aware of the dangers because of the Fukushima accident. If there is a similar accident, they will have to evacuate 1.2 million people in a couple of hours in a 30 km radius. In the 5 km radius, which is the sterilisation zone, there are more than 30,000 people. Where will they be evacuated to? How will it be done?

So your problem is with nuclear energy itself?
We are asking for the plant’s closure. We also feel that India should not go for nuclear energy when developed countries such as Germany and Italy are phasing out their reactors. Russia has not built a single nuclear plant since Chernobyl. And if they want to sell their technology to us, we should ask them, how many plants have you built recently? They cannot sell their scrap metal to us and safeguard their own people. We oppose nuclear plants for the whole country. In India, there are 5,900 subdistricts and 70-80 percent of them require only 15-20 MW power. We don’t need highly centralised, supply-based power projects. We should go for decentralised demandbased power projects.

India is an emerging economy. How will we meet our massive demand for electricity?
We produce hardly 2.5 percent of power from nuclear plants. Even if they open nuclear plants like petty shops all over the country we are not going to produce more than 10 percent of power. It will take 24,000 years to dispose of half the nuclear waste. Consider the cost, not just material but also that of human lives. This is not a viable way to produce power. We should think beyond fossil and nuclear power. We are a country with 365 days of sunshine. Don’t say solar technology is expensive. Pump enough money into R&D. What about tidal energy? India has a 7,500-km long coastline, make use of that. We have been slaves for a long time. White man’s technology has hurt the Earth badly. Don’t follow their ways. Be world leaders.

 

Courtesy: Tehelka