Masaaki Fukunaga

 

Prof. FUKUNGA Masaaki, Ph.D.(Sociology, Banaras Hindu University), Assistant Director, The Center for South Asian Studies, Gifu Women’s University, Gifu JAPAN. [email protected]

The protest against construction of Koodankulam nuclear plants by the people of Tamil Nadu in southernmost India is intensifying. People within and outside of India are providing support to the consistent non-violent movement against operation of nuclear plants for the past 25 years.

On March 7, when the author visited a fishermen’s village which is the center of the protest movement, about 200 residents were gathered. Around them, posters to explain the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Disaster of May 11, 2011, were put up. The leaders of the “People’s Movement Against Nuclear Energy” (PMANE), who are requesting for closure of the nuclear plants asked me many questions about nuclear reactors after the disaster in Fukushima, refugees, radioactive pollution, etc.. I answered, “There is no doubt about the risk of nuclear plants as shown in the Fukushima disaster. It can happen here in Koodankulam.”

According to the plan by the Indian government, the Nuclear Power Corporation of India, Ltd. (NPCIL) was planning to construct two Russian Pressurized Water Reactors along the coast of the Indian Ocean with assistance from a Russian nuclear power related corporation, Atomstroyexport. The plan was to complete the construction of the first reactor during the first half of 2011, conduct test run with test fuel in July and begin commercial operation from December.

The Fukushima disaster happened then. The shocked residents continued their protest of some million people against nuclear power.
The agreement for the construction of Koodankulam nuclear power plants was made between the top officials of Russia and India in 1988, but the construction was postponed for long time. In 1997, the construction began, and a small port facility for bringing in materials was built in 2004. The construction of the reactors got into full scale as well.

The protest movement from the beginning of the planning of the nuclear power facility intensified when Dr. Udayakumar, a native to the area and is former-professor, returned to Koodankulam, and established and became the representative of PMANE.

The protest leaders shared with me 13 concerns over nuclear plant: 1) risk of Tsunami and earthquakes, 2) no-disclosure or public hearing of environmental impact assessment and safety analysis reports, 3) forced removal of residents within 2.5 km radius from the plant, 4) 1 million people are living within 30 km radius from the plants, 5) disposal of cooling water and low-level waste to sea, 6) risk of contamination with food and environment, 7) plan of establishing 6 more reactors in the future, and 8 ) international concern over the Russian reactors.

The Central and State governments, aiming to expand nuclear power generation, announced the prioritized employment of 1,000 residents, low-price provision of tap water, establishment of welfare facilities, and compensation for fishery. Meanwhile, they disseminated false information that the PMANE top officials are the members of an antigovernment armed group.

Last August, during the evacuation drill, the residents were guided to “cover nose and mouth, run to the nearest building, and close the door”. With this instruction, the residents exploded their anger. The protest against nuclear plant flared into flames.

After August, over 10,000 people gather every day in their hub behind a church and repeated protest march, road block by women, and indefinite hunger strike. The construction was suspended. Only security people were around to enter the site, and 7 months have passed. During this time, the leaders of PMANE, including Dr. Udayakumar, continued negotiation with Prime Minister Singh and Chief Minister of State Jayalalitha. Finally, Dr. Jayalalitha decided that “the State government is opposed to the construction of nuclear power plant without agreement from the residents”.

However, on March 19, 2012, the Chief Minister of State suddenly announced the change of policy. The State government informed the Central government their approval of the construction. From the following day, the construction resumed. Over 10,000 armed State police officers were deployed, delivery of goods such as food, medicine, water was banned, meetings over 5 people were banned, reports by media were restricted, and movement of residents within the blocked area to outside of the area was also banned.

On the protest site, every day, 10,000 residents and supporters gathered around Dr. Udayakumar, who was carrying out indefinite hunger strike, and raised a sharp voice of protest. On March 23, as a result of rushed judgment by the High Court, the blockade by the policy was lifted, and the indefinite hunger strike was ended on March 28. It is reported that over 500 people were arrested, but the number of residents who come to the protest is not diminishing. It is rather increasing day by day. In the protest village where I visited, people are still willing to prevent the forced operation of nuclear power plant by taking turns for hunger strikes and organizing meetings.

Concerning the Atomic Energy Agreement negotiation that is taking place between Japan and India, the residents asked me, “Why is Japan selling nuclear power plant to India?” The protest movement in India is asking Japanese people to take action to oppose “exporting nuclear power”.