Koodankulam – Way Out of the Nuclear Mess

Convener, Experts Team of the Peoples Movement Against Nuclear Energy (PMANE)

The mess that Kudankulam now is entirely the creation of Government of India and Government of Tamil Nadu due to their arrogant, arbitrary and autocratic methods giving scant respect and regard to the voices if the very people who voted them to power. Instead of entering into dialogue with the protesting public to “ally their fears ” as promised, these governments sent ‘Sarkari Scientists’ who only printed reams of paper and gave it as expert opinion. When people asked for their voice to be heard it was responded with hundreds of criminal cases of sedition and ‘waging war against the state’. When people still persisted police brutality was let loose on women and children sitting on beach sands, peacefully protesting against ‘fuel loading’ in the Kudankulam Nuclear Power Plant (KKNPP).

Actually the three officers in charge of the situation – the DIG, the SP and the District Collector – showed restraint. It was IG Police Rajesh Das who landed up out of nowhere, gave the protesters 10 minutes to disperse and when they refused, ordered lathi charge and tear gas shelling. The men jumped into the sea; but women and children could not and were beaten up. This IG is the same man responsible for the firing on innocent Dalits at Paramakudi last year. He is stated to be incapable of handling sensitive situations.Yet he has been unleashing terror among the harmless villagers and hunting down SP Udayakumar, the PMANE coordinator, as if he is an international terrorist. One wonders as to whether Rajesh Das is taking orders from the autocratic Russian masters or the democratically elected Government of Tamil Nadu.

Police is using the High Court order as a cover for indulging in brutality. The fact is that there have been several bizarre, irregular and illegal happenings connected with KKNPP from the very beginning. What baffles me is the clearance given for fuel loading and the nuclear establishment going ahead with this ‘commissioning process’ despite the scathing report of Comptroller & Auditor General of India about ‘lapses in safety measures’ by the Atomic Energy Regulatory Board (AERB) posing “grave threats.” CAG, the highly regarded constitutional watchdog has highlighted several lapses by AERB: Non-preparation of a nuclear and radiation policy; No safety documents as recommended by two expert committees; No decommissioning plan which is extremely critical for public safety; Non-adoption of international safety standards and practices.The Nuclear Power Corporation of India themselves have said that they are yet to implement the 17 safety measures recommended by the post-Fukushima taskforce. The environment clearance was given way back in 1988. There’s no fresh water near the site. Yet High Court has passed the order ignoring all these critical issues. The case is now in the Supreme Court

Fact of the matter is that Nuclear power is neither the cleanest nor the safest. The human cost is too high. There’s been no new plant commissioned in the US for the last 20 years not only because of environmental concerns, but also because no bank is willing to fund it. No one is willing to insure a nuclear plant because of the risks involved. There are many hidden costs, among them the cost of decommissioning it after 40 years and storage of spent fuel for several centuries!

We don’t need nuclear power. There are better alternatives available. We have no uranium, but the Government of India is sabotaging the development of new coal and thorium-based technology. The PM talks of energy security, but how can there be any security if we have to import the reactors and fuel from abroad? The pressure from the superpowers has led to major efforts to sabotage all alternatives. Australia doesn’t have a single nuclear plant and wants to sell us uranium! The policy is driven by foreign interests. And where’s the land to establish new nuclear plants of 2,50,000 MW capacity by 2050?

In 1969, it was announced that by 2000, the country would have 43,500 mega watts of nuclear power. Today, we have just 4860 mega watts of nuclear power installed, of which barely 50 % is generated. It’s been a colossal failure. We have such fine IITs, they could have done R & D in solar and wind energy to reduce cost and improve efficiency. But such R & D was deliberately killed. Our Minister for New and Renewable Energy says India can’t survive without nuclear power!

Regarding the allegation of foreign funds and NGOs, all I would say is that a jaundiced eye sees everything yellow. Protestors, mostly fishermen are Christians. The Church does get foreign funds, for welfare projects but that’s through legal channels. I don’t think any of that money has gone into this protest movement. Fundamentalist elements branded Muslims as terrorists; now Christians are being condemned as traitors? What kind of ‘secularism’ is this?

The struggle in Kudankulam is indeed very unique. It is a community movement led by the people, not any particular leader. The 100-year-old St Lourdes church in Idinthkarai village provides space to the protesters, a majority of whom are fishermen and Christians. A few Hindu families residing in the village present a united front against the 2000 MW nuclear power plant. A majority of these fishermen know a lot about the harmful effects that a nuclear power plant might have on their environment and their livelihoods and about the Fukushima disaster.

The protest against KKNPP has been going on ever since May 1989 when the then Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi signed an agreement with the Russians to build the nuclear plant in Kudankulam. Since then the locals have been raising their voices against the power plant, but nobody bothers to listen to them. Apart from Idinthakarai, 30 other villages around Kudankulam are fighting for the same cause. KKNPP would destroy the livelihood of most of these villagers who depend on fishing on the seas.

It is audacious to say that KKNPP is perfectly safe and nuclear power should be pushed at any cost. Let us hear from Mikhail Gorbachev, former president of USSR who signed the 1989 Indo-Russian Nuclear Agreement that brought the KKNPP: “Today we know that about 77,000 square miles of territory in Europe and the former Soviet Union has been contaminated with radioactive fallout, leaving long-term challenges for flora, fauna, water, the environment, and human health. Tens of billions of dollars have already been spent in trying to contain and remediate the disaster, with a new containment shell now being constructed over the 1986 sarcophagus and what’s left of the reactor. The material damage inflicted by Chernobyl, although enormous, pales in significance when compared to the ongoing human costs. The true scope of the tragedy still remains beyond comprehension and is a shocking reminder of the reality of the nuclear threat. The closed nature and secrecy of the nuclear power industry, which had already experienced some 150 significant radiation leaks at nuclear power stations throughout the world before the Chernobyl fire, greatly contributed to the accident and response difficulties. As the global population continues to expand, and the demand for energy production grows, we must invest in alternative and more sustainable sources of energy—wind, solar, geothermal, hydro—and widespread conservation and energy efficiency initiatives as safer, more efficient, and more affordable avenues for meeting both energy demands and conserving our fragile planet.”

Former Japanese Prime Minister Naoto Kan, nearly a year after he oversaw his government’s widely criticized handling of the Fukushima Daiichi accident in a recent interview with The Wall Street Journal has said: “I would like to tell the world that we should aim for a society that can function without nuclear energy.” Accordingly Japan cabinet has decided to phase out nuclear power in three stages and join Germany in being a totally nuclear free country. France, that has a dependency of 74% on nuclear energy is scaling it down to 50% and may further reduce it. Many other countries are following suit. India’s dependency on this source is a paltry 2.5% and this is the time to cry a halt starting with KKNPP.

What is the way out, many people ask. The answer is that Government can still reverse their decision. PMANE Expert Team has suggested fuel-switching and make KKNPP a liquefied gas-based power plant. This can be supplemented with wind, solar and tidal power for which there is huge potential in Kudankulam and adjoining areas. India’s leadership should plan country’s energy security taking into account these natural resources and not by imitating other countries which lack the natural resources India has.

Central Government and State Government of Tamilnadu should stop immediately the oppressive methods unleashed on the people agitating against KKNPP. An informed public debate and also a meaningful and an in-depth debate in Indian Parliament on the need for nuclear power will be in the interest of India’s future.

KKNPP should not be commissioned till a full and proper independent examination of the safety aspects of all the existing nuclear installations and nuclear power plants is carried out including the damage caused to the environment around them which includes water, soil and life forms of all types. Indian people have a constitutional right to know all the things that have been pushed under the carpet by Department of Atomic Energy by misusing the provisions of the Atomic Energy Act, 1962. This should be complied with, lest the NUCLEARGATE, possibly the most massive of all scams could unfold very soon as predicted by Dr. A.Gopalakrishnan, eminent nuclear scientist and former Chairman of Atomic Energy Regulatory Board!





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