Koodankulam: spreading death in the sea

Nityanand Jayaraman

Nityanand Jayaraman is a Chennai-based writer and a volunteer with the Chennai Solidarity Group for Koodankulam Struggle

Article Courtesy: DNA

Koodankulam Unit 1 turned critical on July 14. The sea in the immediate vicinity of the nuclear power plant will turn critical when commercial electricity production commences. In June 2013, the Tamil Nadu Pollution Control Board (TNPCB) renewed Unit 1’s license to discharge 6.3 billion litres of wastewater.

An open channel running along the compound wall will empty all this water right onto the beach. This is mostly hot water from the coolant system, and smaller proportions of desalination rejects, and effluents with low-level radioactivity.

This discharge will poison beaches, devastate near-shore fisheries and choke the livelihood of fisherfolk in the vicinity. When that happens, the blame should fall squarely on the individuals in TNPCB, the State Coastal Zone Management Authority, the 12 members of the union environment ministry’s Expert Appraisal Committee (EAC) on CRZ, and the ministry itself.

All these individuals have permitted discharge onto the beach despite being notified of its adverse effects. This is no small quantity of pollution. At full power, Unit 1 will dump 2600 cusecs (cubic feet per second) of hot, salty, toxic water onto Koodankulam’s beaches.

A 2008 study for NPCIL notes that ocean currents in this region flow parallel and close to the shore. During the southwest monsoon, the currents flow east from Koodankulam towards Idinthakarai. Between November and February, the currents reverse.

Local effects on fisheries will be evident within days of release. The wastewater will kill all life in the intertidal zone in the immediate vicinity of the effluent channel.

The hot water will float in the direction of the current, reducing dissolved oxygen and wiping out the plankton. The blanket of death will spread seaward until the temperature reaches ambient levels further offshore.

Koodankulam’s nearshore region is richer in plankton diversity than deeper waters, according to a 2011 study for NPCIL’s Units 3 to 6.

Koodankulam marine lifeThe rocky areas in the vicinity of the effluent channel are rich in prawns and lobsters. Prawns and lobsters are not surface dwellers; so the hot water is unlikely to affect them directly. But, with the plankton gone, a key element in the local food chain would have disappeared, knocking the life out of the local ecosystem and the fishery dependent community.

In 2010, 14,000 tonnes of fish were landed in three villages in the vicinity of the plant, according to the 2011 study. More than 50 per cent of that was sardines, a plankton-feeder. No plankton; no sardines.

No impact assessment has been done for discharge of such a large volume of wastewater from Units 1 and 2. Units 3 to 6 also proposed a near-shore discharge. But the EAC advised against the proposal.

The committee noted that “Due to various environmental problems, including adverse impacts on the marine life, the present proposal not (sic!) acceptable”. In May 2012, the committee recommended the proposal of Units 3 to 6 for CRZ clearance modifying the effluent disposal scheme “to discharge the [coolant water] through underwater pipelines to . . . a region of 4-5 metres Bathymetry which is away from the shore.”

Barring a few members, the EAC that made this insightful recommendation is the same that recommended CRZ clearance for Units 1 & 2 in March 2013.

Curiously, this recommendation did not warn against nearshore discharge or recommend a deep-sea, marine outfall. As on date, the Union environment ministry’s website says that clearance is still pending. Legally speaking, the plant cannot commence operations without a CRZ clearance. But since when did laws stand in the way of our nuclear dream?




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