ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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Unclear over Nuclear

Will the protests against the Koodankulam project force the government to pause and rethink its nuclear power plans?

At a time when information is freely available through innumerable sources, governments and politicians should not express surprise when people ask uncomfortable questions. Yet, whenever there is a people’s protest, the response is always surprise and suspicion at the “suddenness” of the protest. “Why now?” is the inevitable question asked by the authorities. So too with the protests against the Koodankulam Nuclear Power Project in Tamil Nadu. In the recent protests, away from the media glare, 127 people fasted for over 11 days and tens of thousands of people gathered to register their opposition to the project. The initial reaction from both the state government and the centre was one of disbelief, even though the project has faced opposition from local people almost from its inception. Formalised in 1988 through an agreement between India and the then Soviet Union, the Koodankulam project finally got off the ground only in 1997. In 2005, the Nuclear Power Corporation of India Limited (NPCIL) received clearance to set up two Russiandesigned, water-cooled and water-moderated VVER-1000 reactors. Shortly thereafter, NPCIL revealed its intent to set up four more reactors, making this one of the largest nuclear projects in India. Reactors one and two are almost ready, the former slated to be commissioned in December.

Between the first agreement and today, several significant developments have occurred. In 2004, the Asian tsunami hit the very coastline where the reactors are to be located. In the light of the earthquake and tsunami in March this year in Japan, when pictures of the crippled nuclear power station at Fukushima flashed around the world, it is hardly surprising that the fears of the local population have grown sharply. The proponents of the project have done little to allay these concerns, leave alone listen to them. A typical example of the lack of transparency and openness was the public hearing conducted in February 2007 outside Tirunelveli town for people from Kanyakumari, Tuticorin and Tirunelveli districts. The hearing turned into a mockery of what public hearings are supposed to be. The district authorities truncated the hearing, not allowing people who had travelled long distances from all the three districts to express their opposition to the project and raise legitimate concerns. Furthermore, the minutes of the public hearing, obtained only after a Right to Information application was filed, did not reflect any of the dissent voiced. Little wonder then that the affected communities concluded that they had no option but to organise and protest.

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