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Expert panel submits report saying plant meets all safety norms and that it is safe for operation
Efforts to break the impasse over the controversial Kudankulam nuclear power plant in Tamil Nadu’s Tirunelveli district hit a dead end on Tuesday when the Central government’s panel of experts and anti-nuclear activists declared no further talks would be held.
The 15-member experts group was formed by the Department of Atomic Energy on October 20 to allay fears and doubts of the local community regarding the Rs 13,171 crore project of the Nuclear Power Corporation of India (NPCIL) which is ready for operation. The expert panel said on January 31 that it had conclusively addressed all the safety aspects of the plant. It blamed the activists for the continuing deadlock; the protesters said they have completely lost trust in the Central panel.
The decision to withdraw from further talks followed an attack on the people's representatives when they arrived for the fourth round of talks at the district collector's office on January 31. Some of them, including women, were injured. Those who attacked were activists of the Hindu Munnani who had gathered there to demand the commissioning of the plant.
In a 70- page supplementary report submitted to the district collector, A E Muthunayagam, convener of the expert panel, pointed out that since representatives of the local communities were not ready for further discussions, the panel was not in a position to proceed further. “The plant meets with all current safety requirements and is safe for operation,” says the report.
“How can we participate in talks when we are attacked, and that too in the presence of security personnel?” asks M Pushparayan, representative of the People’s Movement Against Nuclear Energy (PMANE ) and member of the state panel selected for holding talks with the Central panel. “ We don’t have any faith in this Central panel; hereafter we’ll hold talks only with the state government,” says S P Udayakumar, convener of PMANE.
Attack well-planned: activists
Those protesting the Kudankulam plant allege the attack was well-planned. The fourth round of the talks was scheduled after a gap of one and a half months; the third round was held on December 18. During this period, the Central government and NPCIL resorted to bullying tactics, allege activists. “Cases were filed against us, allegations of activists getting foreign funds were publicised and there have been aggressive campaigns supporting the plant for the past two months,” says Pushparayan.
Activists say they had informed the authorities about the possible attacks on them and threats to their lives. “The authorities had assured us adequate police security for participating in the talks, says Udayakumar.
When Udayakumar, Pushparayan and M P Jesuraj along with two women activists Initha and Milred reached the venue in a car, Hindu Munnani state vice president V P Jayakumar, accompanied by members of his outfit, was addressing journalists in front of the collector's office. They had gathered there to submit a memorandum to the district collector for commissioning the plant.
“As we tried to enter through the second gate, Hindu Munnani men rushed towards us and attacked us,” says Initha, a panchayat ward member. “They pelted stones at our vehicle and assaulted us, calling us anti-nationals,” she says.
A contingent of anti-nuclear plant protesters, most of them women, who subsequently arrived in another vehicle, fought off the Hindu Munnani men. Later police arrested about 15 Hindu Munnani men. Activists say many were goons hired by NPCIL and and that local Congress leaders, too, were planning to attack the protesters. Initha, Milred and two other women had to be hospitalised.
Agitation to be intensified
While the Central panel in its report accuses the activists of creating unnecessary fears in the minds of people “with partial information and selected video clippings on Fukushima (nuclear disaster)”, activists allege that the whole exercise of allaying fears is a farcical exercise.
Even while the talks were on, prime minister Manmohan Singh issued a statement on December during his Russia visit that the plant would be commissioned within two weeks. He visited Tamil Nadu in December end and is said to have struck a deal with the state government on commissioning the plant, they allege. Besides, minster of state V Narayanaswamy has been issuing statements that the plant will soon become operational with state government’s assistance. Indications in this regard have been given by representatives of NPCIL as well. The Congress party is busy organising protests for commissioning the plant, they allege.
Acording to the activists, members of the expert group have been continuously talking in support of the plant during television appearances over the past two months. “This increases people’s distrust in the Central team,” says Pushparayan. Activists also point out that the team never bothered to talk to the residents living near the plant.
PMANE said it would intensify the agitation.