ignoring protests at the first-ever public hearing for a nuclear installation, the Union government has decided to go ahead with its plans for a Prototype Fast Breeder Reactor (pfbr) at Kalpakkam in Tamil Nadu. Anil Kakodar, chairperson, Atomic Energy Commission, recently said that technology development of the pfbr is at an advanced stage. Addressing a meeting of the Associated Chambers of Commerce and Industry of India and India Energy Forum recently, he said that the construction is expected to begin by December 2001.
In July this year, there was a public hearing on the pfbr. The hearing saw local farmers and fisherfolk narrating the impact of the present reactors on their local ecology. Around 100 local residents had attended the public hearing and those who spoke did not favour the project.
But the government's decision to go ahead with the project proves that the public hearing was nothing but a farce (Read: Impaired hearing, Down To Earth , Vol 10, No 7, August 31, 2001).
"In the light of recent earthquake in the region, we wanted the government to conduct another environment impact assessment (eia)," says R Ramesh of the Doctors for Safe Environment.
As if this was not enough, the government is constructing two new reactors at Koodankulam, 30 kilometres northeast of Kanyakumari. Surprisingly, no eia has been done for this project and there was no public hearing as well. The foundation stone for the Koodankulam nuclear power project was laid on October 7, 2001. "The Tamil Nadu Pollution Control Board has given the clearance without any eia or public hearing. Most people of Kanyakumari, Tirunelveli and Thoothukudi districts have serious reservations about the Koodankulam plant," says S P Udayakumar of the South Asian Community Centre for Education, Research and Action Trust, a non-governmental organisation based in Chennai.
These reactors are being imported from Russia. According to the agreement, Russia would deliver two standard high-pressure vver-1000 water-cooled and water-moderated reactors that would produce 1,000 megawatt power per unit.
"Several experts around the world say that these reactors are unsafe. The specific safety problems include the integrity of the reactor pressure vessel and the reliability of the safety shutdown system," says Udayakumar. "On December 20, 1997, Alexy Yablokov, chairperson of the Russian National Ecological Security Council, stated that the Russian reactors were 'highly unsafe'," he adds.
Many non-governmental organisations and local residents in the region have protested against the setting up of the reactors and have written to aec againt this move. Since the reactors will be built with assistance from Russia, there is speculation that the issue will come up for discussion when the prime minister, A B Vajpayee, visits Russia later this month.