Situation tense as Tamil Nadu gives go-ahead to Kudankulam Nuclear Plant

Sixteen activists, including two top leaders, are on indefinite hunger strike

By M Suchitra
Published: Tuesday 20 March 2012


Tension mounted around the Kudankulam Nuclear Power Plant site in Tirunelveli district of Tamil Nadu as the state government cleared the project on March 19 in a complete U-turn from its previous stand.

A massive police force of over 5,000 armed personnels has been deployed in the area. Prohibitory orders have also been imposed in villages near the plant site. All roads leading to Idinthakarai village, the nerve centre of people’s agitations against the plant, have been blocked.

Even then more than 6,000 people, most of them women and children, have gathered in this coastal village where 16 activists, including S P Udhayakumar and M Pushparayan, two top leaders of the People’s Movement Against Nuclear Energy (PMANE), a rights group spearheading the agitations, are on indefinite hunger strike since March 19. More people from far away villages are reaching in boats.

The police have given an ultimatum to the fasting leaders to surrender. But the protesters say there is no question of surrendering only by the leaders. They are adamant all will surrender. Police action thus seems imminent.

The leaders went on fast after Chief Minister J Jayalalitha, in a U-turn, gave approval to the controversial nuclear project. The green signal given by the state government assumes importance considering the fact that the plant was staunchly opposed by Jayalalitha so far. The state government had even passed a resolution a few months ago that it would not allow the Nuclear Power Corporation of India to go ahead with the works in the plant until the fears of local people about the plant were allayed.

But in yesterday’s cabinet meeting, the state government decided to take immediate steps to facilitate early commissioning of the plant. A statement issued by the chief minister after the cabinet meeting said the expert committee appointed by the state government, which was chaired by former chairman of the Atomic Energy Commission, M R Srinivasan, has looked into all the safety aspects and has given a clean chit to the plant.

“The plant has all the safety measures and there is no risk of an earthquake or tsunami,” says the statement. “The cabinet has examined the reports of panels of both the Central and state governments as well as the memorandum submitted by those opposed to the nuclear power plant.” According to the chief minister, the Central government's expert panel has answered all the doubts and allayed fears of the people living around the plant.

The state government also allotted Rs 500 crore for local area and infrastructure development which include a cold storage to store fish catch, laying of roads, repairing mechanised fishing boats of local fishermen and construction of houses.

Police crack down

The nuclear power plant came under a three-tier security cover soon after the Cabinet cleared the decks for the project. The police cracked down on the anti-nuke protesters. Many activists have been arrested and sedition charges have been imposed on some of the top leaders of the people’s movement against the plant including Udayakumar and Pushparayan.

“We have never engaged in any anti-national activities but they are treating us as terrorists,” says Udayakumar. “For the last seven months we have been protesting peacefully against the Centre’s unilateral decision to commission the plant in Kudankulam.”  Supplies of electricity, drinking water, milk and vegetables to Idinthakarai, where thousands of protestors have gathered, have been cut off.

The activists see the change in stance of the state government, which had so far extended moral support to the people’s agitation, as total betrayal and they say they would continue the agitation despite "the betrayal by the state government".

The Rs 13,000-crore Kudankulam Nuclear Power Plant (KKNPP) is being built with Russian collaboration. The Indo-Russian joint venture has run into serious trouble with activists and residents staging massive protests citing safety concerns. As a result of the people’s struggle, the commissioning of the two 1,000 megawatt nuclear reactors at the plant had been stalled.

In a memorandum submitted to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on October 7, 2011, PMANE had pointed out that more than 1.2 million people live in nearly 150 villages and towns within a 30 km radius of the Kudankulam plant, which far exceeds the Atomic Energy Regulatory Board’s stipulations. According to the protesting groups, 33,000 people live within the five km sterilisation zone. It is quite impossible to evacuate these many people quickly and efficiently in case of a nuclear disaster at Kudankulam, the memorandum pointed out.

Talks between the Central government-appointed expert panel and representatives of villagers opposing the plant have failed to end the stand-off.

The main demands of the leaders on the indefinite hunger strike are immediate release of those who have been arrested, withdrawal of the Tamil Nadu government's resolution giving approval to the plant, a thorough and complete probe of geologists, hydrologists and oceanographers into the safety issues of the Kudankulam plant, release of the Inter-Governmental Agreement (IGA) signed secretly by the governments of India and Russia on liability in February 2008. They also demand conducting safety drills and evacuation drills in the 30-km radius of the plant.



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