Rules in favour of larger public interest; says plant is safe
The Supreme Court on Monday dismissed petitions questioning the safety of the Kudankulam nuclear power plant, saying nuclear energy is the need of the future and present generations. The judgement comes close on the heels of the country's nuclear power watchdog, the Atomic Energy Regulatory Board (AERB), admitting that four crucial valves in the reactors are faulty. (See timeline: A 25-year campaign)
The petitioners in the case, the People's Movement Against Nuclear Energy (PMANE), have termed the judgement as anti-people. PMANE, a local movement for the safety of the villages around Kudankulam nuclear power plant, said the protest against the nuclear plant would continue.
A bench comprising justice K S Radhakrishnan and Dipak Mishra said in the verdict (download copy of judgment as pdf) that the plant is safe and secure and it is necessary in the larger public interest and welfare of the people. The petitioners argued that 17 recommendations of the AERB task force have not been strictly followed by the operator, the Nuclear Power Corporation of India Limited (NPCIL). Earlier in August, AERB had stated that only six out of 17 conditions had been followed by the plant operator. AERB in its affidavit filed in the Madras High Court had stated that the rest of the remaining conditions would be implemented in a phased manner which could be completed either in six months or may take up to two years.
Petitioner G Sundarajan said that AERB in a related case had earlier stated that only after the fulfilment of 17 conditions, the fuel in the nuclear reactors would be loaded. However, when the petitioners approached the Supreme Court in September after the Madras High Court allowed the authorities to start fuel loading in the reactors, a stay on the fuelling process could not be obtained.
In the course of last three months when the case was argued in the apex court, AERB had submitted that all the six conditions have been fulfilled, although on April 19, AERB admitted that four valves, which are a part of a special cooling system installed in the nuclear reactors to avert a Fukushima-like meltdown, were faulty. AERB claimed in a press statement that the all the faulty valves have been replaced after examination by the authorities.
Safety concerns follow corruption probe
Meanwhile, charges of corruption have been levelled against the suppliers of the reactors for giving sub-standard equipment to the nuclear plant. Less than a month ago, the Russian authorities arrested Sergei Shutov, the director of Zio-Podolsk, a subsidiary of Rosatom, the Russian atomic energy corporation, on charges of corruption, fraud and supplying cheap Ukrainian steel blanks and steam generators in nuclear reactors. The first of the two 1,000 MW VVER nuclear reactors at Kudankulam Project (KKNP-1), under commissioning and testing, is supplied by Rosatom, through its subsidiary Atomstroyexport. Former chairperson of AERB A Gopalakrishnan has demanded an immediate investigation into the safety of the Kudankulam plant in India as Podolsk supplied the materials to the reactor.
On the other hand, the Supreme Court allowed NPCIL to load fuel in the reactors as the all the expert committees appointed earlier to assess the safety of the nuclear power plant had arrived at one decision – that the plant is safe. As of now KNPPP has already fuelled unit 1 of the nuclear plant, while the first two units will start later this year.
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