In late February 2012, exasperated by the successful resistance against the first of two ready-to-go 1000 MW Russian built nuclear power stations in Kudankulam, the Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh fell into “foreign-hand paranoia” while saying – “In Kudankulam…the atomic energy programme has got into difficulties because these NGOs, mostly I think based in the United States, don’t appreciate the need for our country to increase the energy supply.”
SP Udaykumar, coordinator of People’s Movement against Nuclear Energy (PMANE), which has been protesting on the ground for three years now, says – “It’s a totally baseless accusation, without any evidence how can he say such a thing? … It’s a struggle by locals. Farmers, fishermen, ladies contribute and run the struggle for a better healthier life. We do not accept funds by any religious, foreign, political organization at all!” he retorts. … A local newspaper called Dinamalam had reported that “Foreign Money for Anti-nuclear Activists Revealed: Shocking Information from Enquiry of NGOs” in its issue dated January 17, 2012. It gave names, home address and phone number of three key leaders of PMANE, provoking readers to harass them. S. P. Udayakumar, M. Pushparayan, and M. P. Jesuraj had filed a complaint to the Press Council on grounds that private information was divulged and their security endangered. Dinamalam daily had apologized to Father Kocherry (issue dated February 9, 2012) about its claim of his channeling money from Germany to the people’s struggle. “These ridiculous episodes prove that the charges against us are completely false and those who accuse us of these charges have no credibility” says Udaykumar.
Examining nuclear power
Physicist M.V. Ramana, now at Princeton University, is the author of the book The Power of Promise: Examining Nuclear Power in India. He has said that “the PM’s statement is wrong on three counts. First, for the leader of a democratic state to dismiss intense public opposition to nuclear reactors is an insult to the intellects and minds of millions of individuals and to democracy itself. Second, the government, and specifically the PM, has been at the forefront of inviting foreign investment in a variety of fields… Finally, this business of who is funding what is irrelevant to the larger question of the real and proven risks that nuclear power plants pose. There should be no doubt about this after Fukushima.”
Kudankulam was proposed two years after the Chernobyl incident when the “Soviet nuclear industry was desperate to improve its image” in the words of M V Ramana. The agreement was made between Rajiv Gandhi and Mikhail Gorbachev in 1988 that USSR would provide concessional state-to-state credit for the nuclear reactor, priced then at Rs.470 crores. Due to the division of the U.S.S.R., the project was delayed for a decade and revived when former president Boris Yeltsin visited India in 1998, when the cost was already up to Rs. 1300 crores (one crore = ten million).
The scientists inside Kudankulam have no work to do for now. Russian diplomat Alexander M Kadakin had expressed his displeasure. MV Ramana’s view is – “Projects such as the (Areva) nuclear plant at Jaitapur, which are strongly opposed by the local population should be abandoned right now, before investing money in costly plant related infrastructure and then complaining that crores of rupees are being wasted because of opposition. There are many places in the world where nuclear plants have been abandoned after full construction and then converted into other forms of revenue generation. In some cases, they have been converted into natural gas plant.” This could also be the fate of the Kudankulam reactors.
Liability rules and “100 per cent safety”
In an article in The Hindu of 20 November 2011, Suvrat Raju and M.V. Ramana made fun of the “foreign hand” conspiracy theory being peddled by the authorities in Delhi. It amounted to dismissing genuine local concerns. The villagers, who had opposed the project since the beginning, were ignored and ridiculed till they finally escalated their protest in desperation. The public money spent on the Kudankulam plant was in danger of being lost not by the intransigence of the local residents, but by the failure of the government to heed their concerns earlier. Residents have a right to be worried. The impacts of Fukushima can be gauged only over the long term but are certain to be grave, and even today an area of about 10,000 square km around Chernobyl is under “strict control” because it is polluted by Caesium-137, which has a radioactive half-life of 30 years. The wind may not always be propitious as it was in Fukushima.
Raju and Ramana also wrote that “the claim that modern reactors, such as the VVER reactors in Kudankulam, are “100% safe” is scientifically untenable; every nuclear reactor has a finite, albeit small, probability of undergoing a catastrophic failure. More specifically, the VVER reactors have previously had problems with the control rod mechanism. On March 1, 2006, for example, one of the four main circulation pumps at Bulgaria’s Kozluduy unit 5 tripped because of an electrical failure. When the system reduced the power to 67 per cent of nominal capacity, three control rod assemblies remained in an upper-end position. Follow-up tests of the remaining control rod assemblies identified that in total, 22 out of 61 could not be moved with driving mechanisms. Control rod insertion failures can seriously compromise safety in an accident”.
In India, the liability of nuclear companies in case of accident has been much discussed in Parliament. Companies and foreign vendors complain again liability provisions. When nuclear companies are unwilling to accept liability rules that would apply in case of accident, how can the government ask local residents to risk their lives?
S. Raju and M.V. Ramana, Why Kudankulam is untenable, http://www.thehindu.com/opinion/lead/article2619165.ece?homepage=true