The explosion and radiation leak at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant in Japan following the massive earthquake on Friday has raised concern in Kerala over the presence of an atomic power plant at Koodankulam, less than 100 km away across the border with Tamil Nadu.

Though Koodankulam falls within seismic zone 2, making it vulnerable to earthquakes of very low intensity, the lack of preparedness in Kerala to handle such an emergency magnifies the threat perception.

According to A. Gopalakrishnan, former chairman of the Atomic Energy Regulatory Authority, though the accident at the nuclear plant in Japan was being portrayed as an extremely rare confluence of three disasters, namely earthquake, tsunami and the failure of the cooling system, the fact remains that the explosion and radiation leak were induced by the quake alone.

“The tsunami had nothing to do with it, the plant was not flooded. That this accident happened in a country that has the best quake-resistant designs shows the magnitude of the quake. India cannot be complacent on the grounds that the country is not vulnerable to such massive earthquakes. Our nuclear plants are not equipped to handle quakes of lesser magnitude,” he said.

C.S.P. Iyer, former scientist at the Bhabha Atomic Research Centre, said there was no comparison between the seismic vulnerability of the nuclear plants in Japan and the one at Koodankulam. “The Japanese plant is located in seismic zones 7, 8 and 9 representing vulnerability to high intensity quakes. The building itself was damaged,” he said.

Besides, Dr. Iyer said, the nuclear plants in Japan had boiling water reactors for higher efficiency, while the one at Koodankulam built with Russian technology, employed pressurised water reactors with a steel shell as the core and outer concrete shells that were inherently safer.

“Post-Chernobyl, the Russians have incorporated safeguards into the design of their reactors to prevent a core meltdown or radiation leak even under extreme conditions. Apart from the electrical system, the Koodankulam plant has a diesel and battery back up for the cooling mechanism,” he said.

K.G. Thara, member, State Disaster Management Authority, admitted that the possibility of a nuclear accident had not been factored into the State's disaster management plan. She said hospitals were not yet fully equipped for mass casualty management in case of a radiation leak at Koodankulam. “The radiation would certainly reach across the border to affect the population in Kerala. But we have no contingency plan in place,” she said.

Ms. Thara said the location of the Koodankulam plant in seismic zone 2 was not really relevant in the absence of micro zonation studies to identify pockets of enhanced vulnerability. “Besides, it does not rule out the possibility of quakes generated offshore or their impact on a coastal area like Koodankulam,” she said.

Officials admitted that even basic measures like facilities for decontamination and mass administration of iodine were lacking.

The National Alliance of Anti-nuclear Movements (NAAM) based in Nagercoil expressed concern over the nuclear accident in Japan. Terming the incident as a calamity, a pressnote quoting S.P. Udayakumar, coordinator, NAAM, said the full and complete details of the disaster would be known only in a few more weeks or months.

“The Japanese nuclear authorities have claimed that small amounts of radioactive material were likely to leak out. This is the universal attitude and approach of the nuclear departments of all countries,” he said.

The pressnote said India's Department of Atomic Energy (DAE) and Nuclear Power Corporation of India Ltd. (NPCIL) would try to reassure the people of India that they were far more superior and this kind of accidents would never happen in Indian facilities.

“Common sense would instruct us not to tread this path of Three Mile Island, Chernobyl and Fukushima but generate energy from safe and sustainable sources. We urge the Government of India to reverse its nuclear adventurism immediately and chart out a different course to achieve energy security that also incorporates human security,” it added.

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