We have accommodated all new requests made by India: envoy

Even as diplomats and officials were taken aback by the protests against the smooth-sailing India-Russia nuclear plant venture at Kudankulam in Tamil Nadu, Russia on Tuesday described the protests as unfortunate.

Russia said the imminent threat of the project being stalled would not impact future cooperation in the civil nuclear sector but could affect other projects such as the third and fourth nuclear power units at the same side which are currently being negotiated by the two countries.

“Most advanced”

Russia has repeatedly told Indian diplomats about the safety features of the plant which they claim are the most advanced in the world. But chary after the radiation leak at Japan's Fukushima nuclear plant, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Russian President Dmitry Medvedev agreed on an additional safety review during their meeting on the sidelines of the Sanya BRICS summit in China earlier this year.

“In the current atmosphere, the assurance was not good enough,” said officials and the two sides decided to go in for stress tests. After several delays owing to causes ranging from a hostile international environment to delayed arrival of components and cost escalation, the decks appeared to have been cleared for the first unit to go critical in December. The second unit would have followed suit six months later with 1,000 mw of the generated power slated to go to Tamil Nadu.

While the protests were at a low key earlier, they gathered critical mass with Tamil Nadu Chief Minister Jayalalithaa wanting to stop the project in a letter addressed to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. “What is happening in Tamil Nadu is unfortunate. It looks like that the protests will shadow the commissioning of the plant which is going to happen in December although we have accommodated all new requests made by India,” said Russian Embassy's Senior Counsellor Sergey Karmalito.

“According to reports, what we understand is that the agitation is happening because they want experts to explain and address safety issues relating to the power plant. We hope that Indian government and the atomic department will soon do so,” he added.

The senior Russian envoy did not want a comparison drawn with the Fukushima plant which was constructed decades ago whereas Kudankulam I (and II) was one of the most powerful reactor in the safest possible environment.

The Russian venture for two civil nuclear plants at Kudankulam precedes the civil nuclear agreement under which American, Russian and French companies have been allotted nuclear parks in Gujarat and Andhra Pradesh, West Bengal and Maharashtra. The pact for Kudankulam I & II was signed by Rajiv Gandhi and Mikhail Gorbachev. India and Russia have soldiered on with the project despite extreme pressure by the West, which had claimed it violated the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. After India gained exemption from the Nuclear Suppliers' Group, India and Russia decided to set up four more plants at the same site.