Halt work, allay fears: Multi-party team

People's activists want the Kudankulam nuclear power plant shut down completely; Tamil Nadu's politicians have the less ambitious aim of halting work on the project until the fears of local people are allayed. The plant was originally scheduled to begin operations later this month.

The two groups submitted separate memoranda to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh during their 40-minute meeting with him on Friday. Atomic Energy Commission Chairman Srikumar Banerjee, National Security Adviser Shivshankar Menon and Minister of State in the PMO V. Narayanasamy were present.

The multi-party delegation led by Tamil Nadu Finance Minister O. Panneerselvam included MLAs and MPs from the All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam, the Congress, the Bharatiya Janata Party, the All India Samathuva Makkal Katchi and the Communist Party of India. While it asked that project activities be stopped until concerns are resolved, an MP who attended the meeting said that Dr. Singh indicated that maintenance work would have to continue.

CPI national secretary and MP D. Raja submitted a separate memorandum urging the government to come out with a clear Nuclear Power Policy dealing with the issues of long-term storage and disposal of nuclear waste. He also wanted a comprehensive environmental impact assessment (EIA) done, and an expert investigative committee to discuss the problems with all stakeholders.

The citizens' delegation included political activists and church leaders who have been helping to coordinate the local struggle in Kudankulam. Their memorandum demanded that the project be abandoned.

They pointed out that 1.2 million people live within 30 km of the plant — including 33,000 within the 5-km sterilisation zone — making it difficult to evacuate the population in case of a nuclear disaster.

No public hearing yet

The activists said that the EIA had never been made available in Tamil or Malayalam, and no public hearing was held, as per the norms for a green clearance. They alleged that the government was unwilling to share the safety analysis report of the plant, citing the “proprietary nature of the information” of the Russian corporation building the plant, in response to an RTI request.

“Is an Indian life cheaper than the profits you will get from the Russians, or the Americans or the French?” asked S.P. Udhaya Kumar, convener of the People's Movement against Atomic Power.

He slammed the inter-governmental agreement between India and Russia which could let the Russians off the hook insofar as liability requirements are concerned.

Impact on fishing

Activists said the coolant water and low-grade waste that the plant would dump in the sea would have a disastrous impact on the fishing industry. “What will a fisherman do with the plot of land that you give him as compensation if it is 50 km inland,” asked the Roman Catholic Bishop of Tuticorin, Yvon Ambroise, who was part of the delegation.

Protest tomorrow

The activists intend going ahead with a one-day hunger strike in the village of Idinthakarai in Tirunelveli district on October 9 to highlight their demands.

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