Indian Police Arrest 19 at Nuclear Power Plant Protest

IDINTHAKARAI, Tamil Nadu, India, March 19, 2012 (ENS) – Thousands of police today surrounded thousands of anti-nuclear protestors demonstrating against the Kudankulam Nuclear Power Plant in Idinthakarai. In the afternoon, 10 people were arrested, including three protest leaders, for holding demonstrations without permission and preventing KNPP officials from discharging their duty.

“The bells are ringing in Idinthikarai, thousands of people are pouring into the village from all over the nearby districts, to lay siege to the plant,” one of the protest leaders said in an email alert today.

Thousands of protesters demonstrate against the Kudankulam nuclear plant, March 19, 2012 (Image from video credit unknown)

People from Idindhakarai village have blocked the entrance to the plant, demanding the release of those arrested. By midnight, 19 people had been arrested in Kudankulam village, including 45 women of Kootapulli.

All roads to Idinthakarai are blocked by the police, but more protesters are trying to get to the village by boat.

Kudankulam Nuclear Power Plant is a Russian-built power station situated at the very southern tip of India in the state of Tamil Nadu. The two pressurized water reactors being constructed by the state-owned Atomstroy Export are 98 percent complete.

While plant construction is nearly complete, commissioning was put on hold due to anti-nuclear protests by local residents and the nonprofit group People’s Movement Against Nuclear Energy.

But today, Tamil Nadu Chief Minister J. Jayalalithaa gave the green light to move forward with commissioning the Kudankulam nuclear power plant, a day after a local election was held in the district where the plant is located.

Russia said that it would send its scientists to the site Tuesday to begin the commissioning work.

To satisfy the demonstrators, the government announced a Rs 500-crore special development package for the area to construct houses, build cold storage facilities for fishermen and improve local roads.

The protests began when the plant was first conceived in the mid-1980s. They intensified in September 2011 and continued through the fall and winter. Thousands of protesters and villagers living near the nuclear plant have blocked highways and staged hunger strikes, preventing further construction work, and demanding closure of the nuclear plant.

Kudankulam nuclear power plant under construction (Photo courtesy International Atomic Energy Agency)

The protests intensified again today as the news spread that the Tamil Nadu government will commission the Kudankulam facility immediately.

“The nuclear plant is unsafe,” said S.P. Udayakumar, a teacher, writer and leader of the People’s Movement Against Nuclear Energy and convenor of the Green Party of India. Today, he announced a hunger strike of indefinite length in protest against commissioning the power plant.

“The safety analysis report and the site evaluation study have not been made public. No public hearing was held. It’s an authoritarian project that has been imposed on the people,” said Udayakumar.

The demonstrators have been carrying out hunger strikes, rallies, public meetings, seminars and conferences, shaving their heads, cooking on the street and burning models of the nuclear plants.

“This is a classic David-Goliath fight between the ordinary citizens of India and the Indian government supported by the multinational companies, imperial powers and the global nuclear mafia,” Udayakumar told “The Guardian” newspaper earlier this month.

“They promise nuclear power, development, atom bombs, security and superpower status. We demand risk-free electricity, disease-free life, unpolluted natural resources, sustainable development and a harmless future,” he said.

Demonstrators explain their objections to the Kudankulam power plant. (Image from video by eruvadisulthan)

Two one gigawatt reactors of the VVER-1000 model have been constructed by the Nuclear Power Corporation of India Limited and Atomstroyexport. When commissioned they will be the largest nuclear power generation complex in India, producing a cumulative two GW of electric power.

The protesters say they fear a disaster like the nuclear accident in March 2011 at Japan’s Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant, where an earthquake and tsunami knocked out to the nuclear fuel cooling system, triggering explosions and meltdowns that spread radiation far and wide. Hundreds of thousands of Japanese residents within 30 km of the damaged plant were evacuated and many are still displaced.

The Kudankulam Nuclear Power Plant protesters say, “More than one million people live within the 30 km radius of the KKNPP, which far exceeds the Atomic Energy Regulatory Board stipulations. It is quite impossible to evacuate this many people quickly and efficiently in case of a nuclear disaster at Kudankulam .”

Some demonstrators say that the government of India is pursuing “an anti-Tamil policy” by siting the nuclear power plant in Tamil Nadu, and at the same time they point to protesters who have joined them from across India, saying this is “an all-India” issue.

Protesters sleep under lights at Kudankulam, March 20, 2012 (Photo courtesy Jones Thomas Spartegus)

A public interest lawsuit has been filed against the government’s civil nuclear program at the apex Supreme Court. The lawsuit asks for the “staying of all proposed nuclear power plants till satisfactory safety measures and cost-benefit analyses are completed by independent agencies.”

There have also been rallies and protests in favor commissioning this nuclear power plant to deliver electricity to power-starved Tamil Nadu.

Former chairman and current member of Atomic Energy Commission of India Dr. M.R. Srinivasan said that the Fukushima plant cannot be compared with Kudankulam.

“The Fukushima plant was built on a beachfront, but the Kudankulam was constructed on a solid terrain and that too keeping all the safety aspects in mind. Also, we are not in a tsunami-prone area. The plants in Kudankulam have a double contaminant system which can withstand high pressure. At least Rs 14,000 crore has been spent. If we don’t operate the plant immediately, it will affect the economic stability of our country,” said Srinivasan.

A panel constituted by the government of India, which reviewed the safety features in the plant, said the Kudankulam reactors are safe and the fears of the people are not based on scientific principles.

Rajagopala Chidambaram, nuclear scientist and principal scientific adviser to the government of India, has said, “We have learnt lessons from the Fukushima nuclear accident, particularly on the post-shutdown cooling system.” He said the Fukushima nuclear accident should not deter India from pursuing a safe civil nuclear program.

Copyright Environment News Service (ENS) 2012. All rights reserved.