Now that the government has given the go-ahead for Reactor 1 in Koodankulam on March 19 and is trying to shift the focus on ‘law and order’ being disrupted by defiant people in the region and demanding the ‘surrender’ of leading activists, we must ask who are the real criminals?
The consistently non-violent movement against the nuclear power plant at Koodankulam has actually highlighted the brazen contempt for legal procedures by the government in its nuclear expansion for India and the dangers associated with it.
It is not only fundamental democratic rights and norms that have been violated with the construction of the Koodankulam Nuclear Power Plant but also other rules to do with the construction of nuclear reactors. There are at least eleven points of illegality:
There has been no public hearing in Koodankulam for Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) for the first two reactors. The Nuclear Power Corporation of India Limited (NPCIL) defends its decision on the pretext that the Ministry of Environment and Forest rules did not mandate a compulsory public hearing in the 1980s when the project was first planned.
The EIA reports must be made available to people according to the established norm in the local language. However, in Koodankulam’s case, the EIA report has been publicized not only too late, but also only in the English language.
A thorough and complete probe of geologists, hydrologists and oceanographers into the safety issues of the Koodankulam nuclear power plant has not been adequately conducted.
An illegal limestone mining project has been going inside the exclusion zone of KKNPP on which the NPCIL deny knowledge even though it is mentioned in the Tamil Nadu state government’s records.
There have been no safety drills and evacuation procedures in the 30 kilometres radius of the Koodankulam project contravening IAEA and AERB regulations.
The nuclear development is a gross violation of Coastal Regulation Zone (CRZ) rules in constructing Reactors 1 and 2 within 500 meters from the High Tide Line (HTL), the Government’s expert panel has defended it as the MoEF rules in 1989 allowed Department of Atomic Energy constructions within the HTL and CRZ rules were adopted only in 1991, subsequently revised in 2011.
The Koodankulam Reactors 1 and 2 violate the Atomic Energy Regulatory Board instructions of 1998 which require two sources of water (from the reservoirs of Pechiparai and Upper Kodyar) to ensure adequate water supply in the event of a loss of cooling accident, the largest potential hazards of reactors.
Independent studies have underlined the grave risk this violation poses to KKNPP’s safety. It was revealing in the post-Fukushima Safety Task Force Report of the NPCIL itself that while the Madras Atomic Power Station (MAPS) has a water reserve of 77.3 cubic meters per MWe, the Koodankulam reactors have only 5.1 cubic meters!
Indian experts are avoiding a crucial question in Koodankulam: why such eager reassurance from Indian nuclear officials when Russian agencies themselves have questioned the safety of VVER design reactors being built in Koodankulam, in their post-Fukushima safety audit?
The Inter-Governmental Agreement (IGA) signed secretly by the governments of India and Russia on liability in February 2008 has not been released to the public as it is in their interest.
The Nuclear Liability Rules recently notified to implement the Nuclear Liability Act have circumvented the Act itself by restricting the “product liability period” to a mere 5 years. This is blatant undermining of the Indian parliament under corporate pressure. The Russian authorities have said in the media that they will not abide by even this watered-down liability provisions.
7 village panchayats, that are the direct elected representative bodies of the local people, in the Koodankulam region have passed resolutions against the nuclear project which further highlights the undermining of democratic procedures.
The irony is that anyone who has spoken out against the Koodankulam reactors is seen as seditious and several have been arrested under Section 124-A.
The dismissals of Public Interest Litigations (PIL) on nuclear energy projects in the Supreme Court of India have been cited as legal sanctions for these projects. Rather, the dismissals are to do with complex decision-making institutions and overspecialisation in modern society. It demonstrates the limitations of the Indian judicial system where the judiciary has to inevitably depend on the government and the nuclear authorities for expertise on financial and technical matters which otherwise is not independently available in India. Another common reason for dismissing court cases against these illegalities have regularly centred on factors to do with ‘crores of rupees having been spent on the nuclear plant and it cannot be stopped now’.
Just because crores of rupees have already been spent on the reactors is not a viable reason for then to continue with the constructions. The extravagant costs of nuclear reactors overlook the fact that:
This is a heavily subsidised means of producing power. Without government support, the nuclear power industry is not sustainable. This subsidisation ends up in higher taxation and inflation for the general public.
There are continual costs involved in the running and maintenance of the plant and the eventual decommissioning after an average of 30 years which would cost approximately half the cost of construction.
There are exorbitant costs in transporting and storing radioactive waste.
So overall, we can see that where it is easier for the state to criminalise anti-nuclear activists, those who can see through the myths of nuclear power continue to have an uphill struggle. We shall not allow a handful of elites to determine our energy futures for us and then damn us when we challenge their myths.