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Koodankulam Nuclear Power Plant – the Issues

Ramya

Koodankulam Nuclear Power Plant is a Nuclear Power station currently under construction in Koodankulam in the Tirunelvelli district of the southern Indian state of Tamil Nadu. Project investment cost to India was estimated to be US$ 3 billion (Rs.13,615 Crores) in a 2001 agreement.

kudankulam_nuclear plant

History

An Inter-Governmental Agreement on the project was signed on November 20, 1988 by Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi and Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev. The project remained in limbo for 10 years due to political and economic upheaval in Russia after the post-1991 Soviet breakup, and also due to objections of the United States on the grounds that the agreement does not meet the 1992 terms of the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG).

Since the plant was conceived in the mid-1980s, an anti-nuclear group People’s Movement Against Nuclear Energy was opposing the plant for about 25 years due to the Environmental impact of nuclear power and its threat to the people and environment.

A small port became operational in Kudankulam on January 14, 2004. This port was established to receive barges carrying over sized light water reactor equipment from ships anchored at a distance of 1.5 kilometres (0.93 mi). Until 2004 materials had to be brought in via road from the port of Tuticorin, risking damage during transportation.

In 2008 negotiation on building four additional reactors at the site began. Though the capacity of these reactors has not been declared, it is expected that the capacity of each reactor will be 1000 MW or 1 GW.The new reactors would bring the total capacity of the power plant to 9200 MW or 9.2 GW.

In June 2011, Sergei Ryzhov, the chief designer of the light water VVER nuclear reactors used at this Nuclear Power Plant was killed in an airplane accident. The plane belonging to the Rus-Air airlines was flying from Moscow to the Karelian capital Petrozavodsk.

Technical description

Two 1 GW reactors of the VVER-1000 model are being constructed by the Nuclear Power corporation of India Limited (NPCIL) and Atomstroyexport. When completed they will become the largest nuclear power generation complex in India producing a cumulative 2 GW of electric power. Both units are water-cooled, water-moderated power reactors. The first was scheduled to start operation in December 2009 and the second one was scheduled for March 2010. Currently, the official projections put unit 1 into operation in June 2011, and unit 2 will go in March 2012.

Four more reactors are set to be added to this plant under a memorandum of intent signed in 2008. A firm agreement on setting up two more reactors, has been postponed pending the ongoing talks on liability issues. Under an inter-government agreement signed in December 2008 Russia is to supply to India four third generation VVER-1200 reactors of 1170 MW.

The reactors have some advanced safety features like passive heat removal system, double containment, Core Catcher, and hydrogen re-combiner instead of conventional systems

Controversy

As of October 2011, thousands of protesters and villagers living around the Russian-built Koodankulam nuclear plant in the southern Tamil Nadu state, are blocking highways and staging hunger strikes, preventing further construction work, and demanding its closure as they fear of the disasters like the Environmental impact of nuclear power, Radioactive waste, nuclear accident similar to the radiation leak in March at Japan’s Fukushima nuclear disaster.

The protesters have clearly stated few specific reasons for opposing the Koodankulam NPP project.

According to S P Udayakumar, of the voluntary People’s Movement Against Nuclear Energy, “the nuclear plant is unsafe” and “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.” Prime Minister Manmohan Singh told Tamil Nadu Chief Minister J Jayalalitha that “all precautions would be taken at the Koodankulam nuclear plant to maintain the highest safety standards”.

Protesters claimed that even advanced countries like Germany has decided to shutdown all its 17 Nuclear reactors through which the country gets 23% of its energy.

Gopal Gandhi, Grandson of Mahatma Gandhi, former West Bengal governor also said that Indian Fukushima possible in a lecture on ‘India 2021- Hazarding Guesses, Guessing Hazards’ in New Delhi)

A Public Interest Litigation (PIL) has also been filed against the government’s civil nuclear program at the apex Supreme Court. The PIL specifically asks for the “staying of all proposed nuclear power plants till satisfactory safety measures and cost-benefit analyses are completed by independent agencies”.

Protesters also claimed that the Fukushima disaster in which the emergency cooling system itself was damaged by the earthquake, has made it clear that no one can really predict any disaster occurance.

A center panel constituted by the Government of India ,which did a survey of the safety features in the plant,said the Koodankulam reactors are the safest and fears of the people are not based on scientific principles.Dr. Muthunayagam,panel’s convener,also added that the protesters have asked for some documents which are not related to the safety of the reactor hence he suspects the very nature of their questions.

In response to the center panel report, protesters wrote an open letter to the chief minister Jayalalithaa that the center panel’s report is “ill-baked and incomplete eyewash report” and also said that the report has “ignored our question on liability, and has given no specific or scientific information on nuclear waste, and vague information on the fresh water needs of the KKNPP”

Activities that’s been Going For 25 Years

The ongoing people’s agitation to protest against the Koodankulam Nuclear Power Project (KKNPP) in the coastal village of Idinthakarai in Tirunelveli might have been triggered by a bout of panic after the Fukushima disaster, but anti-nuclear activists in Tamil Nadu see in it the fruition of their sustained campaign in various forms since a quarter century.

While the present agitation has thrown up a major challenge to the Union government and the nuclear establishment mainly because it is being staged by the people living in the backyard of the nuclear reactors, the awareness on the hazards of nuclear plants among the people was not created overnight, say some activists, who had started raising their voice against the project way back in 1987 even when the project was in the conceptual stage.

Though some of those activists are still directly involved in the fight against the commissioning of the reactors in Koodankulam, many of them have moved out to give moral support from the sidelines. Anton Gomez, leader of the Tamil Nadu Fishermen Association, from Thoothukudi, who was one of the pioneers in organising a campaign initially, is still around and was part of the team that called on PM Manmohan Singh recently.

Prominent among those who were part of the Koodankulam Anti-nuke Confederation, the organisation that sought to stir the consciousness of the people all over Tamil Nadu and also in places such as Mumbai and Delhi after its launch in 1988 were: Gomez, Mani, an engineer-turned journalist G Ramesh, Fr Samy of Indian Catholic Youth Federation and Dr C N Deivanayagam of Chennai.

The first campaign, however, was in Idinthakarai in September, 1987, with many speakers from Chennai, including journalists like Ramesh, addressing the crowd, Mani told Express.

In 1988, a cycle rally by about 150 people was taken up by the Indian People’s Front (IPF) from Thoothukudi to Tirunelveli through Nagercoil and Koodankulam when the tail end of the procession came under attack at Koodankulam. Mani said that a counter campaign was launched by the CPM and the Congress then — CPM because the project involved the erstwhile Soviet Union and the Congress because then PM Rajiv Gandhi was the one who envisaged it.

The same year, a rally and public meeting was also held in Tirunelveli by the confederation, in which Rev Y David, a Protestant pastor-turned social activist, who then ran an organisation called Samathuva Samudhya Iyakkam and working for the welfare of Palmyra workers, brought in his people.

Former Union minister George Fernandes was the main speaker in a meeting held in Thoothukudi in 1989 when Balaprajathipathi Adigalar, the head of the Ayavazhi cult, took an active part. Some local BJP leaders also addressed the crowd and even the Dravidar Kazhagam’s representative was on stage, said Mani.

Those days, newspapers and magazines in Tamil Nadu actively carried features and stories on the campaign and also ran articles written by people like Ramesh, whose series was titled Kollavarum Koodankulam (Death threat from Koodankulam). When the then DMK MP, Vaiko, said in Parliament that “humanity will be wiped out if the plant comes,” some papers even carried it as the lead story, Mani recalled.

Subsequently, when then USSR president Mikhail Gorbachev visited India, two black flag protests were attempted in Delhi and Mumbai by the confederation.

When a national fishermen’s rally, led by Fr Thomas Kocheri, visited Kanyakumari in 1989 under the title ‘Save water, save life’, slogans were raised against Koodankulam and there was even a police firing. In Mumbai, a protest was held in 1989 at Kala Goda under the banner of Indian Federation of Trade Unions (ML group). IPF organised rallies and protests in Chennai. Fr Samy organised a ‘Scientific Conference’ in Madurai and prepared 100 students to campaign in non-fishing villages around Koodankulam.

Meanwhile, when there were plans to supply water to the plant from Pechiparai dam in Kanyakumari, a local politician Dr Kumaradoss organised a series of protests by mobilising the farmers. Between May 3 and 13, 1989, several street corner meetings were held in non-fishing villages and on the final day a meeting was organised in Koodankulam. Police initially refused permission for the meeting citing law and order problems but finally relented by allowing it in a school ground. Mani recalled that the police officer told them that it was the same ground from where Rajiv Gandhi was to have addressed the crowd when he was expected to visit Koodankulam to lay the foundation stone for the project. But police barricaded the area preventing many people from entering the ground, Mani said.

Rajiv Gandhi never came mainly because of the protests. Even other dignitaries like former President R Venkatraman and former chief minister M Karunanidhi were expected for the inauguration, said Mani.

Then the project itself went into limbo with the disintegration of the USSR and the campaign lost steam.

Again when the project was revived under an Indo-Russian agreement, the campaign gained strength and many meetings were held. Apart from that, activists distributed pamphlets and booklets against nuclear energy. One of the booklets by Y David, Koodankulam Anumin Nilayam — Vendave Vendam (Koodankulam nuclear plant — No, No), which was first brought out in 1988, was very popular among the people that it ran into four print, runs subsequently with updates. The fourth run was in 1997.

The present leader of the movement, S P Udayakumar, returned from the US in 2001 when David was leading the campaign with Balaprajathipathi Adigalar taking an active role. As David said, he found in Udayakumar an effective leader and handed over the mantle. Udayakumar said he had been holding street corner meetings and distributing pamphlets for the last several years. He had even brought Medha Patkar to Koodankulam to address meetings. He said he is still mobilising support.

Former President A.P.J. Abdul Kalam’s Stand

Former President A.P.J. Abdul Kalam said the Kudankulam nuclear plant was absolutely safe but failed to convince those agitating against the commissioning of the facility, located 650km from Chennai.

Kalam, who visited the project site, said he had not come to play mediator. But the protesters argued that Kalam’s decision to meet only the plant officials and not villagers’ representatives proved he had come merely to issue a certificate to the nuclear facility.

The Centre has appointed a 15-member committee to reassure the villagers about the plant’s safety features. It had also requested Kalam, a votary of nuclear power and weapons, to affirm the safety of the plant. The government was looking to exploit the popularity that the former President, a Tamil, enjoys among the masses.

Kalam spent three hours inspecting the plant and being briefed on its various features. “He asked many questions about safety. He wanted to know how we can be sure that a disaster like Chernobyl (Russia) or Fukushima (Japan) would not happen here,” station director R.S. Sundar said. “We explained that the technology to be used here is much more advanced, and so are the safety features.”

Later, Kalam told the media the plant had put in place all the necessary safety features. He cited the mechanism to ensure automatic cooling of the plant in the event of a power cut followed by a generator failure, the double-wall protection, structural safety and the containers to store the 25 per cent residual fuel. He allayed the radiation fears too. “Also, there is no need to worry about the safety aspect of the plant as it is in a low-intensity seismic zone. There is also no threat of a tsunami as the plant is 1,300km from the seismic centre point and is 13.5 metres above the sea level,” Kalam said.

Fight ‘irrational’ anti-nuclear stance, says former AEC chief

Nuclear power is a safe and viable long term alternative to traditional sources of power and an anti-nuclear stance is `irrational’, according to Dr M.R. Srinivasan, Member and former Chairman, Atomic Energy Commission, Government of India.

Addressing an interactive session on the need of nuclear power and safety norms, in the context of the ongoing agitation that has stalled work on the Kudankulam Nuclear Power Project in south Tamil Nadu, Dr Srinivasan said, “all need to join in fighting this attack” on nuclear power projects.

Recalling his close association with the nuclear power projects programme in India since the 1970s, Dr Srinivasan said India with more over 20 nuclear power reactors in operation has an impeccable record in terms of operations and safety.

Some of the reactors have been online for more than a year at a time. “The critics on the streets do not know what it takes to keep such equipment going” for that long uninterrupted, he said referring to the expertise available in India.

Safety Assured

The Kudankulam facility, with “advanced third generation”, reactors has abundant safety measures built into it beginning from the choice of location to the multi-level safety and back-up equipment that have been provided.

In comparison, the Fukushima reactor in Japan, where the combined earthquake and tsunami had damaged the reactors earlier this year, was a first generation unit. The possibility of such an incident happening here is inconceivable as the Kudankulam facility is not in a seismic zone compared with Japan which is ‘extremely seismic’.

Cheap Power

Nuclear power projects are key to the development of the economy as traditional resources are becoming costlier and renewable sources such as wind and solar are either costlier or the technology is not sufficient to power industrial development. Some of the earliest nuclear power projects such as the Tarapore unit churn out power at Rs 1 a kWhr, while later ones cost about Rs 2-3 a kWhr. Power from Kudankulam, if the project is not disrupted for long, will cost less than Rs 3, he said.

The State Government is talking about large infrastructure projects such as the metro rail and mono rail. But if there is ‘no juice’ to power the projects these would be dead investments, he said.

At the meeting organised by the Confederation of Indian Industry – Southern Region, Ms Gayathri Sriram, Chairperson, CII’s women empowerment forum and Managing Director, Ucal, said the industry is concerned about the prevailing shortage of power which was hitting the manufacturing sector. It had been hoping that additional generation capacities would help address the shortage but now a solution to the power shortage was being delayed.

Kudankulam protests overdone, says PM

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on 17.12.2011 said the agitation against Kudankulam Nuclear Power Project in Tamil Nadu has been “overdone”, and expressed hope that it would end soon as the government had gone “out of the way” to assure the villagers about the safeguards of the facility.

Manmohan Singh,while in Moscow for a summit meeting with Russian President Dmitry Medvedev announced that Kudankulam’s unit I would go operational in a few weeks. He also said that with a total 2,000 MW capacity, the first two units of Kudankulam built over the last decade at a cost of Rs14,000 crore, “cannot be simply left idle.”

The second unit of Kudankulam, the Prime Minister said, would be operational in another six months after unit I.

Manmohan Singh said he was in touch with the state government and it was his hope that the state, which is short of power, will recognise that the nuclear plant, with 2,000 MW capacity, will bring nearly 1,000 MW to it, while the other half would go to other southern States.

Kudankulam: State experts’ committee to visit Tirunelveli

The Tamil Nadu State government-constituted experts’ committee on the Kudankulam Nuclear Power Project issue will begin its visit to Tirunelveli on 18.02.2012 and hold talks with the representatives of protesters.

Disclosing this after meeting Chief Minister Jayalalithaa at the Secretariat Chennai, M.R. Srinivasan, member of the committee and former Atomic Energy Commission Chairman, and S. Iniyan, convener of the committee and Director, Institute of Energy Studies, Anna University-Chennai, told reporters that the panel’s work would include the visit to the power plant site, discussions with District Collector and his colleagues and ascertaining opinion of the local people.

Making it clear that its work would be based on reports of the Experts’ Group of the Union government, Dr. Srinivasan said the Group had given exhaustive answers to the questions raised by agitators. “We are going to review the report of the Experts’ Group in the context of questions raised by people’s representatives.”

When told that certain sections of the local people were feeling neglected, Dr. Iniyan said his panel would interact with such sections. The former AEC chairman said the committee would stay there “as long as necessary”.

On the questions concerning nuclear waste, he said “no nuclear waste will be placed in Kudankulam per se. Nuclear waste comes from the reprocessing plant and we are not proposing a reprocessing plant in Kudankulam.”

The panel appointed by the state government has M.R. Srinivasan, former Atomic Energy Commission Chairman as member of the committee and also includes two professors from Anna University, D. Arivu Oli and S. Iniyan, and retired IAS officer L.N. Vijayaraghavan.

Centre orders filing of cases against four NGOs

In a blow to the voluntary sector, the Union government has ordered registration of cases against four non-governmental organisations (NGOs), whom it suspects to be behind the growing agitation against the Kudankulam nuclear power project.

“While the Central Bureau of Investigation has registered cases against two NGOs, the State [Tamil Nadu] police have filed cases against two others for violation of provisions of the Foreign Contribution Regulation Act (FCRA),” Union Home Secretary R.K. Singh told. Later, the CBI confirmed that it had received a reference from the Home Ministry for investigation into the two NGOs of Tamil Nadu for the alleged FCRA violations. Its spokesperson said the agency was writing to the State government for its consent for beginning the probe. Incidentally, the Ministry’s reference has not made any connection of the two NGOs with the anti-nuclear agitation at Kudankulam.

The crackdown comes within days of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh saying, in an interview to the Science magazine, that NGOs had been funding agitations against nuclear power plants in the country. They were allegedly diverting foreign funds to this end.

Senior Home Ministry officials said the NGOs were asked to show cause and their bank accounts were frozen as these were ostensibly used for diverting money for funding agitations. It was found that the NGOs hurriedly “manufactured” receipts to show utilisation of lump-sum payments originally meant for charity.

The officials said a German national, who was picked up by the Tamil Nadu police at Nagercoil for allegedly assisting the anti-nuclear plant protesters, was deported earlier on 28.02.2012. Sonnteg Reiner Hermann, 49, against whom the Home Ministry had issued a “look-out notice,” was detained by the police monitoring the protests.

Arriving in India on a tourist visa, he had been helping the protesters in violation of the visa rules. “He had no business to be in Nagercoil. He had violated all the visa rules, and hence we have deported him,” a senior official said.

State expert panel submits report on nuclear project

Kudankulam 2

An expert committee appointed by the Tamil Nadu government on 28.02.2012 submitted its report on the safety aspects of the Kudankulam Nuclear Power Project (KKNNP) to Chief Minister Jayalalithaa, marking a crucial stage in the debate over the project. At the same time, the State government invited the People’s Movement against Nuclear Energy (PMANE) representatives for talks on 29.02.2012.

Legal notice

Meanwhile, Mr. Udayakumar has sent a legal notice to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh for insinuating that the anti-Kudankulam protests were funded by United States and the Scandinavian non-government organisations.

Protesters explain stand against Kudankulam to CM

Kudankulam NGOs

A delegation led by PMSNE convener S.P. Udayakumar calling on Chief Minister Jayalalithaa at the Secretariat on 29.02.2012.

Though the delegation took exception to the way in which the State government’s experts committee carried out its work in Tirunelveli district, the Chief Minister did not say anything about the committee’s report.

He recalled that after the previous meeting between the representatives of the agitation and the Chief Minister in September, 2011 Ms Jayalalithaa immediately convened a meeting of the Cabinet and adopted a resolution to halt the work on the KKNNP until the fears of the local population over the safety of the plant were allayed.

Jayalalithaa gives go-ahead for Kudankulam project – 19.03.2012

Ending the impasse over the Kudankulam Nuclear Power Project (KKNNP), the Tamil Nadu Cabinet, chaired by Chief Minister Jayalalithaa, on 19.03.2012 resolved to take steps for the early commissioning of the plant.

The Cabinet also decided that a Rs.500-crore package of development works should be taken up in Kudankulam, having regard to the local fishermen’s welfare. Announcing the decisions after an hour-long meeting, the Chief Minister, in a statement, called upon all to cooperate with the government.

The decision came as a relief to a large section of people, particularly trade and industry, who are bearing the brunt of a power crisis, but drew adverse comments from activists and parties opposed to nuclear energy.

Meanwhile, nine persons, including two members of the anti-KKNNP struggle committee S. Sivasubramanian and K. Rajalingam, were arrested near the project site at 12.45 p.m. on 19.03.2012 .

Ms. Jayalalithaa explained the basis for the government decision: reports of the Experts Group, constituted by the Centre in October; the State government’s Experts Committee; and the petitions given by the protesters were exhaustively scrutinised. There was no possibility of the occurrence of an earthquake or tsunami, and anyway the plant had the best safety features.

Kudankulam: 11 protesters held on sedition charges

Police moved against those protesting the Kudankulam Nuclear Power Project (KKNPP) on 19.03.2012, arresting 11 activists, including two members of the anti-KKNPP struggle committee. This is the first time the police cracked the whip on protesters in the last seven and half months.

While top rung leaders spearheading the agitation against the plant were arrested on sedition charges, about 185 others who tried to create a roadblock were apprehended by the police.

Of the total 195 persons arrested, 11 were held under Section 121 (Waging, or attempting to wage war, or abetting waging of war, against the Government of India), 124 (A) (Sedition) and 153 (A) (Promoting enmity between different groups on grounds of religion, race, place of birth, residence, language, etc., and doing acts prejudicial to maintenance of harmony) of IPC. Others were booked on charges of unlawful assembly etc, police sources said.

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