Category Archives: Nuclear power

Kudankulam: care more for the lives of Indian citizens than the profits of Russian corporations

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CHS co-founder, Winin Pereira, was a leading nuclear physicist until he realised the hollowness of the ‘Atoms for Peace’ mantra and left this work to follow a more beneficial path.

In his book, From Western Science To Liberation Technology, he wrote scathingly:

Even without the “successes” of its nuclear, biological and chemical weapons, Western science’s “gifts” of global climate change and the weakened ozone layer, Chernobyl-type disasters, and about 100,000 untested chemicals dumped into the environment, could eliminate much, if not all, life on the planet.

Indeed, not for the first time, the apparently ‘peaceful’ application of Western science to the well-being of humankind, turns out to be a form of creeping (as opposed to sudden) exterminism, embodied in its weaponry of destruction.

Each “success”, like the “success” of a cancerous tumour, is contributing to the death of the system as a whole.

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The Kudankulam nuclear power plant

Yesterday a reader sent news about the resistance of likeminded people whose protests held up work on the Kudankulam nuclear power plant for seven months. Said to be the largest and most advanced civil nuclear project of the country, it is being constructed with Russian expertise.

The Russian Ambassador to India Alexander M. Kadakin earlier said his country could not allow its scientists to remain idle indefinitely:

“We are not setting any deadline. But our scientists are sitting idle since October 2011. They are scientists of highest calibre and their services are very much needed in countries, including Slovakia and Russia.”

The ambassador wondered why people had only now started protesting against the project, when the agreement had  been signed in 1988 between Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi and Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev and another agreement in 2008.

Fukushima, an ancient station, made on American design

“People do have the right to express their concerns and fears, especially after Fukushima incident. But why did it take six months after the incident to wake up to the Kudankulam Project. There is no need for any phobia. Fukushima is an ancient station, made on American design. I want to tell the people that the nuclear plants in Kudankulam are the safest in the world.”

Foreign supported anti-nuclear/antiGM NGOs criticised

It is reported that during an interview with the American journal ‘Science’. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh criticised NGOs receiving support from abroad for stalling the use of genetic engineering in agriculture and leading protests against the Kudankulam nuclear power plant in Tamil Nadu.

The protests 

The Hindustan Times reports that the protestors are now being excluded by Tamil Nadu police, including a Rapid Action Force – and 5000 armed Police in all, deployed around the plant. Though police officials said the entry points to Kudankulam and Idinthakarai Villages were blocked and all the hamlets around the Kudankulam Nuclear Power Project brought under police control, the People’s Movement Against Nuclear Energy (PMANE) says that people are coming in by boat.

Have safety procedures been neglected?

It is said that Government of India, the Department of Atomic Energy (DAE), the Nuclear Power Corporation of India Ltd. (NPCIL), and the KKNPP have not conducted any emergency preparation drills or evacuation exercises to prepare the people within 30 km radius for any possible nuclear disasters. PMANE points out that if these authorities try to load nuclear fuel rods without doing these mandatory exercises, it would be deemed illegal by India’s Atomic Energy Regulatory Board (AERB) rules, IAEA’s and other international stipulations.

The protestors’ demands

Yesterday the Times of India reported that fifteen people have undertaken an indefinite hunger strike at Idinthakarai to press for withdrawal of Tamil Nadu’s ‘green signal’ to the 1,000 MW Kudankulam Nuclear Power Project (KNPP).

It summarises PMANE’s demands, which include a thorough study of geology, hydrology and oceanography around Kudankulam and the safety of the reactor; release of the Inter-Governmental Agreement (IGA) between India and Russia and conduct of safety and evacuation drills in the 30 km radius of the Kudankulam project.  PMANE concludes:

“The Government of India and the State Government of Tamil Nadu should consult our experts and study their findings with the help of Indian and international experts if they care for the lives of Indian citizens and not for the profits of Russian corporations.”

Jaitapur – awareness is spreading

Thanks to our webmaster who sent a link to an article by excellent journalist Praful Bidwai.

Writing from another country threatened by proposals to build new nuclear plants in areas already nuclear-polluted, we understand the pressure from nuclear industry which needs new reactor orders and the problems with the ‘new generation’ under construction.

As Bidwai notes, “Europe’s first reactor after Chernobyl (1986) is in serious trouble in Finland – 42 months behind schedule, 90% over budget, and in bitter litigation . . . Finnish, British and French regulators have raised 3,000 safety issues including control, emergency-cooling and safe shutdown systems.”

He reports that India is planning a huge expansion of its nuclear capacity by 2020 , citing another assault on Ratnagirii, whose fertile mango-growing land was covered in concrete by the disastrous Enron project, so stoutly opposed by CHS-Sachetan and many others.

Bidwai explains that the Nuclear Power Corporation of India (NPCIL) has forcibly acquired 2,300 acres under a colonial law, ignoring protests. The NCPIL, “is planning to install six 1,650-MW reactors here, at Jaitapur – a small port in Maharashtra’s Ratnagiri district – based on the European Pressurised Reactor (EPR) design of the French company Areva – the very same that’s in trouble in Finland.”

Once again the land suffers . . .

Picture of the site by SafepowerIndia

Bidwai: “The first victim of this will be an extraordinarily precious ecosystem in the Konkan region of the mountain range that runs along India’s west coast. This is one of the world’s biodiversity “hotspots” and home to 6,000 species of flowering plants, mammals, birds and amphibians, including 325 threatened ones. It is the source of two major rivers. Botanists say it’s India’s richest area for endemic plants. With its magical combination of virgin rainforests, mountains and sea, it puts Goa in the shade.”

and the people . . .

The  land of  2,275 families was forcibly acquired but 95% have refused to collect compensation, including one job per family. When Nicolas Sarkozy visited India to sell EPRs, Jaitapur saw the biggest demonstration against him.

A Deccan Herald editorial reported in December that, “There is sufficient reason for the government to reconsider its decision to set up a nuclear power park at Jaitapur in Maharashtra. A social impact assessment conducted by the Tata Institute of Social Sciences (TISS) confirms what experts and activists have been saying for a while: the proposed nuclear power park will have “huge negative impact on social and environment development.” The most worrying risk is that Jaitapur lies in a high to moderate severity earthquake zone. Should an earthquake strike the nuclear plants, the destruction caused will be horrific.

As usual, in India, active democratic protest is at work: Gandhian non-cooperation and civil disobedience. A picture of one of the marches has been posted by Shahbaz Ahmed Kazi in order to publicise the protest:

“Elected councillors from 10 villages have resigned. People boycotted a 18 January public hearing in Mumbai convened to clear “misconceptions” about nuclear power. They refused to hoist the national flag, as is traditionally done, on Republic Day (26 January). They have decided not to sell food to officials. When teachers were ordered to teach pupils about the safety of nuclear reactors, parents withdrew children from school for a week.”

Read about the ‘horrendous lie’ – an allegation that the area is barren – and more here.

News of beneficial legislation

The action on the proposed Vedanta university, exploitative microcredit, nuclear liability and Bhopal issues appears to indicate that India’s politicians are moving in a better direction. However, the writer’s optimism was dampened by a warning from a New Delhi correspondent: “These few instances are mere exceptions. Indian politicians like others elsewhere are a rotten breed.” 

Welcome developments: 

An Indian court found that land was illegally acquired to build Vedanta University in the Puri area of Orissa and refused permission to build.  

Environment Minister Jairam Prakash refused to give Vedanta’s mining project in Niyamgiri hills in Orissa clearance because it violated forest laws.   

Action has been taken to rein in exploitative microcredit companies, a theme highlighted in detail for many months by Devinder Sharma.  

In November, the “Civil Liability for the Nuclear Damages Bill, 2010,” which renders both suppliers and operators liable for eighty years after the construction of the reactor in the event of a nuclear accident, has shocked foreign corporations and their governments because hitherto international standards governing nuclear commerce have placed liability exclusively on the operator of a nuclear reactor while immunizing its suppliers.  

Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar’s recent election success: this is acknowledged to be due to good governance, including providing bicycles to school-going girls, reserving 50% seats for women in panchayats and local bodies, building of long-delayed bridges, re-laying roads, keeping crime in check, appointing and monitoring the attendance of over 100,000 school teachers and ensuring that doctors worked in primary health centers. Devinder Sharma writes: “Unlike most other political leaders, I found Nitish Kumar more receptive and sensitive to the needs of the poor and marginalised. While the Bihar verdict amply demonstrates his willingness to improve the lot of the masses, I still recall the brief meeting when he asked me several years back as to what I thought was the major reason behind farmer suicides . . . This was the time when farmers defaulting the banks and private moneylenders (with petty outstanding dues) were hauled up and put behind the bars. Thousands of farmers in distress preferred to commit suicide rather than to face the humiliation that comes along with indebtedness . . . he invested in the people, and the people paid back.”

And now India is seeking to more than double the compensation paid by a US chemical company for the 1984 Bhopal gas disaster. But international political manoeuvring gives cause for concern – in line with Devinder’s verdict: In August, there was uproar in India after a senior US official was accused of making a veiled threat to block a World Bank loan to Delhi over the Bhopal leak issue. In an e-mail, he noted, “we are still hearing a lot of noise about the Dow Chemical issue”, and appeared to warn of a potential “chilling effect on our investment relationship”.   [Though that seems to fall far short of the compensation needed it is a step in the right direction.]

Time alone will tell whether this apparently more caring trend will be maintained and extended.  

England and India bow to nuclear corporates

 A correspondent in England sent this news:

India’s government has placed a Nuclear Liability Bill in the Winter Session of the Parliament. The bill, going against various Supreme Court judgments, aims to put a cap on the liability amount that private companies will have to pay towards damages in the case of a leak or accident.

All of this is happening 25 years after the Bhopal Gas tragedy. The survivors and the people impacted by the slow poisoning of the chemicals left at the plant site are still fighting for justice and the companies involved are evading liability. With nuclear plants, the dangers are graver and thus to pass a bill that caps liabilities is bordering on the ludicrous.

Currently American plants are at the planning stages. Westinghouse and GE hope to construct their nuclear site in Gujarat and Andhra Pradesh. If the suppliers and designers do not take financial responsibility in case of an accident only the operator, the Nuclear Power Corporation of India Limited, is left to pay this huge amount. The cost of the Bhopal tragedy was more than $3 billion.

I pointed out that this was not unusual and cited British concessions.