Koodankulam is under siege, as we go to press. The Tamil Nadu Government, soon after by-polls in nearby Sankarankoil took place on March 18, changed its tune on the nuclear project. Announcing a Cabinet decision to commission the Koodankulam project without further delay, the TN Government abandoned its posture of sharing the people’s concerns about the project’s safety, and has announced that the nuclear project is needed for the State’s ‘progress’. It claims that all safety concerns have been allayed.
In preparations for what the local protestors fear will be a ‘nuclear Nandigram,’ there is huge police deployment in the area, incoming phones of activists have been jammed, and roads and transport towards Koodankulam and Idinthakarai have been blocked. Around 18 leading activists have been arrested, of whom several have been charged with sedition.
Updates from local people say that 6000 armed policemen presided over by TN’s ADGP, 3 DIGs and 20 SPs are stationed in the area, as a menacing presence. At Idinthakarai, villagers are spending night and day at the protest site, waiting for a crackdown. Section 144 has been imposed, and protestors are defying curfews to come to the protest site by boats. Around 20,000 have gathered in spite of all odds at the gate of the plant, and are on a relay hunger strike. 15 activists (8 men and 7 women) including the main leaders of the People’s Movement Against Nuclear Energy (PMANE) are on indefinite hunger strike at Idinthakarai demanding the immediate release of arrested comrades; withdrawal of the Tamil Nadu cabinet resolution; a thorough and complete probe of geologists, hydrologists and oceanographers into the safety issues of the Koodankulam nuclear power plant; release of the Inter-Governmental Agreement (IGA) signed secretly by the governments of India and Russia on liability in February 2008; and safety drills and evacuation drills in the 30-km radius of the Koodankulam project.
This crackdown comes in the wake of an all-out offensive of nuclear jingoism by no less than the Prime Minister, accusing the protest of being ‘foreign funded’ and backed by foreign powers hostile to India’s growth ambitions.
A CNDP statement commented, “Not only is such anti-democratic behaviour deeply shocking, it is also extraordinary that this should happen at a time when over 80% of the Japanese public have repudiated nuclear energy demanding that their country’s nuclear plants be completely phased out, and when an official German Ethics Commission on Nuclear Safety said “Fukushima has shaken people’s confidence in expert’s assessments of the ‘safety’ of nuclear power stations. This is also and particularly true of those citizens who have until now relied on such assessments. Even citizens who do not reject nuclear power categorically are no longer prepared to leave it to committees of experts to decide how to deal with the fundamental possibility of an uncontrollable, major accident.”
A letter by concerned citizens addressed to the Tamil Nadu CM pointed out, “The Tamilnadu Chief Minister’s claim that the Expert Committees have addressed all concerns raised by the protestors is contrary to fact. Numerous issues such as the lack of back-up water supply, the fate of the desalination plants in the event of seawater recession, the quantum and fate of nuclear wastes and the sub-lethal effects of thermal pollution on marine biodiversity are only a few of the issues that remain wholly unaddressed by the Committees. Information relating to the arrangements made between the Governments of India and Russia relating to liability in the event of a nuclear disaster have been withheld....Commissioning the plant at this stage without having conducted the statutorily required emergency drills is a clear indication of the lack of safety culture, and the insincerity of the declarations that the plant is safe...It is unfortunate that the Government is making it seem as if commissioning Koodankulam will bail the state out of its electricity crisis. It is a fact that if at all commissioned, the 1000 MW plant is unlikely to yield more than 250 MW.”
Stop Koodankulam – Heed the Voice of Sanity and People’s Protests!