Powerful mass protest by tens of thousands of workers, peasants, fishermen and intellectuals have taken place in the site of the Koodangkulam nuclear power project Tamilnadu.
The people have carried on mass fast as well as continuos rallies, demanding that the government scrap the project. The Nuclear Power Corporation of India Ltd (NPCIL) is building two 1,000 MW capacity nuclear power reactors with Russian technology and equipment in Koodangkulam in Thirunelvelli district of Tamil Nadu. The first unit is expected to go on stream this December. The people have expressed their concern at the loss of livelihood for fisherfolk and the threat to the lives of lakhs of people in the area in case a disaster takes place like happended recently in Fukoshima in Japan.
127 people went on collective fast from September 11, 2011 at Idinthakarai, near Koodangkulam. Schools and colleges in the neighbouring areas were closed down and students were at the site of agitation. Fishermen in Thirunelveli, Kanyakumari and Thothukudi districts stayed away from fishing and participated in the agitations. Tens and thousands of people gathered up everyday at Idinthakarai at the site of protest and raised militant slogans expressing their determination to stop this project. Activists of the Communist Ghadar Party of India participated in this agitation. The fast was withdrawn after 12 days following a letter written by the Tamilnadu Chief Minister to the Prime Minister asking him to halt work on the project until peoples concerns were addressed.
The Koodangkulam agitations must be looked at in the background of the recent announcement by the West Bengal state government of their decision to scrap the proposed 4,800-Mw nuclear power plant at Haripur in East Midnapore. People of Maharashtra have been vehemently opposing the 9,900-Mw Jaitapur nuclear power project. Other nuclear projects facing stiff opposition include the 2,800-Mw Gorakhpur project in Haryana, the 6x1,000-Mw project at Mithi Virdi in Gujarat, and the 1,400-Mw Chuttka project in Madhya Pradesh.
India now operates 20 reactors at six sites, with a capacity of 4,780 Mw, through Nuclear Power Corporation of India Ltd (NPCIL). THe government has plans to increase its nuclear capacity to 7,280 Mw by next year, more than 20,000 Mw by 2020 and 63,000 Mw by 2032 by adding nearly 30 reactors.
There is legitimate concern amongst the people in all these areas on two counts. One is displacement and loss of livelihood. The second is safety from potential nuclear radiation. The government has been violating its own rules on nuclear projects regarding choice of sites, as in the case of the Goraphpur Project which is in a densely populated area. Moreover the track record of the Indian state regarding ensuring safety for people is very poor, as evidenced in the way the Bhopal gas tragedy was allowed to happen, and in the way Warren Anderson was allowed to get away scot free. Hence people are sceptical about the promises of the government that its nuclear projects are safe.
Former Chairman of the Atomic Energy Regulatory Board (AREB), Dr A. Gopalakrishnan, has this to say about India's preparedness for nuclear disasters. “In India”, he says, “we are most disorganized and unprepared for the handling of emergencies of any kind. The AERB's disaster preparedness oversight is mostly on paper and the drills they once in a while conduct are half-hearted efforts which amount more to a sham” . Many leading scientists have written an open letter to the Prime Minister accusing the Department of Atomic Energy (DAE) of “cavalierly” minimizing the potential of an accident, and urging the Government to “radically review” its nuclear policy. “Pending the review,” they have said, “there should be a moratorium on all further nuclear activity, and revocation of recent clearances for nuclear projects”, given without regard to India's ramshackle infrastructure and largely untested emergency procedures.
In contrast, the Secretary General of the Associated Chamber of Commerce & Industry of India (ASSOCHAM) has called upon the government to ignore the demands of the Koodangkulam agitation and proceed with the nuclear power plants to maintain the economic "growth momentum" as India will require one lakh megawatt of additional power capacity in the 12th Five Year Plan (April 2012 to March 2017)! The biggest capitalists want the nuclear projects primarily to ensure massive profits they expect to make as suppliers of various components of the different nuclear projects.