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India: opponents of nuclear power treated as ‘pathological’

The way the Indian government has dealt with the opponents of the Koodankulam nuclear reactors being built in Tamil Nadu violates all three red lines.

The Department of Atomic Energy and its subsidiary Nuclear Power Corporation of India Ltd. see the opposition as a pathology to be cured by psychiatrists from the National Institute of Mental Health and Neurosciences.

Don’t impose K’kulam reactors, 3 Oct 12, Praful Bidwai Even zealous supporters of nuclear power should logically concede three things to their opponents. First, after Fukushima, it’s natural for people everywhere to be deeply sceptical of the claimed safety of nuclear power, and for governments to phase out atomic programmes, as is happening in Germany, Switzerland, Italy, and now Japan.

Second, nuclear power, like all projects, should only be promoted with the consent of local people, and with scrupulous regard for civil liberties. And third, safety must be paramount in reactor construction and operation, with strict compliance with rules laid down by an
independent safety authority.

The way the Indian government has dealt with the opponents of the Koodankulam nuclear reactors being built in Tamil Nadu violates all three red lines. The Department of Atomic Energy and its subsidiary Nuclear Power Corporation of India Ltd. see the opposition as a
pathology to be cured by psychiatrists from the National Institute of Mental Health and Neurosciences.

The government has all along demonised the opposition. Prime Minister
Manmohan Singh, no less, vilified it as “foreign-funded” without an
iota of evidence. The government deported a German tourist living in a
Rs. 200-a-day room for “masterminding” and financing the agitation.
Last week, it summarily deported three Japanese activists who were
planning to visit Koodankulam.

All this shows official disconnect with reality. Globally, nuclear
power has long been in retreat. The number of operating reactors
peaked 10 years ago, and their installed capacity has been falling
since 2010. Nuclear’s share of global power generation has declined
from its peak (17%) to about 11%. Fukushima precipitated the global
nuclear industry’s worst-ever credibility crisis. With increasingly
adverse public opinion, and rising reactor costs (which have tripled
over a decade), it’ll probably go into terminal decline. Jeff Immelt
of General Electric, one of the world’s largest atomic suppliers, says
nuclear power is “really hard to justify.”

However, in pursuing its Nuclear March of Folly, India has unleashed
savage repression against protesters. FIRs have been lodged against
several thousand people in Koodankulam, with many charged with
sedition and waging war against the state — read, protests without
one violent incident.

It’s hard to think of another occasion, including the 1984 anti-Sikh
riots, or the 1992 Babri demolition, where the state has behaved so

On September 10, the police attacked Koodankulam protesters with
batons and tear-gas although they were obstructing nobody’s movement.
The police literally drove many agitators into the sea, molested
women, looted homes and killed a fisherman.

A fact-finding team led by Justice B.G. Kolse-Patil journalist Kalpana
Sharma describes the “reign of terror” in Koodankulam, with “totally
unjustified” use of force, physical abuse, vindictive detention of 56
people including juveniles, and sexual harassment. Such police
behaviour “has no place in a country that calls itself democratic.”

Yet, repression of movements against destructive projects is becoming
routine in India. No socially desirable project can be built on the
ashes of citizens. This itself is good reason to oppose the
Koodankulam reactors.
Dr. Singh last year suspended Koodankulam construction until people’s
apprehensions regarding safety are allayed. But his sarkari experts
didn’t even meet the people’s representatives or answer queries about
the site’s vulnerability to tsunamis, volcanism and earthquakes.

NPCIL refuses to disclose relevant information, including the Site
Evaluation and the Safety Analysis Reports, and the text of an
Indo-Russian intergovernmental agreement, which reportedly absolves
the reactors’ supplier of liability for an accident.

This puts a question-mark over the official claim that the reactors
are safe, and accidents are all but impossible. If so, why is the
supplier evading liability?

That brings us to the third factor: NPCIL’s non-compliance with safety
norms, and the Atomic Energy Regulatory Board’s approval for
fuel-loading in breach of its own norms. Last year, following
Fukushima, an AERB Task Force suggested 17 safety improvements
pertaining to freshwater and power backup, improved sensors,
instrumentation, etc.

The Koodankulam plant isn’t compliant with as many as 11 of the 17.
The AERB first told the Madras High Court that it wouldn’t permit
fuel-loading without full compliance. But within four days, it made an
about-turn — under government pressure.

As the Comptroller and Accountant General has recently established,
the AERB is totally subservient to the government. On August 10, it
permitted NPCIL to start fuel loading. This is wrong, dangerous, and
shows reckless disregard for safety.

The AERB is guilty of more safety violations. Its own rules say there
must be absolutely no population in the 1.6-km-radius “exclusion zone”
from the plant, and that the population in the 5-km radius must be
under 20,000.

But as anyone who has been to Koodankulam will testify, a tsunami
rehabilitation colony, with 450 tenements, stands less than 1 km from
the plant. At least 40,000 people live within a 5-km radius.

The AERB has turned a blind eye to this. Equally disgraceful is its
failure to enforce the stipulation that no fuel-loading be permitted
until an emergency preparedness drill is completed within a 16-km
radius jointly by NPCIL, the district administration, state government
and National Disaster Management Authority. This involves full
evacuation, with prior warning, identification of routes and vehicles,
and public mobilisation. No such drill was conducted. The AERB’s
fuel-loading clearance amounts to playing with people’s lives.

A victim of domestic and international atomic lobbies, India is loath
to abandon nuclear power although the world is rapidly doing so. The
process is fastest in the OECD countries, which account for 70% of the
world’s reactors. Only two reactors are under construction in the West
— mired in safety problems, long delays and 130 percent-plus cost

Even France, which gets 80% of its electricity from atomic reactors —
a fact the nuclear industry repeats as if that were clinching proof of
atomic safety — will reduce that dependence to 50% by 2025.

As nuclear power declines, clean renewable sources like wind and solar
are rapidly expanding and their costs are dramatically falling.
Renewables are the future.

October 4, 2012 - Posted by | civil liberties, India

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