Centre has to win hearts and minds in Kudankulam

Centre has to win hearts and minds in Kudankulam

That is the unenviable task cut out for the Central team inspecting the safety and other features at the Kudankulam Nuclear Power Project (KNPP) here for the second day on Wednesday, as a web of factors point to a long, arduous journey ahead.

While the Department of Atomic Energy (DAE) constituted 15-member team of independent experts are likely to give their report to the Centre—this subject comes directly under the prime minister—by next week and also draft replies to the “50 questions” raised by the “People’s Movement against KNPP,” possibility of dialogue seems to be the only common thread that binds both sides for now.

Central team members headed by Dr A E Muthunayagam, an environmental expert, during their visit to the plant have been posing queries, seeking clarifications. They will continue their review on Thursday, a DAE source told Deccan Herald. The team members, though, have promised an “unbiased report,” even as a meeting with the State panel is slated for Friday at Tirunelveli.

Though the anti-KNPP Struggle Committee’s obduracy in wanting nothing less than a shutdown of both 1000 MW capacity nuclear power reactors has intensified the faceoff, the KNPP authorities are utterly baffled that a national project costing over Rs 13,000 crore, with the Russian side sharing about 50 per cent of the cost, could be held up in such unceremonious fashion.

S P Udhayakumar, an ardent anti-nuclear activist who had taught political science for some years at the University of Minnesota in the US and who coordinates the anti-KNPP struggle, asserts that the project cost “is nothing”, considering precious human lives and their future generations involved.

As their relay fast entered the 30th day in its third phase at Idinthakarai coastal hamlet, he hopes the Central team will provide all the information they have sought and visit the villages in the Kudankulam area (some 27 villages) to allay people’s fears about the KNPP. After the Fukushima disaster, the whole world is changing, reviewing their energy options and saying “No” to nuclear power, he said.

Panel’s response

Based on the Central panel’s response, the struggle committee wants to prepare “Position papers” on each of the key issues they had raised, including site suitability, tsunami and seismicity, radiation hazards, the plant’s structural integrity, handling of spent fuel and the like. Udhayakumar’s list is long and he has roped in more specialists for a wider national consultation.

The KNPP authorities seem helpless as the no-changers’ voices get audacious by the day. “We have already prepared several pamphlets addressing their fears and have done extensive public outreach over the years, much more so in Kudankulam case than at other plants,” said a top KNPP official. A cartoon film in Tamil - ‘Thiruvaalar Muthu’ - is also ready for screening in all villages as part of an “intense awareness campaign” to help remove all their fears.  

Negative info

“But much more negative information has already been fed into the minds of the people here; they (protestors) have put up posters of Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombings, besides masquerading pictures of malnourished children from Somalia and other African countries as radiation effects, to instill fear and mislead the poor people of Kudankulam,” the official rued “The physics of Nuclear reactors is more or less the same anywhere in the world. The safety of a reactor should not be reviewed in isolation, but from the point of view of availability of other systems in place,”  asserts E N Dudkin, head of the Russian Specialists Group working at KNPP site, refuting the arguments of the protest leaders against this Vver-type reactors.

Yet, the divide has other layers to it, amid religious and caste factors in play. The Catholic Church is expressing solidarity with the fasters and some pro-Hindutva outfits, blaming the ‘sand mining lobby’ for the protests. Nobody wants a law and order crisis on hand. This is despite the Police filing several cases, including against Udhayakumar, and some political party leaders, under various IPC sections.