IAEA team's visit to Kudankulam raises hope

IAEA team's visit to Kudankulam raises hope

Antinuke protesters to renew fast, police security beefed up

A quiet but hugely significant visit by two nuclear experts of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) to the Kudankulam Nuclear Power Project (KNPP) complex in Tamil Nadu's Tirunelveli district on Monday,has flagged hopes of a positive turn to resolve the over six-month-long standoff between the anti-KNPP protestors and India’s atomic energy establishment.

However, those opposing the 2000 MWe plant are to launch a fresh 72-hour fast from midnight of Monday-Tuesday.

The two-member IAEA team is examining various facilities at the KNPP, built with Russian assistance and which comes under the global nuclear watchdog's International safeguards. They will be in Kudankulam on Tuesday also, official sources in Tirunelveli told Deccan Herald over telephone.

The IAEA inspection is considered highly significant, as their go-ahead is required before the preparatory process for start-up of the plant’s first unit begins and eventually lead to the reactor going critical to sustain the nuclear fission chain reaction. That would generate enough heat to drive the turbines that in turn will produce electricity. This ‘VVer’ type light water reactor with very advanced safety features uses imported enriched uranium from Russia as fuel.

Significantly, the IAEA team’s visit to Kudankulam comes a day after Atomic Energy Commission (AEC) former  Chairman M R Srinivasan-headed new state panel visited the plant and studied all its safety and other systems, as part of their mandate to understand the local people’s demand to scrap the project. The new panel will also factor in the two reports prepared by the Department of Atomic Energy (DAE)-appointed Experts Group, seeking to allay locals' apprehensions about the safety of the plant.

While declining to give details about the IAEA team’s work in Kudankulam, sources, implicitly acknowledged that it was an important mission that has come amid hectic efforts by the Central and State Governments to resolve the protracted crisis.

Notwithstanding the decision the M R Srinivasan panel may take, the IAEA clearing the decks for kick-starting the criticality process is a must, they underlined. In that sense, it signals a positive move ahead with Tamil Nadu suffering a severe power crisis. Srinivasan had also said that his panel will give its recommendation to the State at the earliest.

However, dissatisfied with the new state panel members not directly interacting with the villagers in and around Kudankulam, the anti-KNPP protest group's Convenor, S P Udayakumar on Monday announced a fresh 72-hour fast at Idinthakarai hamlet, from midnight tonight.