Kudankulam Nuclear Power Plant Takes-off Amidst Police Repression of the Protests

-Rajesh Tyagi/ 4 April 2012


Relying on police power, the authorities ordered the Indo-Russian joint venture at Kudankulam nuclear plant to take off on March 20. Kudankulam is situated in Tirunelveli district of the Indian State of Tamil Nadu, 650 kms from its capital Madras.

To suppress the six months long protests by locals, over 3000 police personnel were placed on guard outside the nuclear plant, prohibitory orders were enforced and roads leading to Idinthakarai, the adjoining site of protest dharna, were blocked. Police secured the roads around the protest site and stopped fishing boats sailing in, arresting about a hundred people. Police said they had arrested nearly 200 anti-nuclear protesters objecting resumption of work of building one of two 1 GW reactors, a day after the local government restarted work on the project.

Project director Kasinath Balaji told Reuters the 1,000-strong workforce began shifts on Tuesday.

Protests have delayed the pre-scheduled commissioning of the project resulting in losses amounting to Rs. 10 Lakh per day to the Government, after more than 14000 crore were already spent up on the project.

Cost to India, of this inter-governmental project, was estimated to be US$ 3 billion (Rs.13,615 Crores) in 2001 estimates, which would initially provide 2 gigawatts of electricity - enough to power 20 million homes.

India suffers from a peak-hour power deficit of about 12 percent, slowing the economy and causing blackouts in much of the country. About 40 percent of population of about 500 million people lacks proper access to electricity.

Despite public outcry and fears expressed from all quarters, Central and State Governments had been bent upon commissioning the project, sooner than later.

After opening itself more and more to the global neo-liberal regime of capitalism, the

Indian economy has taken big strides forward, bringing to the fore an acute shortage of the infrastructure to support and sustain the acquired tempo, above all crunch of its energy resources. Customary power sources, chiefly based on hydro power and coal based thermal power, do not offer a match to this emerging new scenario. Environmental and land use restrictions mean thermal power producers are having difficulty securing coal, which accounts for 60 percent of India's energy use. Low natural gas output is another restraint. Atomic energy thus becomes increasingly important as India struggles to meet growing demand.

The government of UPA under Manmohan Singh, had thus been under fire from the private sector over the country's acute power crisis.

In 2008, the UPA Government thus had to stake its political career on a nuclear deal with United States, for acquiring enriched Uranium as nuclear fuel. With this ended India's nuclear isolation dating to its 1974 test of a nuclear device, opening up a $150 billion civilian nuclear market to India. Indian capitalists were enthusiast to acquire instant access to the world pool of the nuclear resources, control of which lied in the hands of a club of most advanced countries led by US.

Ground for establishment of a mega nuclear power project at Kudankulam 650 kms from Madras, the state capital of Southern Indian State of Tamil Nadu, in its Tirunelveli district, was laid way back in 1988 in a treaty signed between Rajiv Gandhi and Mikhail Gorbachev on November 20, for construction of two nuclear reactors. Work on the same, however, remained in limbo because of falling apart of Soviet states in 1991, and could resume only in 1997.

A small port had become operational in Kudankulam on January 14, 2004 to receive barges carrying over sized light water reactor equipment from ships anchored at a distance of 1.5 kilometres (0.93 miles). Until 2004 materials had to be brought in via road from the port of Tuticorin, risking damage during transportation.

Two 1 GW nuclear reactors of the VVER-1000 model, constructed jointly by the Nuclear Power Corporation of India Limited (NPCIL) and Atomstroyexport of Russia, have started operation in Kudankulam.

With these marvels of modern science, Kudankulam has become the largest nuclear power generation complex in India producing a cumulative 2 GW of electric power. Both units are water-cooled, water-moderated power reactors.

The reactors have advanced safety features like passive heat removal system, double containment, Core Catcher, and hydrogen re-combiner instead of conventional systems.

Under an inter-government agreement signed in December 2008 Russia is to supply to India four 3rd generation VVER-1200 reactors of 1170 MW each. These four reactors would bring the total capacity of the power plant to 9200 MW or 9.2 GW. A firm agreement on setting up two more reactors, has been postponed pending the ongoing talks on liability issues.

United States, however, has opposed the power project tooth and nail from the very beginning, as collaboration between India and Russia in nuclear energy, did not suit to its vested national interests. US has continued to oppose the agreement on the ground that the same does not meet the 1992 terms of the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG). In fact, all Imperialist countries US, England, France, Germany, Japan collectively oppose proliferation of nuclear technology to comparatively backward countries, as the same is l most vital resource of energy. On the other hand, backward countries continue to make immense efforts to acquire access to the nuclear technology, overtly or covertly.

After 14000 crores were already spent on the project with 99% of work already complete, NGOs took to protest for scrapping of the project, assisted by the locals and the local Church. Central Government later openly claimed that funding agencies based in US, were behind the protests.

Protests, however, were reinforced after nuclear disaster in 2011 at Fukushima plant in Japan. Twenty-four years in the making, the Russian-built plant was supposed to be switched on last year, but protesters surrounded it after the nuclear accident in Japan. Since then there have been rallies and protests against commissioning of the Kudankulam nuclear power plant.

S P Udayakumar, of the voluntary People's Movement Against Nuclear Energy, PMANE, claimed that "more than 1 million people live within the 30 km radius of the KKNPP which far exceeds the Atomic Energy Regulatory Board (AERB) stipulations. It is quite impossible to evacuate this many people quickly and efficiently in case of a nuclear disaster at Koodankulam". He further said, “the nuclear plant is unsafe" and "the safety analysis report and the site evaluation study have not been made public. No public hearing was held. It's an authoritarian project that has been imposed on the people."

He added, “Our people watched the Fukushima accident of March 11, 2011 on TV at their homes and understood the magnitude and repercussions of a nuclear accident”. Earthquake and tsunami had crippled the plant at Fukushima in Japan last year, triggering a global rethink of nuclear power.

Gopal Gandhi, former West Bengal governor and grandson of Mahatma Gandhi, commented that an "Indian Fukushima cannot be ruled out and government needs to convince people about safety aspects of the project".

Dismissing the concerns and fears raised by sections of petty bourgeois organisations, Nuclear scientist and principal scientific adviser to the federal Government of India Rajagopala Chidambaram has said “We have learnt lessons from the Fukushima nuclear accident, particularly on the post-shutdown cooling system,”. He further added that “Fukushima nuclear accident should not deter or inhibit India from pursuing a safe civil nuclear program”.

An expert panel constituted by the Government of India, which did a survey of the safety features in the plant, said the Kudankulam reactors are the safest and fears of the people are not based on scientific principles.

Former chairman of Atomic Energy Commission of India Srinivasan said that one should never compare the Fukushima plant with Kudankulam and added "The Fukushima plant was built on a beachfront, but the Kudankulam was constructed on a solid terrain and that too keeping all the safety aspects in mind. Also, we are not in a tsunami prone area. The plants in Kudankulam have a double containment system which can withstand high pressure. At least Rs 14,000 crore has been spent. If we don't operate the plant immediately, it will affect the economic stability of our country".

Joining hands with the Central Government of UPA, the Tamil Nadu state government formed a four member expert panel which submitted a report to the government after inspecting the safety features of the plant. The Tamil Nadu government in the wake of the acute power shortages in the state has on March 19 adopted a Cabinet decision to go ahead with the project. "Immediate steps will be taken for the speedy commissioning of the nuclear power plant at Kudankulam," Tamil Nadu Chief Minister Jayalalitha declared subsequently.

Jayalalitha said local people had nothing to fear from the power station, and promised a $100 million budget for developing infrastructure near the coastal plant.

Taking most opportunist stance on the issue, Stalinist CPI and CPM have declared their whole hearted support for Jayalalitha, demanding that the whole production of 2 Giga Watts, must be utilised exclusively for Tamilnadu. In their statements, leaders of these parties have repelled the very genuine concerns of local people as baseless, certifying that the project is totally safe. CPIM State Secretary for Tamil Nadu, G. Ramakrishnan stated on 24 March 2012, “We welcome the State government decision to go ahead with the commissioning of the plants and request the local people to extend their support for the functioning of the plants”. In a similar statement issued on 25 March 2012, CPI State Secretary D. Pandian also backed CM’s decision to commission the Koodankulam plant and demanded further that the entire power generated from it be given to TN. “Their apprehensions are borne out of ignorance. It cannot be cleared,” Pandian said, demanding immediate commissioning of the nuke plant. Accusing anti-nuke protesters of “holding the country for ransom” the CPI leader said, “It is a national asset and it must be utilised.”

Maoists however have declared themselves against the nuclear project and in support of the protestors. None of the Stalinist or Maoist parties, however, has made any serious attempt ever to link the nuclear issue to destruction of capitalist rule. On the contrary, they tail themselves behind either the petty bourgeois reformists or the bourgeois rulers, and adapt to their programs passively. None of them calls upon working class to pose any serious challenge to the capitalist regime and its disastrous control over nuclear power. Stalinists and after them Maoists are harbingers of petty bourgeois influence inside the workers’ movement in their own ways and are hostile to revolutionary Marxism- the program of permanent revolution advanced under the banner of Fourth International Movement.

There is no doubt that Fukushima can be repeated at Kudankulam anytime. Nuclear plants under control of capitalists, their government and officials, doubtlessly, present an instant hazard. Sole concern of these capitalists and corrupt officials under them, is to mince more and more money, while completely ignoring interests of working and toiling people.

Completely oriented towards profit, Capitalist regime thus presents a dilemma before the people- even limited advance to civilisation means extreme exposure to hazards. This is the real crisis before our eyes.

Needless to say that nuclear energy is one of the greatest achievements of science and technology in our age. Gigantic possibilities that have emerged from nuclear power generation bring us closer to a future where man would be at total command of the blind forces of nature.

The number of nuclear projects worldwide has been steadily increasing every year with new projects now being planned in the West Asia, Iran, Pakistan, Bangladesh, India apart from developed countries like US, Germany, Japan, China, Austria and Russia etc.

This cherished goal however remains elusive, till the great achievements of science and technology remain subjected by the rule of capitalists to itself, who in their run-up for profits, engage themselves in devastating wars against each other, creating Hiroshimas and Nagasakis.

However, for the sake of very same profits, these capitalists turn to resources of science and technology and its achievements like nuclear energy.

The indispensable need for nuclear energy, thus has placed overturning of the rule of capitalists on today’s agenda. If civilization has to advance further, there is no way but to liberate humanity of the curse of capitalist rule. Working class must present a socialist revolution as the only solution, only way out of the crisis.

In order to exclude completely the radical socialist solution, petty bourgeois, however, presents its own reformist solution to the crisis. It sets out to oppose any advance of science and technology, on dozens of pretexts. It prevents an organised assault of workers and toilers against the rule of capitalists, by diverting the focus to supposed inherent hazards in nuclear energy. Its reformist program blocks the consciousness of people from realising that not only nuclear power, but almost everything turns hazardous in the hands of capitalists, racing blind for profits. Is it not true that more workers die everyday in factories, than Chernobyl and Fukushima put together? Is it not true that the chief cause of Chernobyl and Fukushima disasters was callousness on the part of elite bureaucrats? Can we ignore that Bhopal Gas Tragedy was not caused by nuclear energy? Working and toiling people are being killed on roads, railways, factories and even in hospitals, people are dying due to starvation, malnutrition and lack of medical care etc etc.

We thus oppose the petty bourgeois reformism which diverts the attention of working class from the real issue, i.e. the hazardous rule of capitalists and puts the blame here and there.

There can be no further advance of history without immense industrialisation and urbanisation. City and industry is the future of mankind. Nuclear energy is the best, clean and green source of energy known to mankind till now. At present level of technology, at the disposal of mankind, it is only nuclear energy which can fulfil the requirements of rapid urbanisation. Program of revolutionary working class, thus cannot be to scuttle proliferation of nuclear power. On the contrary, nuclear power must be made to sign the death warrant of capitalist rule and to wipe out this disease from the face of the earth.

“For the Nuclear Power, but Against its capitalist control”, this is the response of revolutionary proletariat to Kudankulam.

Also check: http://new-wave-nw.blogspot.in/2009/06/india-points-way-small-factory-built.html
http://new-wave-nw.blogspot.in/2009/06/nuclear-energy-from-megatonnes-to.html

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