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India launches its version of Fukushima

From Ajay Mehta and Anjali Sharma

NEW DELHI – Setting aside all the concerns of top nuclear scientists of India and country’s other major stake holders including former Army Chief and former Navy Chief about the alarming lack of safety and security measures and bisecting all the reservations of the global community including the nuclear watchdog the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) over the serious controversies pertaining to the safety measures, India’s Atomic Energy Regulatory Authority has given green signal for formal launching of the world’s most controversial nuclear power project in India. The Atomic Energy Regulatory Board (AERB) has granted clearance for the first 1000MW unit of the Kudankulam nuclear power project.


An AERB press release on Thursday said the clearance was given after the plant complied with all the directives of the Supreme Court. In its May 6, 2013 order, the Supreme Court had imposed several conditions on safety.
“We were satisfied with the safety and other parameters met by the plant officials with regard to the unit 1. Only after several tests and after the plant officials complied with the Supreme Court order, we gave the clearance,” SS Bajaj, AERB chief, told media.
The plant is set to attain criticality (the actual commencement of chain reaction in the nuclear reactor) in a day or two, according to a plant official. Once the unit attains criticality, power generation will start.
The Russian-made reactor, called Voda Voda Energo Reactor (VVER), uses the pressurized water technology. This is the first such reactor being commissioned in the country.
It is learnt that the Indian authorities have also detained international media persons who were in Chennai to make reports over the controversies relating to the Kudankulam nuclear project. These media persons include members of a German Radio network and others. They were earlier refused entry to the plant by the Indian authorities.
The Daily Mail’s investigations indicate that the global nuclear watchdog the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) was deeply disturbed with the state of affairs at the Kudankulam nuclear plant. The sources at the IAEA say that the agency had been closely monitoring the state of affairs at India’s Kudankulam nuclear plant for quite some time and related media and intelligence reports were adding to the agency’s worries day by day. These sources further said that the IAEA received credible information that there were certain serious safety issues with the Kulankudam plant but the issues at that stage were out of the agency’s domain as it was considered an internal matter of India and the matter was also in India’s Supreme Court. However, these sources say, after the Indian apex court gave go-ahead to the Indian government in May this year to launch the plant without eradicating the safety concerns, some new issues also surfaced that included using of highly substandard components by the Indians in the nuclear plant and concerned officials of the agency were reportedly consulting sections concerned to bring the issues to the agency’s domain. However, any official comment by the IEAE was not available till the filing of this report.
On the other side, scientists from several Indian institutions had written to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh as well as the Chief Ministers of Tamil Nadu and Kerala, expressing their extreme concerns over the use of substandard components in the Kudankulam nuclear power plant in Tiruneveli in southern Tamil Nadu.
The scientists pointed to credible reports that said four valves in a critical safety system in the plant were found to be seriously defective. A copy of the letter was also sent to the secretary of the Department of Atomic Energy (DAE).
“As the Chief Minister of the states, hosting and neighbouring the nuclear power plant, the two of you have a responsibility to satisfy yourself and the residents of Tamil Nadu and Kerala that the plant has been constructed to the highest safety standards,” read the letter, signed by 60 top scientists of India. “Any exercise to assure oneself of the quality of components used will have to be done before the plant is commissioned. Once commissioned, the radioactive environment in sections of the plant will make it impossible to access and test some potentially critical components,” it added.
The letter was signed by scientists from Indian Institutes of Sciences, Bangalore (IISc), Indian Institute of Technology (IIT)-Madras and Bombay, Indian Institute of Astrophysics (IIA), Indian Institute of Science Education and Research (IISER), Indian Institute for the Cultivation of Science (IACS), National Institute of Advanced Studies (NIAS) and Inter-University Centre for Astronomy and Astrophysics (IUCAA) and several other research institutes.
On May 6, the Supreme Court gave a go-ahead to the project saying there is no basis to say that the plant will have an adverse impact on the environment and people living near the site. However, the Indian Supreme Court did not address the issue of unreliable safety valves and use of highly substandard components in the plant by the Indian government.
People’s Movement Against Nuclear Energy or PMANE, which spearheaded these protests, has slammed the decision, saying, “The AERB clearance defies spirit of democracy. Our struggle against Kudankulam plant will continue unabated. The NPCIL is playing a dangerous game with the lives of millions of people. The people of India will hold the Centre and all bodies responsible for any untoward incident.”
The PMANE said that it has already sent a legal notice to the AERB and Nuclear Power Corporation of India Limited or NPCIL.
When contacted by The Daily Mail, the office bearers of PMANE said that they have been opposing the Koodankulam Nuclear Power Project (KKNPP) ever since it was conceived in the mid 80s. The people of Koodankulam village themselves were misled by false promises such as 10,000 jobs, water from Pechiparai dam in Kanyakumari district, and fantastic development of the region. We tried in vain to tell them that they were being deceived. They said that they were opposing the project for a few specific reasons and gave us the 10 top reasons why they and the rest of the nuclear scientists and experts of nuclear safety all over India and across the world have been strongly opposing the commissioning of this highly risky nuclear plant. Their ten points are as under:
[1] The KKNPP reactors are being set up without sharing the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA), Site Evaluation Study and Safety Analysis Report with the people, or the people’s representatives or the press. No public hearing has been conducted for the first two reactors either. There is absolutely no democratic decision-making in or public approval for this project.
[2] The coolant water and low-grade waste from the KKNPP are going to be dumped in to the sea which will have a severe impact on fish production and catch. This will undermine the fishing industry, push the fisherfolks into deeper poverty and misery and affect the food security of the entire southern Tamil Nadu and southern Kerala.
[3] Even when the KKNPP projects function normally without any incidents and accidents, they would be emitting Iodine 131, 132, 133, Cesium 134, 136, 137 isotopes, strontium, tritium, tellurium and other such radioactive particles into our air, land, crops, cattle, sea, seafood and ground water. Already the southern coastal belt is sinking with very high incidence of cancer, mental retardation, down syndrome, defective births due to private and government sea-sand mining for rare minerals including thorium. The KKNPP will add many more woes to our already suffering people.
[4] The quality of construction and the pipe work and the overall integrity of the KKNPP structures have been called into question by the very workers and contractors who work there in Koodankulam. There have been international concerns about the design, structure and workings of the untested Russian-made VVER-1000 reactors.
[5] Many political leaders and bureaucrats try to reassure that there would be no natural disasters in the Koodankulam area. How can they know? How can anyone ever know? The 2004 December tsunami did flood the KKNPP installations. There was a mild tremor in the surrounding villages of Koodankulam on March 19, 2006. On August 12, 2011, there were tremors in 7 districts of Tamil Nadu.
[6] Indian Prime Minster himself has spoken about terrorist threats to India’s nuclear power plants. On August 17, 2001, the then Minister of State for Home, Mr. Mullappally Ramachandran said: “the atomic establishments continue to remain prime targets of the terrorist groups and outfits.” However, despite all these threats, no appropriate security arrangements to safeguard the nuclear plant against a terror attack have been made by the government.
[7] The important issue of liability for the Russian plants has not been settled yet. Defying the Indian nuclear liability law, Russia insists that the Inter-Governmental Agreement (IGA), secretly signed in 2008 by the Indian and Russian governments, precedes the liability law and that Article 13 of the IGA clearly establishes that NPCIL is solely responsible for all claims of damages.
[8] In 1988 the authorities said that the cost estimate of the Koodakulam 1 and 2 projects was Rs. 6,000 crores. In November 1998, they said the project cost would be Rs. 15,500. In 2001, the ministerial group for economic affairs announced that the project cost would be Rs. 13,171 crores and the Indian government would invest Rs. 6,775 crores with the remainder amount coming in as Russian loan with 4 percent interest. The fuel cost was estimated to be Rs. 2,129 crores which would be entirely Russian loan. No one knows the 2011 figures of any of these expenses. No one cares to tell the Indian public either.
[9] The March 11, 2011 disaster in Fukushima has made it all too clear to the whole world that nuclear power plants are prone to natural disasters and no one can really predict their occurrence. When we cannot effectively deal with a nuclear disaster, it is only prudent to prevent it from occurring. Even the most industrialized and highly advanced country such as Germany has decided to phase out their nuclear power plants by the year 2022.Switzerland has decided to shun nuclear power technology. In a recent referendum, some 90 percent of Italians have voted against nuclear power in their country. Many Japanese prefectures and their governors are closing nuclear power plants in their regions. Both the United States and Russia have not built a new reactor in their countries for 2-3 decades ever since major accidents occurred at Three Mile Island and Chernobyl.
Even back in India, Mamta Banerjee government in West Bengal has stopped the Russian nuclear power park project at Haripur in Purba Medhinipur district and taken a position that they do want any nuclear power project in their state. Similarly, the people of Kerala have decided not to host any nuclear power project in their state.
[10] And finally, the Indian government’s mindless insistence on nuclear power, utmost secrecy in all of its nuclear agreements and activities, and its sheer unwillingness to listen to the people’s concerns and fears make us very doubtful about the real benefactors of all this nuclear hoopla. Is it all for us, the people of India? Or for the corporate profits of the Russian, American and French companies? Or for the Indian military? Are the lives and futures of the Indian citizens inferior to all these?…
– The Daily Mail


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