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India's nuclear expansion at the people's expense

Opposing the expansion of nuclear power is always dealt with ruthlessly. But the Indian state of Tamil Nadu’s charges of treason laid against protesters must be a first. The protesters have also been gassed, injured and one killed in clashes.
India has six nuclear power plants and seven more are under construction. In 2010 a government plan proposed aiming for a nuclear capacity of 63,000 megawatts by 2032 – more than 13 times the present generating capacity.

At Kudankulam, in Tamil Nadu at India’s southernmost tip, two 1,000MW reactors have been built by a Russian/Indian consortium. The first is currently being loaded with fuel and is expected to start production in days, the second by the end of the year. Four more reactors are planned.

Police fired tear gas at thousands of people approaching the plant to stage a protest, and more than 200 have been arrested in the course of the opposition campaign. Police are trying to make charges of waging war on the country stick, though a recent judicial review suggests they may not get away with it.

In nearby Tuticorin, a fisherman was killed when police fired into a crowd. Earlier this month, 500 fishing boats blockaded the estuary where there are plans to dump coolant water and “low level waste”. Fishermen say most countries, including those in the European Union, will no longer import their fish because of the risk of contamination.

The Indian government blames foreign NGOs for fomenting the protest and accuses the campaigners in the People’s Movement Against Nuclear Energy (PMANE) of being ignorant and manipulated. There are thought to be around 5,000 policemen posted around the plant.

India has international nuclear agreements with Russia, France and the USA. It is importing uranium from Russia, Mongolia, Kazakhstan and Namibia. Indian corporations are expanding into uranium mining with a recent exploration contract in Niger.

Plans for US firms to build reactors have been shelved because the corporations are worried about Indian law allowing victims of industrial accidents to sue for damages. But some media suggest a secret deal has been signed with Atomstroyexport, the Russian partner at Kudankulam, waiving this right and indemnifying the company against any claims.

The Tamil Nadu state government initially postponed completion of the project after the March 2011 tsunami and nuclear disaster at Fukushima in Japan. Under government pressure, and claiming to be convinced about improved safety measures, they caved in, although governments in Kerala and West Bengal are holding out.

Safety claims do not convince PMANE, who point out that the Asian tsunami of December 2004 flooded the area where the Kudankulam reactors are and that there are frequent tremors in the area.

More than a million people live within 30km of the plant, and it would be impossible to evacuate them if there were a natural disaster leading to a nuclear accident.

But the Indian government is determined to push ahead. It has accepted massive loans from the Russian government for its nuclear expansion, and costs have soared since the initial agreement.

The PMANE rightly asks who the real beneficiaries of the Indian nuclear expansion will be:

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?

Tamil Solidarity Campaign plans protests at Indian embassies worldwide and at the Indian High Commission in London, on 24th of October, 4.00 to 7.00pm. More information.

Penny Cole
Environment editor
27 September 2012

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