The row over setting up the Kudankulam nuclear power plant in Tamil Nadu reached the Supreme Court on Monday with a petition, which sought its directions to restrain the Union government and other authorities from commissioning the controversial project.
The Special Leave Petition (SLP) by social activist G Sundarrajan against the Madras high court's August 31 decision refusing to impose any restraint has claimed that non-implementation of various recommendations formulated by the Government's Task Force "puts to grave risk the safety of millions of citizens."
The petition, filed through counsel Prashant Bhushan and Pranav Sachdeva, said the high court had given a go ahead to the nuclear power plant without first ensuring that the 17 critical safety features recommended by the Central government's expert task-force are put in place.
It complained that in complete violation of the absolute liability principle evolved by the apex court, the government has absolved the Russian company supplying the nuclear reactor of any liability in case of an accident.
"The government has also brutally cracked down on the local community peacefully protesting against the plant and has slapped sedition cases against thousands of protesters.
"Thus it is absolutely clear that the government intends to push the project through without any consideration of the safety, costs, environmental impact and other concerns regarding the project," the petition said.
The petitioner urged the court to pass an "ex-parte ad-interim injunction against the respondents from further proceeding with Initial Fuel Loading and/or Commissioning the Unit 1 & 2 of the Kudankulam Nuclear Power Project till the recommendations of the task force regarding the said project are fully implemented."
According to the petition, the government's Task Force had made a detailed review of the safety measures of the project in the light of inadequacies of Fukushmia plant which suffered due to lack of alternative fresh water storage and want of back-up power system.
The Task Force had sought implementation of its 17 recommendations before commissioning units 1 and 2 of KKNPP, the petition said.
The important recommendations among other things related to provision of alternative fresh water storage system and emergency pumping equipment, which are yet to be implemented even today, it added.
It said the Atomic Energy Regulatory Board (AERB) now states that implementation of these measures would take six months to 2 years.
"If, by chance, any natural disaster happens before the said measures are implemented, there is every chance of a meltdown and huge leakage of radiation that would make a large area uninhabitable for decades and would need evacuation of millions of people," the petition said.
The petitioner said the AERB could not act independently in the matter because it is under the Atomic Energy Department and hence is unable to act firmly.
"India's nuclear safety regulator AERB is a body under the control of the very department it is supposed to regulate and merely acts as a rubber-stamping authority, and thereby, it has put to grave risk the rights of the citizens under Article 21 of the Constitution," the petition said.
The petitioner said with the Civil Liability for Nuclear Damage Act, 2010 coming into force from September 21, 2010, the liability of the nuclear plant operator and supplier has been pegged at a meagre Rs. 1,500 crore "in complete violation of the absolute liability principle" propounded by the apex court in its earlier judgements on environmental issues.
"Russia claims that it is exempt from even this minimal liability since their contract with the Indian government states that they would not be liable," the petition said.