Two years ago, on this day, an earthquake and tsunami wiped out a fair section of Fukushima prefecture. The independent commission appointed by the Japanese parliament to investigate the accident observed that while natural disasters may have triggered the nuclear events, the meltdown itself was “profoundly man-made”.
The commission concluded that “the accident was the result of collusion between the government, the regulators and TEPCO, and the lack of governance by said parties.”
The regulatory and governance deficit is all the more true for India. Take Kudankulam, for instance. Minister of state in the PMO V Narayanasamy has assured us at least 16 times in the last 18 months that the plant will be commissioned within 15 days, after the final nod from the Atomic Energy Regulatory Board (AERB). But the PMO’s statements ignore a crucial fact. Kudankulam plants 1 and 2 do not have valid Coastal Regulation Zone (CRZ) clearances.
Last November, Nuclear Power Corporation of India Ltd (NPCIL) grudgingly admitted to the Supreme Court that the desalination plant was an afterthought, and that it was constructed without the mandatory prior environmental clearance. No clearance was obtained for the already constructed dyke and seawall either.
The missing references in the PMO’s statements to the absent CRZ clearance exposes the scant regard that the nation’s highest office has for our environmental laws. Unmindful of the supersession of the 1991 CRZ Notification by the 2011 Notification, NPCIL has applied post-facto for a prior clearance under the defunct 1991 rules. The application is legally untenable.
CRZ clearance is not a mere technical formality. The Notification is supposed to protect the sensitive coastal region by prohibiting some activities and permitting others, subject to conditions derived from a scientific scrutiny of the impacts of the proposed works. India’s east coast is characterised by the massive movement of sediment up and down the shoreline.
A September 2005 study for NPCIL estimates that there is a net transport of 420,000 cubic metres of sediment towards east at the project site. This littoral drift is what nourishes beaches and maintains the coastline in equilibrium.
Hard engineering structures, especially those like the dyke and seawall, that are constructed without studying and providing for management of impacts, can cause severe beach erosion. Idinthakarai’s disappearing beaches are proof of this. The Pollution Control Board’s Consent to Operate is to environmental due diligence what AERB’s final nod is to radiological aspects. Legally speaking, a company can get this consent only after obtaining all other clearances.
But the lack of CRZ clearance has not stopped the Tamil Nadu Pollution Control Board (TNPCB) from issuing consents for units 1 and 2. Legally speaking, the TNPCB should have revoked the Consent to Operate, and the PMO should have stated that the plant will be commissioned only after all clearances, including CRZ, are obtained.
But nobody is keen to make any pronouncements on Kudankulam’s legality. Perhaps, they are praying that AERB will give its final nod. After that, all those who are “legally speaking” can deal with the fait accompli of a radioactive reactor.
Nityanand Jayaraman is a Chennai-based writer and volunteer with the Chennai Solidarity Group for Kudankulam Struggle. The views expressed by the author are personal.