Top officials of the Indian nuclear establishment on Saturday met the expert committee the central government has set up to allay fears of people living in and around Tamil Nadu's Kudankulam where a mega atomic power plant is on the verge of being commissioned.
"The 15 members of the expert committee are located in different places. We decided to convene a meeting in Chennai Saturday to chalk out the way ahead," SK Jain, chairman and managing director of Nuclear Power Corporation of India Ltd (NPCIL), told IANS in Chennai.
However, the meeting with the state government officials did not come off Saturday as it was sought at a short notice, he said.
"We knew that there will not be a meeting with the state government officials even when we left Mumbai," Jain said.
The central government Oct 20 set up the expert committee of 15 members drawn from various fields to interact with officials of Tamil Nadu government, people's representatives and activists of Tirunelveli district, who have been opposing the Kudankulam Nuclear Power Project (KNPP) on safety-related issues.
India's nuclear power plant operator NPCIL is building two 1,000 MW reactors with Russian technology and equipment in Kudankulam, around 650 km from Chennai. The first unit is expected to go on stream in December. The project cost is estimated around Rs. 13,000 crore.
Villagers, who greeted the NPCIL officials with welcome arches and garlands only years ago when they arrived to set up the plant, are now protesting the plant erection, claiming they fear of their lives and safety in case of any nuclear accidents and the long-term impact it would have on the population.
Officials of KNPP were not able to go their office since Oct 13 when the protestors resorted to a plant blockade, stalling the project work and bringing down the employee morale.
The protest had put the project clock back by at least six months, NPCIL officials told IANS.
They stressed work has to go on at the plant.
Speaking to reporters here on his arrival, Srikumar Banerjee, chairman of the Atomic Energy Commission said: "Minimum maintenance activity should be carried out at the plant for its health and its future."
Citing the completion of the "hot run" -- a trial run of the reactor with dummy fuel, Banerjee said coolant water should not be allowed to stagnate.
Underscoring what Banjerjee said, an NPCIL official told IANS that once the hot run has been completed, the reactor systems have to be run continuously.
"If that is not done, then the entire parameters and safety measures have to checked all over again. The systems cannot be stopped and restarted. Decommissioning a reactor is different as one need not bother about the damages the systems would undergo after the plant is stopped," said the official, who spoke demanding anonymity.
On Sep 22, the Tamil Nadu government passed a resolution urging the Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and the central government to halt work at Kudankulam till the people's fears are allayed.
According to NPCIL officials despite the resolution, the Tamil Nadu government is keen on knowing the project progress as it would ease to a major extent the state's power crunch.
NPCIL officials told IANS that the state government had written to the company to take necessary measures to increase the power generation at the Madras Atomic Power Station (MAPS) located at Kalpakkam.
Meanwhile, the relay protest fast by the people against KNPP at Idinthakarai near Kudankulam continued for the 12th day Saturday.
"Around 500 people are there at the fast venue. People from Amalinagar and Alanthalai in Tuticorin district are on fast today (Saturday)," M. Pushparayan, convener of Coastal People's Federation, told IANS.
He said power supply at the venue has been cut since Friday night owing to rains and the activists are now managing the show with generators.