Protests waning, but fisherfolk wary
Slow spinning windmills dot the coastal village of Kudunkulam at Tamil Nadu’s southern tip. Nearby, the Indo-Russian nuclear power plant is picking up pace so that the first of its six units can start commercial production of 1,000 MW of electricity from March 2011.india Updated: Aug 28, 2010 22:43 IST
Slow spinning windmills dot the coastal village of Kudunkulam at Tamil Nadu’s southern tip. Nearby, the Indo-Russian nuclear power plant is picking up pace so that the first of its six units can start commercial production of 1,000 MW of electricity from March 2011. But the fishing community that lives here is increasingly concerned, not so much that an accident might occur but that they could be evicted.
At Idindakari village, tsunami victims, all living in 400 one-bedroom houses that an NGO built, are convinced that they will be shifted soon. “Already gun-toting security guards shoo us away from the vicinity when we go out fishing in the sea,” complains Anthony Michael, a 50-year old fisherman, pointing at plant’s two domes three kilometres away. Protests against the plant were vociferous when construction began in 2002. Now, they are sporadic and only a handful of activists participate. “We need electricity and development, but not poison,” says S. Udaykumar of the People’s Movement Against Nuclear Energy who is planning a demonstration outside the Tirnelveli collectorate on August 30. “We can’t take care of runways in airports, how can we take care of nuclear waste?” Inside the plant the mood is different. A day after Parliament passed the nuclear liability bill, officials were all smiles. “It will be the safest operation ever,” says site director M. Kasinath Balaji of the Nuclear Power Corporation of India Ltd that will operate the plant. “In India, 19 reactors are working and we have had not a single accident.”
“We are in the phase of commissioning the plant’s Unit 1. Plant equipment has been installed, all pipelines cleaned completely, pumps and motors tested, interlock checkings carried out,” he said. “Then, after the Atomic Energy Regulatory Board clearance, the next stage will be commercial production.”
Unit 2 is in an advanced stage of construction and the commercial production of power is scheduled from December 2011. Russia provides the design and supplies equipments and the Indian side constructs, commissions and operates the plant.
Officials have also been carrying out awareness programmes. They have taken panchayat presidents and councillors of about 40 surrounding villages on tours of this plant and others in Rajasthan and Gujarat. They are encouraging locals to bid for contracts for housekeeping and apply for jobs at the plant. “We protested earlier,” says Kudankulam Panchayat President Ezil Arasu. “But we then began to see the benefits.”