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Tamil Nadu protest

February 22, 2012

With the disaster at the Fukushima nuclear plant in Japan still fresh in their minds, protests by villagers have forced the suspension of work at the Kudankulam Nuclear Power Project (KKNPP) in southern India.

A woman living near Kudankulam atomic plant holds a placard as she participates in an anti-nuclear protest in December
Image: AP

Villagers in the town of Kudankulam, around 650 km from the state capital Chennai, have hardened their stand against the construction of two atomic power reactors. They are not convinced by the government's repeated assurances of the safety of the upcoming atomic reactors.

Confrontation continues

The fears have been triggered by the March 11, 2011 earthquake and tsunami off the coast of Japan, which triggered a nuclear meltdown at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant. The tragedy led to thousands of deaths and the evacuation of over 350,000 people from their homes and continues to be a major ecological problem.

Earlier this week, a team of International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) team quietly inspected the reactor building and fuel storage facilities in Kudankulam, but farmers and villagers resorted to a 72-hour hunger fast - as they have done in the past - to protest against the inspection.

Arumugam, a farmer participating in the hunger strike, told Deutsche Welle, "We are not convinced by the verdict of the state expert panel that the plant is safe. We have not been talked to and that is why we have been protesting since September. We fear for our safety in case of any accident."

Robust grassroots movement

Smoke rises from one of the reactors at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station
Japan's nuclear disaster remains in the memory of manyImage: picture alliance / abaca

A six-month stand-off has delayed the commissioning of the plant which was slated in December last year. The movement, led by the People's Movement Against Nuclear Energy (PMANE) and village locals, is demanding the India-Russian collaborative project be scrapped.

"People's lives are much more precious than profits for foreign corporations. Nothing has been done to allay the fears and concerns of the people…in fact the authorities are just aggravating people's fears by hiding all the vital information about the project," S.P. Udayakumar, convener of PMANE told Deutsche Welle.

Bowing to demands from the protesters, the Tamil Nadu government finally passed a resolution late last year asking the central government to halt work on the plant until it assuaged the fears of the people.

Both the central and state governments have also set up two panels to interact with villagers and activists. But that is not enough for those who want the project done away with.

Confrontation continues

Atomic Energy Commission (AEC) Chairman Srikumar Banerjee dismissed apprehensions regarding safety of nuclear power plants in the country, as India conducted security inspections of all nuclear plants in the aftermath of the Fukushima incident.

"All atomic energy plants in the country are totally secured as per the international standards and are also capable of dealing with natural calamities like tsunami or earthquake," he told Deutsche Welle.

"These protests are all politically motivated," nuclear expert Dr. S Ramachandran told Deutsche Welle. "The plant is safe and I see no reason for them to continue with this unreasonable agitation. (The protests) will die down soon."

Whether or not the protesters can be convinced of nuclear safety remains unclear. But what is certain is that power cuts are on the daily agenda in Tamil Nadu, as the southern Indian state faces ongoing power shortages.

Author: Murali Krishnan
Editor: Sarah Berning