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'You cannot play with people's lives'

By A GANESH NADAR
February 28, 2022 09:54 IST
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'They are taking the people of the country for granted.'

IMAGE: The Kudankulam nuclear power project in Tamil Nadu. All Photographs: Adnan Abidi/Reuters

The Nuclear Power Corporation of India Limited has decided to store the spent nuclear fuel at its plant in Kudankulam, Tirunelveli district, southern Tamil Nadu.

According to an earlier agreement, the spent fuel was to be sent back to Russia which supplies the fuel.

Tamil Nadu Chief Minister M K Stalin has written to Prime Minister Narendra Damodardas Modi objecting to this. The spent fuel should be sent back to Russia as per the original agreement, Stalin wrote. or alternately suggested that the spent fuel may be stored in a Deep Geological Repository (DGR) in an uninhabited and ecologically non-sensitive area.

S P Udayakumar led the People's Movement Against Nuclear Energy against the Kudankulam nuclear power project for many years before the KNPP commenced operations. After that he formed the Pachai Tamilagam party which fights for a clean environment.

"The Department for Atomic Energy is not a democratic institution. There is no accountability, no transparency and no popular participation," Udayakumar tells Rediff.com's A Ganesh Nadar.

 

In the original agreement the spent nuclear fuel from units 1 and 2 was to be sent back to Russia. How and when did the terms change to AFR (away from reactor) for the subsequent units?

In 1997 was the first agreement which said that the spent fuel would be sent to Russia.

In 1998 there was another sub-agreement which changed it to AFR.

At that time they said it was a source of fuel so it should be here.

Who took the decision, and what were the factors?

Nobody knows and nobody was told. The Department for Atomic Energy is not a democratic institution.

There is no accountability, no transparency and no popular participation.

Was a study undertaken before the decision was taken?

Nobody knew about it and nobody challenged it.

Was the Tamil Nadu government consulted before this decision was taken?

I don't think so.

Why is Russia not taking back the spent fuel?

I think it is because it is very laborious, dangerous and not worth it.

When they bring fuel here, there is no risk because it is not hot, so not radioactive.

Spent fuel is hot, radioactive and cumbersome. Cooling is very difficult and takes very long.

What options does the government have in disposing off spent nuclear fuel?

The spent nuclear fuel can be kept in a spent fuel pool for seven years. After that it can be kept in an AFR for 75 years.

They are taking the people of the country for granted. A DGR has to be built.

That is the only option. You cannot play with people's lives.

How do other countries handle their spent fuel?

Germany has a DGR at Asse2. I have seen it. It is 650 metres deep. Even there I saw water seeping.

The United States has one in the Yucca mountains.

Has any study been undertaken about the hazards of storing spent fuel?

There must be. I am not aware about it. The AFR has a control room to keep an eye on any hazard. Any leakage is a hazard.

IMAGE: Demonstrators stand in their boats in the Bay of Bengal during a protest near the Kudankulam nuclear power project, October 8, 2012.

They are also mentioning uninhabited areas, but most of our uninhabited areas are forests. Will this not be dangerous to animals and the environment there?

They have to put it in a desert and people will have to avoid going there.

They could also look for an uninhabited island in the Andaman Nicobar area.

Tamil Nadu Chief Minister Stalin has objected to the AFR storage. If the central government over=rules him, what are the options?

The Tamil Nadu Pollution Control Board can refuse to give permission.

When they planned to store the spent fuel in the Kolar gold mines, the (then) Karnataka chief minister refused and they dropped the idea.

The Deep Geological Repository, which is another option, actually means a very deep hole in the earth. How safe will that be you think?

It is not 100% safe. Even in Germany it was leaking.

The fuel after being used is cooled before being stored around the world. How safe is this storage?

It cannot be cooled completely. Even in the AFR it will be hot and radioactive.

For the environment, nuclear energy is supposed to be the safest energy, but you have always opposed nuclear energy. Why?

That is because for a nuclear power plant all the building material are highly polluting.

The spent fuel is also a pollutant.

The choice is for polluting the air or poisoning the environment.

If the central government goes against the wishes of the Tamil Nadu government and goes ahead with storing the spent fuel in Kudankulam, will you be reviving your agitation?

Of course! There is no question about it. I will stand with the people.

IMAGE: Demonstrators shout slogans while standing in the waters of the Bay of Bengal during a protest near the Kudankulam nuclear power project.

Who do you think is at fault for this confusion, about sending it to Russia and then deciding to store it here: Is it the fault of the Russians or is it our fault?

I think it is our fault because in the first agreement the Russians had agreed to take it back.

Before changing that, they did not even discuss it in Parliament.

What do you think is an amicable solution to this problem?

We have to institute an enquiry into the functioning of the first two reactors and find out why they are shut down so frequently.

We have to look at the cost analysis of all foreign reactors.

We have to plan a DGR according to international standards.

We have to have a blueprint. Till then they have to stop all expansion of nuclear plants.

Feature Presentation: Aslam Hunani/Rediff.com

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