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Villagers of Idinthakarai in Tamil Nadu are on a relay fast since the last one week protesting the construction of the nuclear power project in neighbouring Koodankulam. Rediff.com's A Ganesh Nadar spoke to the man heading the protest, S P Udaykumar.
The Koodankulam nuclear power project has always in the news for all the wrong reasons. The project has been under construction for over a decade now and since January 2009 they have been threatening to go 'critical' every three months.
A nuclear plant going critical means production is ready to begin. However, the authorities sheepishly agree that because this is a new technology they are facing some problems.
Adding to their problems is the recent development that after ten years locals have decided that they don't want a plant there. Koodankulam is heavily protected by the Tamil Nadu police and the Central Industrial Security Force. They have also started an agitation to stop the plant becoming functional. The protests are being spearheaded by S P Udaykumar, who is a native of Nagercoil in neighbouring Kanyakumari district.
He is a teacher by profession and has travelled around the world. He is very eloquent about why he does not want the plant there and has documents and newspaper cuttings from over a decade to prove his arguments. He spoke exclusively to rediff.com at Idinthakarai, which is a neighbouring village of Koodankulam. There is a relay fast on at Idinthakarai since the last one week in protest of the Koodankulam nuclear power project.
S P Udaykumar explains why they are protesting against the nuclear plant.
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Is this the first project that you are opposing or have you opposed other projects as well?
My first protest was against naval bases in the Indian Ocean. All the big powers have naval bases in the Indian Ocean and all of them are heavily armed and nuclear powers. What if they start a nuclear war here? We will suffer for their foolishness. That is why we protested then. It started in my student days.
How long have you been involved in this agitation?
I came back from the United States in 2001. Since then I have been involved in this agitation. George Gomez, Dr Lal Mohan, Y David and I started this agitation.
This project has been on for the last 20 years, how come you are protesting for the last three months only?
We have been protesting from the very beginning and I have documentary proof of that. However, it has become prominent since the last three months mainly because of Fukushima, the Japanese nuclear disaster because of the tsunami there. People sat at home and watched on their TV sets how people fled from their homes.
That was due to the tsunami. We know that this place is protected by Sri Lanka in case a Tsunami strikes again.
This whole area was flooded. Two people died here. How can you say Sri Lanka protected this area?
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Are people worried because they participated in an emergency evacuation exercise?
Who said there was any evacuation drill here? There was none. They say all kinds of things. Srikumar Bannerjee, Atomic Energy Commission chairman, is telling an outright lie. No evacuation exercise was carried out here. You can go ask the villagers in Koodankulam.
Another thing is that people are fed up of the plant. For the last three years they have been saying we are starting and they have not been able to start the plant. Obviously something is very wrong with the plant. They have been building it for over ten years and they have still not finished.
The reason is that the components that came from Russia did not come in any proper order. The workers here were confused as to what to put where.
Secondly, I have spoken to contractors who worked here. They all admit that sub-standard material was used in construction. Even at that time there were protests. To shut them up the KNPP used to buy material from the very people who opposed them. Offering them business was in a way a bribe to make them stop protesting. Those people did not bother with the quality they supplied and the buyers were just happy that the protests had stopped.
If an independent group of civil engineers examined the plant the truth will come out.
No serious accident has taken place in any of our nuclear plants.
I agree that none have exploded, but accidents happen regularly. Last month there was a leak at Trombay but they covered it up. At Kalpakkam, people regularly die. Also, you are not even mentioning radiation that is released regularly. It affects people's health over the long term, so no one notices it. We call it slow poisoning. You know people refuse to eat fish from near Kalpakkam.
What else do you have against this plant?
Trombay is a small plant and so is every plant in India when compared to this. There are already two reactors for 2000 megawatts and they are planning four more. With all of them functioning they have the potential to supply electric current to the entire state and also the capacity to destroy South India.
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What do you suggest as an alternate? Don't we need the power badly?
Tamil Nadu has the potential for 10,000 megawatt of wind energy, we need only 8000 megawatt of energy; we can sell the rest.
What are your other objections?
Initially the Russians had identified two spots for the two reactors. These people dug up other places and changed the spot to suit their own convenience. The Russians were very angry but these people some how managed to pacify them and bring them back after they walked out of the project. This happened in 2001.
This area has volcanic ash - we tested the soil. They told us that volcanoes erupted here once upon a time. This is not acknowledged by the KNPP. Abhishekapatti has the same ash, I have seen it myself and that is not far from here. In 2003 there was a minor earthquake at Palayamcottai.
They are not telling us how much waste will be generated. What grade it will be and what they plan to do with it. You know, the half life of uranium is 24,000 years. How will they keep it safe for that long? Our future generations will be in danger. They are not telling us the cost of keeping the waste safe. They say they will decommission the plant in 40 years but they are not telling us how they will do it and what it will cost the nation.
The emissions will cause long term damage to the sea, land and ground water, and the air we breathe.
You are having a relay fast here, how does it work?
We have many villages supporting us. Every day a different village comes and fasts in protest. We sit with them. Today it is Periathalai, tomorrow it will be Ovary. Some people from Kerala have also come to support us. Dalit leader John Pandian has also come in support. This will go on for three weeks. Then we will think of the next step.
What about the loss of constructing the plant?
Raja (A Raja, former telecom minister) caused us a loss of 1.76 crores. Black money abroad is even more than that. This is comparatively a small loss and it will save our lives.
Also, the government is lying to us. They have lost our trust and they will pay for that.