I have read with interest the article “Kudankulam Meltdown” by Latha Jishnu and others. Since it is based on a direct interaction with the people residing near the project site, it has authenticity.
I live in Visakhapatnam which is close to Kovvada where NPCIL is planning to set up another nuclear power complex. The Kudankulam experience is therefore relevant to people like me.
The local residents near Kudankulam are rightly worried about the potential dangers of the plant. It is not as though they have suddenly realised this because of the intervention of a foreign agency, as the government seems to make out. There have been local protests there since mid-eighties and DAE/ NPCIL chose not to take the people into confidence. NPCIL tends to maintain unnecessary secrecy about all its activities. There were safety audits conducted on all its existing plants. Even though PMO gave an assurance in April last year that the details of these audits and the action taken would be disclosed to the public, till date, no such disclosure is forthcoming. The so-called “public hearings” conducted by the local authorities, not only in the case of Kudankulam but also in the case of most industrial projects, are nothing but a farce.
Coming to the "foreign hand theory" , the government should know that if at all there is a foreign hand, it is there to see in the way it signed bilateral nuclear deals with US and other countries, the way it adopted a ridiculously low cap on nuclear accident liability that could be passed on to the reactor suppliers and the manner in which it framed rules to further dilute this provision, just to benefit the nuclear MNCs. Why did the government bypass competitive bidding procedures in placing orders for Kudankulam, Jaitapur, Kovvada and other plants? The fact that the foreign reactor suppliers are not willing to supply reactors without any such cap corroborates the fears of the people about the safety of nuclear power plants.
From Kovvada experience, I can say that NPCIL is once again keeping the people in the dark about their project. There are four danger zones, "exclusion", "sterilised", "emergency planning" and & "impact assessment" zones, extending up to 30 km around the project site. NPCIL has not only violated the RTI Act by not disclosing the names of the villages falling within these zones but has also not provided wide publicity among the residents in those areas.
Instead of trying to disseminate misleading information, DAE and NPCIL should take the people into confidence to allay their genuine fears, which incidentally got reinforced after Fukushima.
DAE is yet to learn lessons from Fukushima. In the latest Bill on nuclear regulatory authority, once again, DAE has tried to include provisions to neutralise the disclosure requirements under RTI Act! Ours is a democracy. DAE and NPCIL should be concious of it.
I hope that the first-hand narratives of Latha Jishnu and others will wake up DAE!