Anti nuclear agitation – a case study in India

| by N.S.Venkataraman

(January 05, Chennai, Sri Lanka Guardian) Anti nuclear protestors have been getting publicity around the world disproportionate to their number; courtesy the media support. However, they have not been successful in halting the new nuclear projects though some projects have been stopped in USA and Austria. Number of nuclear projects have been steadily increasing every year with new projects now being planned in Middle East, Iran, Pakistan, Bangladesh, India apart from developed countries like USA and Russia.
Germany has advanced the date for suspending the operation of nuclear projects to 2020 but even in this case there are considerable doubts as to whether this would really happen, since German government has not so far evolved any convincing alternate energy plans. The alternate energy plans would be difficult for Germany, since in that case the anti nuclear protestors would be replaced by anti coal based thermal power project protestors. If such options would go away due to any reason, Germany may revert back to its nuclear power plants. 2020 is still far away and one has to wait and watch.
Koodankulam nuclear power project in India :
For the last three months, the commissioning of the Koodankulam nuclear power plant of capacity 1000MW with Russian collaboration in southern India could not be carried out due to agitation by the local people , demanding that nuclear plant should be scrapped. This is an interesting case study as to how Koodankulam nuclear plant is being halted , whereas the nuclear protestors in other parts of the world have not been able to do so in their respective regions.
Profile of the protestors in Koodankulam :
Koodankulam is a small rural area in the southern tip of India , largely inhabited by fishermen and most of them belonging to the Christian community.
Most of the protestors except perhaps the leaders of the movement belong to lower income group who do not know as to where their next meal would come from. The protestors include aged people some of whom live in orphanages and school children in the age group of 10 to 15. Certainly, these protestors cannot have the capacity to grasp the intricacies of the safety issues relating to installation and operation of nuclear power plants. They are really innocent people who would readily believe if someone would tell them that the women in the locality would become barren if the nuclear plant were to be commissioned.
Who lead the protest movement ?:
The local churches are playing a leading role in motivating the people to involve themselves in the protest and the priests in the church have done it openly and have not concealed their objections to the nuclear plant. It is repeatedly reported in the media that even during the mass in the churches, the local people have been advised to participate in the protest.
There are other leaders involved in the protest movement , who seem to be highly motivated and determined people with good international connections. They manage the media very well and constantly ensure that their voices are heard. Some of them have even attended the meetings organized by the pro nuclear group and disrupted the proceedings. All these matters have been widely reported in the media.
The unanswered questions :
Many people wonder as to how the protestors are able to sustain the movement for such a long time, particularly since large number of poor people are involved, who cannot afford to go without working even for a day to earn their income for survival. These poor people have been participating in the protest from dawn to dusk for several days .
Obviously, they have to be fed every day and also given transport facilities for travelling to the protest site from their dwellings which are several kilometers away in many cases. The question arises as to who finance the protestors.
The minister in the Government of India has openly said in the meetings that the protestors have been getting funds from abroad and Government of India says that it is investigating into their source of funds. The question is as to who would fund them and why should they fund them. These are all unanswered questions as on date leading to several speculations.
The public support ?:
While the local people have been protesting , it is not as if the protests have been widespread. There are large number of people in the province of Tamil Nadu , (with population of around 70 million ) where Koodankulam site is located, who demand that the Koodankulam project should be immediately commissioned , since the province is now facing acute power shortage, leading to closure of several industrial units.
Even in the areas near Koodankulam, there are many pro nuclear groups , who largely belong to Hindu community and it looks that the issue may be viewed on communal lines in the near future.
How are the protestors successful till date ?
India is having a federal system of administration with a government at the Centre and separate government in each province. The Koodankulam nuclear plant is being implemented by the Central government and the provincial government says that this project should not be commissioned , in view of the protest from the local people and until such time that the local people would be convinced.
Clearly, there is vote bank politics in this issue where the provincial government does not want to antagonise the local people, to ensure that it would not lose their votes in the elections. Some sections of the people demand that the protestors should be forcibly removed but the provincial government does not want to take this calculated risk and the central government cannot act without support of the provincial government.
The senior nuclear scientists in India with considerable reputation have been explaining about the safety standards of the Koodankulam nuclear plant and Government of India also constituted an expert committee to look into the matter and discuss with the protestors. Even the former President of India Dr.A.P.J Abdul Kalam who is a renowned scientist himself and a humanist with great popularity amongst the people and who hails from a place near Koodankulam area , visited the plant and explained to the local people about his satisfaction with regard to safety aspects. But, the protestors do not listen and are repeating the same questions and doubts.
In any case, the local people who protest in Koodankulam are not those who analyse the safety issues in Koodankulam and protest but are carried away blindly by the skillful campaign of their leaders, who appear to be sworn enemy of nuclear power.

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Author: Sri Lanka Guardian

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