Rainy days for Kudankulam
The Times of India reported on Sunday that the Russian-built Kudankulam nuclear power plant is facing additional problems on account of heavy rainfall in Tamil Nadu. According to the report, around 40 to 60 personnel are finding it increasingly difficult “to keep systems functioning to ensure correct levels of ventilation, humidity and coolant circulation.”
Since the beginning of October, there has been a blockade of the plant by villagers, fishermen and so-called social workers in the area around Kudankulam. The blockade has been organised by the previously unheard of “People’s Movement Against Nuclear Energy,” which claims that the plant is unsafe. Adding to the confusion is the fact that the local church, of which many fishermen are patrons, supports the blockade.
The most common complaint about India from all sections of Indian society as well as foreign investors is about the poor infrastructure and power supply cuts in the country. Cities like Bangalore, the symbol of an aspiring India, face power cuts every single day and the multi-nationals in the city stock up on diesel for their back-up power generators. The situation in Tamil Nadu is not much better. Add to this the coal crisis in India that is causing thermal power plants to run at sub-optimal capacity, there is a great danger that India faces a severe power crisis that could derail its booming economy. States like Tamil Nadu had to buy expensive power from the short-term open market and overdraw from the national power grid to meet demand during the recently-concluded Diwali festival.
The Times of India report on Sunday cited an official at the plant as saying that the trouble at a time when the plant is “99.5% complete is creating a serious situation as the Kudankulam complex has to be kept humming with adequate care to ensure its sensitive computers are not adversely affected and its coolant remains in circulation.”
Construction of the plant in Tamil Nadu began in 1997 and one has to wonder where these protestors were all this time? Also, the large number of foreign activists at the blockade may indicate that there is a possibility of some vested interests. Who would be the likely beneficiaries from the closure of the plant and wastage of over US$ 3.5 billion? Certainly, not the general public of Tamil Nadu, who face power cuts every day.
It is heartening to know that Prime Minister Manmohan Singh is keen to see the nuclear plant operational at the earliest. Sources from the prime minister’s office told this reporter that infrastructure woes worried Dr Singh as much as the diplomatic embarrassment that a potential abandonment of the plant would cause.
Tamil Nadu is looking to position itself as an industrial and business hub for Southeast Asia. Both the Chennai and Ennore ports are being expanded so as to be able to handle container mother vessels. A free trade zone is being set up in Sriperumbadur. These initiatives have helped attract investment from companies such as Nissan and DHL. Uninterrupted power supply from the Kudankulam Plant would help these companies run their operations at an optimal level.
Reports from Tamil Nadu indicate that the government is negotiating with the church to change its position in order to influence the largely Christian fishing community to stop protesting. The groups are rallying around the safety issue, using the Japan card. If anything, the Fukushima-Daiichi disaster has put the impetus on nuclear plant operators to increase their focus on safety. RIR’s Alexandr Yemelyanekov highlighted the safety measures taken by the plant operator in this article
Since the authorities in India are not pushing the accelerator on solar energy and wind energy, the successful completion and operation of nuclear plants like Kudankulam should be given the highest priority to ensure sustained economic growth.