KKNPP Goes Critical
S G Vombatkere
July 16, 1945 was historic because the world's first experimental nuclear explosion was conducted at Alamagorodo, USA, as a precursor to the new two nuclear experiments over Japan on 6 and 8 August on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. And July 16, 2013 was historic for India because it immediately followed the Koodankulam Nuclear Power Plant (KKNPP) going critical in contempt of people's well-founded fears for safety and health through calculated intransparency to the questions and issues raised by them. KKNPP has gone critical without due regard to public safety, by violating Supreme Court's direction for NPCIL's compliance with installation of all AERB-prescribed safeguards following the Fukushima nuclear disaster, not investigating the possibility of having incorporated substandard critical components or systems, and not conducting tests to authenticate the reliability of critical reactor control data transmitted through signal cables which were incorporated as an after-thought (obviously due to technical and managerial incompetence) by breaking the concrete containment structure.
The Department of Atomic Energy (DAE) argues that all safety precautions have been taken by well-qualified departmental scientists and engineers before taking KKNPP to criticality. But the people, even if they accept the scientific and technical qualifications of DAE staff, are not convinced of their professional or financial integrity.
In a letter dated 13 May 2013 addressed to the Chief Ministers of Tamil Nadu and Kerala with copies to the PMO and Secretary DAE, many responsible Indian scientists and engineers, writing in their personal capacities regarding KKNPP ‘‘are of the opinion that when dealing with complex and potentially dangerous technologies, transparency, honesty and a rigorous adherence to the highest quality standards are imperative’’ and ‘‘Any exercise to assure oneself of the quality of components used will have to be done before the plant is commissioned. Once commissioned, the radioactive environment in sections of the plant will make it impossible to access and test some potentially critical components’’.
NPCIL was to file a report before the Supreme Court before final commissioning of KKNPP, certifying that each and every aspect of safety including environmental impacts, have been taken care of. But DAE has rushed to push KKNPP to criticality, neatly side-stepping the Court directions by filing the report in a sealed envelope on Saturday 13 July, so that it would not be seen by the Court before Monday 15 July-making reactor criticality a fait accompli. All this could not and would not have been done without political-technocratic directions at the highest level at state and centre, to get KKNPP functional at any cost. The people who live near around KKNPP, have been continually and peacefully objecting to KKNPP ever since construction began in the late 1980s. Their fears about health and safety have been heightened after the Fukushima nuclear disaster in March 2011. But the state government's reaction to public protests has been to suppress dissent by ordering police to register criminal cases including charges of sedition and waging war against the state, against hundreds of the peacefully protesting people, apart from traditional, time-tested colonial methods like threats, physical brutality and false arrests.
In pushing KKNPP to criticality before democratically and transparently addressing concerns regarding safety, health and financial costs and nuclear accident liability the direct responsibility of the Prime Minister of India who heads DAE, and the Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu, is total. This is mentioned to state the enormity of the decision to press ahead with commissioning KKNPP, and the possible verdict of irresponsibility from future generations who will have to pay the costs in terms of health and genetic disorders, and also loss of lives, land and sea-based livelihoods due to radioactive fallout.
Vol. 46, No. 6, Aug 18-24, 2013
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