Who They Are?

Nuclear Power and Neocolonization

S P Udaykumar

[Following is a slightly shortened version of the second Prof Avi Dutta Mazumdar Memorial Lecture delivered recently in Kolkata by S P Udaykumar, noted campaigner of Kudankulam Anti-Nuclear Movement.]

India is undergoing recolonization, and one of its major aspects is nuclear colonization in the name of energy and national security. This is taking place despite widespread concerns about the dangerous fallouts of nuclear power generation, operational risks of imported reactors and waste management, which can be devastating as people have seen in the 1986 Chernobyl and 2011 Fukushima disasters. International experts have warned about the adverse impact of the nuclear power industry on climate change, in addition to the wanton abuses of conventional energy resources. As such, many Western countries, for example, Germany, are abandoning nuclear power in view of its ecological, social and financial costs.

But Narendra Modi-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government is pursuing its predecessor Manmohan Singh-led UPA government's nuclear policy more brazenly. The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government is worse than the Congress regime. This government refuses to listen to the voices from the ground. It is aggressively signing agreements with foreign powers to nuclearize the country's entire 7,500-km long coastline in complete disregard to the fishermen and other nature-dependent peoples' lives and livelihood. The Centre wants to dot the country with nuclear parks, which will reportedly house 68 reactors.

Manmohan Singh didn't care for the sovereignty of the nation, nor does Modi. Singh cozied up to former US President George W Bush by solemnizing the nuclear deal when the Bush's public rating was at its lowest at home. The Congress-led government inked the Indo-US nuclear agreement and a deal with the United Kingdom, calling them an example of give-and-take relationship between two countries. The colonizers continue their loot while people continue to lose. Indian government absolved the foreign nuclear reactor supplier corporations of liabilities in case of accidents in N-power plants under US pressure. Isn't it ridiculous that they ask for warranties from the makers of domestic pressure cookers but not for the nuclear reactors worth of hundreds of crores of rupees?

So secretive and unaccountable is central atomic energy establishment that even the Indian parliament does not debate the nuclear sector or the technocracy that runs it, irrespective of whether it aims to generate "peaceful" power or make nuclear bombs. In truth, the two are inseparable. The nation cannot attain military or energy security by nuclear means. No one answers the questions on food security of millions of people and the pressing need of public health, sanitation and human dignity.

Why this secrecy? If the government is so confident, why is it not sharing the reports on the safety and security of the existing and upcoming nuclear power plants, as well as those on their social and environmental costs with the public? The Central Information Commissioner had asked the Nuclear Power Corporation Ltd to share its reports with the public. But the NPCL went to court opposing it.

How can a single man, the prime minister and a Delhi-based technocratic clique under him decide the fate of more than one billion people? Why a handful of people who care only for corporate profiteering and professional careers are allowed to speak for the nation? Political leadership and technocrats have never respected the common man's intelligence and hunger for knowledge. But people understand science and technology when it concerns their lives and livelihood.

That is why anti-nuclear movement is demanding "People's Security" instead of superficial national security. Modis and Manmohans, Ambanis and Adanis are not the nation. It's the hundreds of millions of Indians who comprise the nation. At every level that people's development is as different from the state-corporate development model as is people's science from the technocratic science.

Let all the people's movements demand together : all major development projects and all decisions affecting the lives of people must be based on their consent; that people living in the neighborhood of a project-site must have a decisive say regarding the setting-up of any project.

For one thing the government and opposition are washing the dirty linen of each other at every public forum. Yet nobody talks about the huge corruption and plunder of the national exchequer through the ever-escalating costs of nuclear power projects, including the one at Kudankulam. The initial cost of the first two reactors in Kudankulam of Rs 13,000 crore has gone up by another Rs 4,000 crore. Now they are planning to commission two more reactors, which will cost Rs 45,000 crore.

The mind-boggling jump, it is said, is due to the liability clause in the new bill that aims at implementing the UPA-era deal with the US and its allies. The bill entrusts a national corpus by public sector life insurance companies to take care of the affected population in case of accidents in N-plants and natural calamities. Which means Indian taxpayers will have to pay through their nose for the faults of foreign suppliers.

It benefits the Russians too. They are charging more for Kudankulam. Dr APJ Abdul Kalam, India's venerated "missile man"–turned–"people's President" and son of the soil of coastal Tamil Nadu who passed away recently, had certified the Kudankulam-plants as the "best in the world".

Well, the showpieces, K-l/ll reactors are not delivering even after the government commissioned them with much pomp. The newly installed plant now needs replacements and repairs, because they have been made of substandard materials, which smack of huge corruption.

The latest deal by the Modi government assures that American N-reactor suppliers, which are mammoth corporations, will not be held responsible for any operational disaster in India. Their employees would be allowed to leave India in the same way that the Rajiv Gandhi government made room for Union Carbide chief Warren Anderson to escape after the Bhopal Gas disaster in 1984. The tragedy is that the people of Bhopal are still suffering and will continue to suffer for generations to come.

Nuclear disasters are far more dangerous. Japan, one of the world's richest and most technologically advanced countries, is yet to cope with the fallouts of Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant whose reactors were hit by the 2011 tsunami. (Recent reports show unnatural changes in daisy blossoms in Fukushima, suggesting genetic deformity due to radioactivity-induced malignancy). What happens if a tsunami hits nuclear power plants along the Indian coastline, including those in Kudankulam, located at geographically vulnerable points and which escaped 2004 tsunami by the whisker?

The Atomic Energy Regulatory Commission is responsible for nuclear safety. But the AERC is by no means an independent supervisory body. Instead, it is an integral part of a highly confidential nuclear establishment which is answerable to the prime minister alone. The Public Accounts Committee of the Parliament has said: the country's N-safety and security system is fraught with many dangers.

What about the nuclear waste? The N-waste is not kitchen waste, which can be dumped in neighborhood vats. The Supreme Court was told that the Kudankulam wastes would be disposed at defunct Kolar mines in Karnataka. The Supreme Court did not ask the government or its nuclear mandarins about waste management. But people of Karnataka rose up against the government plan to foil it.

Now, even the Western governments are talking about non-polluting, non-perilous alternative energy like solar and wind power. The coastline around Kudankulam is dotted with huge windmills. Why the central and state governments and their pampered bureaucrats and technocrats are not focusing on investments for augmenting wind power and other renewable energy sectors?

Instead of listening to voice of the people, as democratic principles demand, the Centre and Tamil Nadu state government together have unleashed an unprecedented onslaught to crush the peaceful democratic movement launched by the local fishing community and other affected people. Not only the leaders but also the hundreds of ordinary men and women have been charged with sedition, waging war against the state, rioting and other criminal offences. Police resorted to lathicharge and firing, killing some of anti-nuclear supporters. Waves of arrests, illegal detentions, police harassment and impounding of passports have been made to browbeat and break people's spirit. Agitationists have been branded anti-national and anti-development.

Not only the Congress and the BJP, but also most political parties in India support N-bombs and N-power. Even those who make a distinction between the two, consider N-power safe and cheap, hence acceptable. Some people who support Anti-Nuclear Movement, but within closed doors, do not voice their concerns in public fearing they would be branded anti-national. There are some regional parties that are turncoats, because they support grassroots resistance while they are in the opposition but reveal their true color when they come to power. In Tamil Nadu, for instance, Jayalalitha made sympathetic noises for the anti-nuclear movement when she was out of power but changed her tune after she won the state elections. Karunanidhi's DMK has been no different.

The mainstream Left parties have been disappointing. Their theorizations problematize the neo-liberal model but offer no clear alternative to the corporate development agenda. CPI-M theoretician Prabhat Patnaik and his likes criticized Kudankulam Anti-Nuclear Agitation for opposing N-power because they think it is essential for safe and peaceful development. The CPI-M has a queer way of thinking. It opposes Indo-US N-deal but supports the Kudankulam nuclear project just because the reactors are from Russia. Yet it doesn't want N-power plants in Kerala!

Vol. 48, No. 10, Sep 13 - 19, 2015