Protests against the Kudankulam nuclear plant continue unabated as thousands of fishermen today laid siege to the port at Tuticorin, demanding the closure of the controversial plant.
Nearly thousand fishing boats have blocked entry to the Tuticorin harbour, which is situated around 60 miles away from the nuclear power plant. The loading of nuclear fuel, which is on at one of the reactors at the Kudankulam plant, has not in the least dented the determination of the protesters, all fishermen hailing from the districts of Tuticorin, Kanyakumari and Tirunelveli - where the plant is located. "Fishermen in Kudankulam and surrounding districts are protesting over the last 400 days, but the government is not listening and we will have to resort to these kind of protests," said a fisherman.
These fishermen are worried that the plant, once commissioned, will destroy their livelihood. Subash Fernando, Spokesperson of the Agitation Committee, says, "Once the plant is commissioned, the radiation from it would disqualify our catch for export to the European market, and even if nuclear fuel is loaded, it's not too late to stop it".
Two expert committees appointed by the government have found the plant to be safe, dubbing public fears unfounded. Tamil Nadu Chief Minister J Jayalalithaa, who initially supported the cause of the movement, later did a U-turn, citing that the project could bring relief to the state which is reeling under a severe power shortage.
Around a lakh and half people, who live in the vicinity, are opposed to the plant. "If India believes in democracy, the government should listen to the people. If Japan could have a Fukushima disaster, imagine what could happen in India which was also hit by a tsunami not long ago," said a villager.
Presently, the Supreme Court is hearing a petition that challenges the go-ahead given to the nuclear plant. Petitioners cite that the plant is yet to incorporate 11 of the 17 safety recommendations made by a government task force after the Fukushima disaster. However, the atomic energy department claims these are only enhanced safety features which would be implemented in phases.
At Idinthakarai - ground zero for the protests - just three kilometres away from the plant, around four to five thousand villagers are continuing their protest demanding the closure of the plant. Two weeks ago, around 10 thousand people marched towards the plant in a bid to lay siege; police opened tear gas and resorted to lathicharge to disperse the crowd.
A non-bailable warrant has been issued against SP Udhayakumar, the face of the movement, as he failed to honour a court summon. He says "the government is trying to project them as the most wanted terrorists".
The Kudankulam power plant is the first nuclear project to near completion after the Fukushima disaster. Some countries like Germany have decided to turn away from nuclear energy and the international community is keenly watching how India handles the rising opposition to the project.