The Tamil Nadu government, in a sudden reversal of policy, has cleared the nuclear plant in Kudankulam. But thousands of villagers in this coastal part of the state remain on protest, defying state instructions. Last night, more than 180 people were arrested, including 15 activists who were leading their seven-month-long movement. They have been charged with sedition and waging war against the country.
Section 144 which bans groups of people from gathering in public places has been announced in and around Kudankulam.
Nearly 3000 policemen including the Rapid Action Force (RAF) have been deployed in and around the plant, which is trying to get back to work. For months, the protests made it impossible for scientists and engineers to report to the plant. Now, 300 of them have been escorted inside.
Activists and villagers say they are not convinced that the nuclear plant, being set up at a cost of 13,000 crores, is safe. When it is completed, this will be India's largest power-generating complex. A pair of two 1,000 megawatt reactors will kickstart production. When all six reactors are operational, they will solve Tamil Nadu's massive power shortage.
The protesters, mostly fishermen from three districts, are worried that the seaside plant may damage the ecosystem with nuclear waste and ruin their livelihoods.
Last year' Fukushima Nuclear Plant Disaster in Japan is cited often by those who have galvanized the villagers against the Kudankulam project. Dr SP Udhaykumar has been at the frontline of the movement. He is on an indefinite hunger strike. "People within 30km radius of the Kudankulam plant have not been given any disaster training," he said.
"Without doing this, they cannot load the nuclear fuel....the Central Government and the State Government would be held liable for this criminal activity if they decide to load the fuel rods without preparing the people," he added.
The Department of Atomic Energy has declared that the plant meets all international safety guidelines. After Chief Minister J Jayalalithaa objected to the nuclear power project in October, the Prime Minister deputed a senior minister to meet villagers and answer their questions about security. Technical experts were also deputed to study the plant. The Prime Minister's recent remarks that protests against Kudankulam were possibly receiving foreign funding provoked much anger among NGOs.
Ms Jayalalithaa had also commissioned her own panel of experts to study the plant. Her clearance for the project yesterday came right after an important by-election in the Tirunelveli district, where the plant is located. In an attempt to pacify the area, she announced a 500 crore package to improve roads and infra-structure in the area.