Chennai: In a significant U-turn, the Tamil Nadu government led by J Jayalalithaa today gave its go-ahead to the vexed Kudankulam nuclear power project in the state. The controversial plant, which had been staunchly opposed by Ms Jayalaithaa so far, was dubbed as safe by an expert committee set up by her government to look into the safety aspects of the project.
"In accordance with (today's) cabinet decision, immediate steps will be taken (to facilitate commissioning) of the plant," Chief Minister Jayalalithaa said in a statement. She further added, "There is no risk of an earthquake or tsunami and the plant (had) best safety features." Her nod to the project is significant given the fact that she had had so far been staunchly opposed to resumption of work at the disputed site till the apprehensions of the locals were not addressed. Towards that end, she had also written several times to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. Villagers around the plant site as well as activists alike have expressed fears and concerns over a nuclear catastrophe on the lines of the one at the Fukushima nuclear plant in Japan early last year. They have also been protesting near the plant for nearly six months now.
But Ms Jayalalithaa today, in an attempt to assuage the fears, said the cabinet had examined the reports of panels of both the central and state governments as well as the memorandum submitted by those opposed to the atomic power plant. She said that the water from the plant would not endanger marine ecology or affect the livelihood of fishermen. The central government's expert panel had answered the doubts of the locals about the plant.
The state government also allotted Rs 500 crore for local area and infrastructure development - a cold storage to store fish catch, construct houses, laying of roads and repairing mechanised fishing boats of local fishermen.
Interestingly, the decision came just a day after completion of polling at Sankarankoil, which falls in the district of Tirunelveli where the plant is situated.
Meanwhile, police arrested 10 anti-Kudankulam protesters with the government changing its stance on the project. One of the activists, S P Udayakumar, told reporters that the agitation against the project would continue despite "the betrayal of our trust by the state government".
The Rs. 13,000-crore Kudankulam Nuclear Power Plant (KNPP) is being built with Russian collaboration and is expected to provide respite from the power shortage problem in the state. But the Indo-Russian joint venture has run into serious trouble with activists and locals staging massive protests citing safety concerns. As a result of these frequent protests, the commissioning of the two 1000 megawatt nuclear reactors at the plant had been stalled. Several rounds of talks between the Central government-appointed expert panel and representatives of villagers opposing the plant have failed to end the stand-off.
(With IANS inputs)