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Mainstream, VOL LI, No 30, July 13, 2013

Kudankulam gets the Green Light, but...

Tuesday 16 July 2013

by Mikhail Matveyev

The Supreme Court gave the final nod to the commissioning of the Kundakulam Nuclear Power Plant (KKNPP) more than month ago. In its legal judgment the country’s highest judicial authority stressed that the KKNPP is safe and secure and it is necessary for the larger public interest and the nation’s economic growth. The Court judgment on this sensitive issue came in the wake of several months of contradictory anti-nuclear protests. Several independent voices raised concerns over the use of Western-sponsored NGOs in the abortive attempt to stop India’s nuclear progress. “Nuclear energy is now considered in India as a sustainable source of energy and India cannot afford to be a nuclear-isolated nation when most of the developed countries consider it is a major source of energy for their economic growth,” the Supreme Court eventually declared. It was truly a landmark and historic verdict.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has worked hard to cut India’s overdependence on oil from the Gulf region, destabilised by the US and NATO military interventions. Nuclear power plays a key role in New Delhi’s ambitions to secure an eight per cent growth rate over the next 25 years. On February 24, 2012 the Indian Prime Minister accused American and Scandi-navian NGOs and sectarian “Christian” groups of fuelling protests near the Kudankulam construction site. Three of the NGOs were using foreign funds received for social and religious purposes to fuel the protests, violating India’s foreign exchange regulatory rules. These NGOs use various smear-tactics and modern social technologies speculating on the environmental fears of the population. Behind the ignorant mob stand the dark figures of Western sponsors. However, their neocolonial mentality prevents them from understanding that India is capable of protecting its sovereign energy policy.

Kudankulam was constructed on a solid terrain keeping all the safety concerns in mind and under the supervision of top Indian experts. The KKNPP reactors, designed by Rosatom’s engineers, have a double-containment system which can withstand high pressure. Russian reactors are known to be highly stable: for example, the Bushehr facility, built by Rosatom specialists, successfully passed a harsh stress-test during the latest earthquake in Iran measuring 6.3 on the Richter scale. Enhanced safety measures would be implemented in due course. Eminent nuclear scientist and Principal Scientific Adviser to the Government of India R. Chidambaram has confirmed: “We have learnt lessons from the Fukushim nuclear accident, particularly on the post-shutdown cooling system.” Thus any allegation of “technical flaws” at the KKNPP should be regarded as the result of unfair business practice backed by the adversaries of India’s nuclear progress.

Russia, however, was the first nation to support India’s nuclear aspirations, despite international political pressure. Many nuclear experts in India remember US attempts to forestall the development of New Delhi’s peaceful nuclear programme. In the past the United States argued that the Kudankulam deal violated the non-proliferation guidelines, but suddenly dropped all such charges when American companies decided to enter the Indian market. Russia’s leading role in the Indian nuclear industry and Rosatom’s status of a reliable partner in Kudankulam still make many aggressive competitors and their associates in New Delhi restless.

But the problem is also within. A hot topic in India’s nuclear policy is the implementation of the so-called “Nuclear Liability Act” to the KKNPP project at the national level. Expensive interpretation of this law provides New Delhi with a legal pretext for unprecedented contract-tampering. In fact, it is an attempt to retrospectively burden the contractor with indemnity insurance (in the form of shared financial liability). Clause 7 of the Act establishes a dangerous precedent that may affect not only Russian projects but also the willingness of other foreign companies to take part in Indian tenders. It is unacceptable to change the rules of the game after it has already started. Casting doubts on bilateral nuclear cooperation between India and Russia may have a negative impact on their stratetic partnership.

Such initiatives are unheard of in good industry practice and contradict the spirit of mutual trust in Russian-Indian economic relations. It is still questionable whether this provision could be applicable in this particular case. Bargaining over details should not create long-term regulatory risks, because Kudankulam has finally become a vital part of India’s emergence as a state holding aloft the banner of clean energy.

Notice: A national lockdown underway in India due to the Corona Virus crisis. Our print edition is interrupted & only an online edition is appearing.