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Mainstream, VOL LI, No 32, July 27, 2013

Open Letter to PM and Tamil Nadu CM

Sunday 28 July 2013, by S G Vombatkere

Sir and Madam,

Today is a historic day for two wrong reasons. First, because on this day, July 16, 1945, the world’s first experimental nuclear explosion was conducted at Alamagorodo, USA, as a precursor to the next two nuclear experiments over Japan on August 6 and 8 on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. And second, for us in India, it immediately follows the Kudankulam nuclear power plant (KKNPP) going critical in contempt of the people’s well-founded fears for safety and health through calculated intransparency to the questions and issues raised by them. Further, the KKNPP has gone critical without due regard to public safety, by (•) violating Supreme Court’s direction for NPCIL’s compliance with installation of all AERB-prescribed safeguards following the Fukushima nuclear disaster, (•) not investigating the possibility of having incorporated substandard critical components or systems, and (•) not conducting tests to authenticate the reliability of critical reactor control data transmitted through signal cables which were incorporated as an afterthought (obviously due to technical and managerial incompetence) by breaking the concrete containment structure.

Our Department of Atomic Energy (DAE) argues that all safety precautions have been taken by well-qualified departmental scientists and engineers before taking the KKNPP to criticality. But I am sure you will agree that the public, even if they accept the scientific and technical qualifications of the DAE staff, is not convinced of their professional or financial integrity. This serious deficit of public trust is because the DAE’s response to cogently argued questions and doubts regarding safety is calculated official intransparency at best, and suppression of facts or worse.

You may kindly note that in a letter dated May 13, 2013 addressed to the Chief Ministers of Tamil Nadu and Kerala with copies to the PMO and Secretary DAE, many responsible Indian scientists and engineers, writing in their personal capacities regarding the KKNPP, ”are of the opinion that when dealing with complex and potentially dangerous technologies, transparency, honesty and a rigorous adherence to the highest quality standards are imperative”, and ”Any exercise to assure oneself of the quality of components used will have to be done before the plant iscommissioned. Once commissioned, the radioactive environment in sections of the plant will make it impossible to access and test some potentially critical components”. But the many public demands for transparency, proof of adherence to prescribed quality standards of material and system testing and functioning, and adherence to environmental law, have been consistently brushed aside or stonewalled.

The NPCIL was to file a report before the Supreme Court before final commissioning of the KKNPP, certifying that each and every aspect of safety including environmental impacts, have been taken care of. But the DAE has rushed to push the KKNPP to criticality, neatly side-stepping the Court directions by filing the report in a sealed envelope on Saturday July 13, so that it would not be seen by the Court before Monday, July 15, making reactor criticality a fait accompli. All this could not and would not have been done without political-technocratic directions at the highest level at state and centre, to get the KKNPP functional at any cost.

The foregoing is quite apart from the voices of people who live near around the KKNPP, who have been continually and peacefully objecting to the KKNPP ever since construction began in the late 1980s. Their fears about health and safety have been heightened after the Fukushima nuclear disaster in March 2011. But the State Government’s reaction to public protests has been to suppress dissent by ordering the police to register criminal cases including charges of sedition and waging war against the state, against hundreds of the peacefully protesting people, apart from traditional, time-tested colonial methods like threats, physical brutality and false arrests.

In pushing the KKNPP to criticality before democratically and transparently addressing concerns regarding safety, health and financial costs and nuclear accident liability, the direct responsibility of the Prime Minister of India who heads the DAE, and the Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu, is total. This is mentioned to state the enormity of the decision to press ahead with commissioning the KKNPP, and the possible verdict of irresponsibility from future generations who will have to pay the costs in terms of health and genetic disorders, and also loss of lives, land and sea-based livelihoods due to radioactive fallout.

Maj Gen S.G. Vombatkere (Retd.)

475, 7th Main Road

Vijaynagar Ist Stage,

Mysore-570017

Tel: 0821-2515187

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