Although Parliament has passed the Civil Liability for Nuclear Damages Bill, the position of the Russian government and its companies vis-a-vis the Koodankulam nuclear power project has not been clarified.
Newspaper reports indicate that the Indian government and the Russian government signed an inter-governmental agreement in December 2008 secretively and Article 13 of which states: "The Indian side and its authorised organisation at any time and at all stages of the construction and operation of the NPP units to be constructed under the present agreement shall be the operator of power units of the NPP at the Kudankulam site and be fully responsible for any damage both within and outside the territory of the Republic of India caused to any person and property as a result of a nuclear incident occurring at the NPP."
All the parties concerned, viz. the Indian government, the Russian government, the Nuclear Power Corporation of India Limited, and the Russian companies such as Atomstroyexport are keeping a stoic silence about the above-mentioned murky deal. There is hardly any official word from any of them about the liability coverage for the Koodankulam plants I and II.
Besides this disturbing silence, the following issues increase our concerns and anxiety about the safety of the Koodankulam nuclear power project:
1. There were differences of opinion between the NPCIL authorities and the Russian officials over the exact site selection for the Koodankulam reactors 1 and 2. The Russians refused to accept the NPCIL's shifting the originally selected sites and refused to work with them. This was widely reported in the local press; but the whole affair was hush-hushed and settled secretly. Now the NPCIL authorities refuse to share the site evaluation study reports with the public and the media.
2. There are fears and doubts about the quality of the Russian equipment and supplies.
3. There are many unconfirmed reports about major fire accidents, construction problems, and even deaths of workers in the Koodankulam site. The project authorities neither confirm these reports nor deny them.
4. There are also apprehensions about the construction quality of the plant as some of the contractors and sub-contractors engage in malpractices.
5. The Koodankulam authorities have not shared any disaster management plans or preparations with the people of the southern districts of Tamil Nadu and Kerala. They do not reveal their plans about the possible displacement of people from the neighbouring villages of Koodankulam.
6. Furthermore, nobody in India seems to know anything about the financial dealings between the governments of India and Russia. How much money is borrowed from Russia, how it is all spent, what the interest rate is, what the repayment plan is, and if the whole project is financially viable and so forth. The government of India adopts a 'don't ask, don't tell' approach to the whole issue.
It is obvious that the government of India has not learnt any lesson from the Bhopal catastrophe and is ignoring the interests of the common people of India. The government is hell bent on serving the interests of foreign and domestic corporations, contractors, middlemen, and politicians.
We believe that nuclear energy is neither clean nor safe and has serious impact on the common people's right to life and livelihood. We cannot sacrifice our lives and resources and the best interests of our children and grandchildren to the corporate interests of Russia and India.
We, the people of Tamil Nadu and Kerala, have the right to know all about this dangerous situation. We demand complete transparency and accountability on all aspects of the Koodankulam Nuclear Power Project.
S P Udayakumar is an activist of the People's Movement against Nuclear Energy.