There’s something in the songs that children in and around Kudankulam sing: for whom is this nuclear power plant if the people for whom it is intended don’t want it? Idinthakarai and surrounding villages have vowed to not let a Fukushima happen here.S Senthalir firstname.lastname@example.org
Clad in a white embroidered top and brown skirt, 11-year-old Mahima sings from a green hard-bound notebook held in her hands. Death, she sings, has taken the form of Kudankulam Nuclear Power Project to destroy her village. She calls out to her people to unite in the fight against this “devil”.
In this small coastal village of Idinthakarai in Tirunelveli district, Tamil Nadu, children don’t sing the usual rhymes or film songs, but borrow their tunes and sing songs penned in protest against the nuclear project.
At the behest of the gathering, Mahima and her friends huddle on the ground near the Lourdes Matha Church — the venue of the relay fast against the Kudankulam Nuclear Power Project — to sing again. Every child in this coastal belt will tell you that they do not want Idinthakarai to be another Chernobyl or Fukushima; they ask the government why a project they do not want is being forced upon them.
On July 1, the protest’s 321st day, thousands, including children, gathered at Lourdes Matha Church. Representatives from over 20 organisations addressed the protesters, voicing solidarity with them.
Who told these kids about the dangers that the Kudankulam project poses? “No one,” says Mahima. “I composed these songs after 12 people went on indefinite fast. We learnt about the harmful effects of the nuclear power project on the environment by participating in the protest, watching news on TV and documentaries screened in our village.”
The first phase of the indefinite strike in Idinthakarai began on September 11, 2011. Then, women in the 20-28 age group organised campaigns at every college in their taluk to garner support against the commissioning of the nuclear plant. They submitted a memorandum to the district collector and held a press meet when 127 people went on an indefinite fast.
“We went to colleges along with our friends and spoke about the nuclear power plant,” 23-year old Shalini says. “After obtaining permission from the college principal, we took students on a rally to the district office shouting slogans in support of the people on hunger strike.”
The tipping point was a prohibitory order that was imposed on villages near the plant on March 19, 2012; that day the government cleared project though it had promised not to.
A massive force of 5,000 armed professionals was deployed. All roads leading to Idinthakarai were blocked; The supply of electricity, water and food to the village was cut for nearly two weeks.
A 29-year old fisherman, Sangeeth, recalled that people from neighbouring villages brought them essential goods by sea and provided them with food. “If it was not for their efforts, we would not have survived. This brought the villages in the area, which were otherwise always at fighting, together. We look out for each other now,” he says.
Following the prohibitory orders, sedition cases were filed against thousands of people here. A fact-finding team, headed by senior journalist Sam Rajappa, reported that between September and December 2011, the police had filed 107 FIRs against 55,795 people and ‘others’. Of these, 6,800 people were charged with ‘sedition’ and/or ‘waging war against the State’.
“People have been charged with at least 21 sections of the Indian Penal Code, including Section 121 (waging war against the Government of India) against 3,600 people, and Section 124A (sedition) against 3,200 people. The Kudankulam police station may have the dubious distinction of being the station where the largest number of ‘sedition’ and ‘waging war’ cases has been filed in the shortest time in the history of colonial and independent India,” the report stated.
Youngsters have been playing a major role in the protests. When Section 144 of the CrPC (unlawful assembly) was imposed, young men spent all night alerting villagers of the police action. They planted thorny bushes around the village periphery when there was a threat of the Coordinator of People’s Movement Against Nuclear Energy (PMANE) S.P. Udayakumar being arrested.
“The more than 13 days of prohibitory orders imposed on our village changed us completely. Instead of girls, our topics of discussion are now politics and environment. We screened documentary films on the damages caused due to nuclear plants in Chernobyl and Fukushima in seven villages near the plant, including Koothenkuly, Perumanal, Kootapanal, Kootapuli, Periyathalai, Kooduthaalai and Uvari. We plan to continue our campaign to create awareness among people about the environmental impact of the project,” says 23-year-old Vivek, a graphic designer. Vivek left his job in Chennai to support the campaign.
“The dissent against the nuclear plant continues, with more villages joining every day. Villagers from Koothenkuly, Kootapuli and Perumanal have also joined the relay fast,” says Sangeeth.
PMANE has pointed out that more than 1.2 million people live in nearly 150 villages and towns within a 30 km radius of the plant. This exceeds the Atomic Energy Regulatory Board’s stipulations. It is estimated that nearly 33,000 people live within the five-km sterilisation zone and it will be impossible to evacuate these people quickly in case of a nuclear disaster. PMANE submitted a memorandum to the Prime Minister in October last year. They say the government has not taken it into consideration.
Social activist Sathish Kumar, who was arrested and charged with waging war against the state for supporting the anti-nuclear protest, points out that no safety guidelines have been followed while setting up the nuclear power plant in Kudankulam. He adds that according to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), the site must not have experienced any volcanic eruptions in the last 10 million years.
The region around the Kudankulam project site had experienced minor volcanic tremors during 1998-2001 and the terrain has signs of past volcanic activity. A summary of the findings published in 16 research papers on volcanism near Kudankulam Nuclear Power Plant (KKNPP) on land and in the Gulf of Manna (GoM) was included in the report by the Expert Committee of PMANE on December 12, 2011. There were four volcanic eruptions within 32 to 75km from the Kudankulam reactor campus between 1998 and 2001. All eruptions occurred near electric poles. The first occurred on August 5, 1998 at Abhishekappatti, 60km northwest of Kudankulam, 45 days after the commission of the detailed project report (DPR) for KKNPP. The latest eruption occurred four months before the foundations were laid. All sites of eruption are located in the northwest-southeast regions.
“When the tsunami hit the region in December 2004, we were able to move everyone to a safe place. What has happened in Fukushima has added to our fears. We don’t want this to happen here. Why doesn’t the government understand this? It has become our duty to make people understand,” says Vivek.
Sixteen-year old Rossary Deepa adds, “This project will destroy our livelihood. We have seen how politicians betrayed us after winning the elections. We want to live here and will not stop the protest till they close the plant,” she asserts.
Here, youngsters are not only creating awareness about the environment, but also assist in village administration. They also plan to start a self-help group to assist women through a microfinance project. SP Udayakumar credits the women and children to be the driving force of this struggle. “It was their initiatives to get support from schools and colleges that pulled in thousands of youngsters and more women to this protest. We only coordinated the movement,” he explains.
As we waited at the bus stop to leave Idinthakarai after a two-day stay, some youngsters requested us to spread the message of their fight. “There must be people fighting for many issues in your state. Tell them about us. We want their support, too. People should know that there are many ways to generate power but not at the cost of people’s lives and livelihood,” says Sangeeth.
How it started?
The construction of the Kudankulam Nuclear Power Plant started in 1997, nearly a decade after Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi and Soviet Union President Mikhail Gorbachev signed an Inter-Government Agreement for the construction of the two reactors. Currently, two 1 GW reactors are being built by the Nuclear Power Corporation of India Limited (NPCIL) and Atomstroyexport. It is expected to be the largest nuclear power generation complex in India.
Protests against the project intensified after the March 2011 Fukushima nuclear disaster in Japan. Locals objected to the plant on the basis that more than 1 million people live within a 30-km radius of the powerplant, which far exceeds the Atomic Energy Regulation Board’s stipulations. A PIL has also been filed against it at the apex court. Scientists have stated that Kudankulam’s reactors are safe and the locals’ fears are unfounded. The Centre’s and Tamil Nadu government’s panels of experts which were set up to assess the vulnerability of the project gave it a clean chit.
Yarukkaaga Anuulai Yarukkaaga… Indha Anu ulai NasaAnuulai… Anuulai Tamil Inathai
Alzhikkum Anuulai…Maranamennum Thoodu Vandadu… Adu Anuulaiin Vadivil
Vandadu… Swargamaga Avan Ninaithathu Adu Naragamaga Marivittadu…
(For whom is this nuclear plant… this nuclear plant…
The plant that would destroy Tamil people…
The harbinger of death has come in the form of a nuclear plant…
He thought it was heaven but it has now turned into hell…)