Why the Kudankulam protesters have it all wrong

By Kaipullai

Ever since a guy named Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi walked on Indian soil, protesting has been the way of life here. While Gandhi protested against the British, we protest against everything. To give you an example, when the Mumbai police recently cracked down on auto guys with tampered meters, there was a protest and a strike!

I don’t think there can be a more ridiculous protest than that. Or at least I thought, till the Kudankulam protest came along.

Honestly, I tried really hard to contemplate the reasons for this protest. But the more I think about it, more I feel there is something terribly wrong.

Why protest against a Power Plant, when Tamil Nadu is a woefully power deficient state?

Tamil Nadu, as a state, has never been flush with electricity. During my engineering days, my University was subjected to a daily power cut of two to three hours. That too, bang in the middle of the blazing afternoon. I used to sometimes wonder, whether this was a cunning plan by the Electricity board to ensure students like me, instead of dozing off in our rooms, attended afternoon classes (The classrooms had generator back-up).

Well, the reason was far simpler than that. The power situation, even back then, was dire. This was in 2006.

That is when, Tamil Nadu decided to go for big ticket industrialization.

While pitching the whole, ‘Tamil Nadu is an industrial destination’, to the rich people, TN state planners overlooked a very tiny fact of life. The fact that industries need something called, ‘Electricity’.

Which explains why, even though new industries were being added at the pace of a Chris Gayle innings, augmenting the state’s creaking electricity generating capacity was totally forgotten. I say creaking, because the bulk of Tamil Nadu’s power, needed for the new and the existing industries still came from its three oldest plants, the Neyveli Lignite Corporation (NLC), Tuticorin Power Plant and the nuclear power station at Kalpakkam.

The youngest power plant amongst these, the Madras Atomic power station, was established in 1985.

Now, these new TN industries were not your small cute cottage ones, which had miniscule power requirements. They were your big bad-ass ones, like automobiles, electronics, textiles etc-- the Hummers of the power consumption world. The ones that consumed 100’s of MWs, just to remain idle.

The inevitable had to happen.

In 2011, when these new industries got ready to roll, Tamil Nadu’s total power requirement jumped to 12,000 MW. As the rulers had forgotten to add to the state’s existing electricity generation capacity, the total power output stood at 9000 MW’s.

Power Generation in TN --- Power Requirement in TN = - 3000 MW.

 Why the Kudankulam protesters have it all wrong

Jayalalithaa meets with PMANE protesters. PTI

You know the state is in trouble, when there is a minus before that figure. Because, it means, Tamil Nadu has a power deficit of 3000 MW. There is no power left in Tamil Nadu. You can find details of the apocalyptic power situation in Tamil Nadu, here. 

Now, to account for that huge deficit in power and balancing the requirements of the industry with that of the aam janta, the electricity guys started something, called the ‘load-shedding activity’.

This meant statewide power cuts for 3-8 hours. Everyday, including bank holidays.

Now you know why your granny can’t watch her favorite afternoon serial. And you have to suffer horrible power cut jokes on your FB/Twitter timeline.

To sum it up, Tamil Nadu today, does not have power and is heading for a complete catastrophe. And the only thing that can save it, is a superhero, whose superpower is to generate unlimited electricity.

Enter the Kudankulam Nuclear Power Plant.

If you did not know, Kudankulam was built with Russian help. And, Russia isn’t exactly known for its subtlety. So, in true, Russian style, they helped us build a reactor complex, which has four reactors. And when commissioned will generate a total of 10,000 MegaWatts of Power.

And of the four, two are ready.

These two reactors, if started, will instantaneously transform Tamil Nadu, from a beggar to a millionaire as far as power is concerned. For the common man, this will mean no more load shedding, no more missing afternoon TV. It will enable students to rediscover the lost tradition of the afternoon nap. The industry will begin to function at peak capacity finally, resulting in the progress and prosperity of Tamil Nadu.

And of course, it will once and for all solve the power crisis in Tamil Nadu.

So, why protest against something that is going to solve the state's most critical problem?

More importantly, why protest now?

The construction of the Kudankulam Plant started in 1988

The Kudankulam power plant is quite big. This is not some small time, illicit kallusarayam factory that blossomed overnight. They have been building this thing for 24 damn years. Right there, in Kudankulam. Under the eyes of most of the protesters. For 24 years.

Just to give you an idea on how long it has been; the initial survey for the Kudankulam plant was not done by Russia but by the Soviet Union, whose Premier was Mikhael Gorbachev. When the site was finally decided, Rajiv Gandhi was still alive. And, Sachin Tendulkar was a talented 17-year-old who was just pitchforked into the Indian team, before he had played a Ranji Trophy match.

My question to the protesters is, what were you doing all this while? Waiting for Sachin to score 100 hundreds?

Sure, some people will point out that there were protests against the plant, since 1987.  But those were your little protests, protests that happen in India everyday.

If you happened to read that link, the biggest protest against the plant, had a grand total of 150 people. More people participated, back in my college, in a protest against the mess food.

Today, after 24 years of continuous construction, when the plant is finally complete and ready to go critical, suddenly you have a mob of 20,000 people converging onto this hitherto non-descript village and making a very big fuss. It is as if, these 20,000 people had a simultaneous epiphany regarding the Kudankulam power station.

Do the protesters know something that Dr Kalam doesn’t? Have they utilised the intervening period of 24 years to do an in-depth study on the plant’s effect on the local eco-system? Do they possess conclusive, scientific proof that Kudankulam is unsafe?

Do they have enough data to prove all Indian scientists, starting from Dr Kalam and down, are conclusively wrong?

Simply put, does the protest have a strong, scientific foundation to it?

There is no scientific justification for this protest

When you are protesting against a project, which involves a branch of science, that is out of bounds for 99 percent of the scientific community, you need to tick two boxes

1. The Guy who is leading the protest should be qualified.

2. The arguments that he, which by extension covers the whole protest, is putting forth should be scientifically credible.

For item no 1, let us meet the leader of this agitation. A certain gentleman called SP Udayakumar.

I give it to him, that he means business when he argues against the plant.

What our glorious media didn’t do was, verify whether Udayakumar had the standing and the merit to elucidate on this subject.

Do the protests have the popular support they claim? Firstpost

It is not a difficult ask you know, to verify Udayakumar’s merit on this subject. It is not as if they are looking for India’s nuclear launch codes. Turns out, he is not.

Dr SP Udayakumar, is a Masters in Literature from Kerala University, and a PHd in Political Science from the University of Hawaii.

How can a political scientist present credible theories about the plant to villagers? He is also actively blocking, genuine attempts made by the government, to present an accurate picture to the Kudankulam people.

So Checklist Item 1, Fail.

I am not saying, that protests led by people, who do not have the requisite qualifications, are flawed. All I am saying, is that the protest, should have the necessary justification. If Dr Udayakumar feels he is not qualified to do an in-depth scientific study himself, all he had to do was commission some actual scientists. They could understand the plant, analyse its effects on the local population and submit a full fledged paper.

This brings us to Item no 2 on the checklist

Where is a report/paper/study for Kudankulam, on the basis of which, Dr Udayakumar is fighting? A report that provides the scientific justification for the protest.

I tried hard to find one that resembled what I mentioned above. After arduous Googling, this is what I found, a post written by Dr Udayakumar himself, on the perils of Kudankulam.

This was, by far, the worst document I have seen in my life, and this includes my own writing. And, that is saying something.

First and foremost, the document has absolutely no sources, no citations. Nothing, zilch. I mean, I run a supposedly humorous website, named after a comedy character in a Tamil movie and I cite sources. So how can someone get away without citing any, especially when you consider that fact that he is trying to relocate a nuclear power plant?

As for the points in the post, they are so awfully bad, that even a conspiracy theorist will reject them as outrageous.

For Example

Point no 1: Even when the KKNPP projects function normally without any incidents and accidents, they would be emitting Iodine 131, 132, 133, Cesium 134, 136, 137 isotopes, strontium, tritium, tellurium and other such radioactive particles into our air, land, crops, cattle, sea, seafood and ground water. Already the southern coastal belt is sinking with very high incidence of cancer, mental retardation, Down syndrome, defective births due to private and government sea-sand mining for rare minerals including thorium. The KKNPP will add many more woes to our already suffering people.

If you didn’t bother to read it, here is the gist. He writes, because of the radioactive materials leaving the plant and mixing with the water and food, something like this is going to happen in Kudankulam, really really soon.

In the city of Mumbai, there is a nuclear reactor, right in the middle of the city. A city of 30 million people. Last known, they have not transformed into some version of The Incredible Hulk meets the Godzilla. It means that the people of Kudankulam and the nearby villages are safe from the ‘monster’ that is the Kudankulam power plant.

If you think in case of a disaster, the whole area will be wiped out and thousands will die, then well you are wrong.

The total number of fatalities, directly or indirectly, due to a Nuclear power plant meltdown, from 1960-2011, across the globe, is 47.

Yes 47 in all. This includes Chernobyl and Fukushima.

Point no 3: More than 1 million people live within the 30 km radius of the KKNPP which far exceeds the AERB (Atomic Energy Regulatory Board) stipulations. It is quite impossible to evacuate this many people quickly and efficiently in case of a nuclear disaster at Kudankulam.

Now, the Kudankulam power plant, is flanked by three major sub-districts.

To the North is Radhapuram sub-district ,which includes the Kudankulam power plant itself. Total Population: 2,64,595

To the West is Agastheeswaram sub-district, Total Population: 4, 93, 852. Now the two major population centres in this sub-district, cities of Kaniyakumari and Nagerkoil, are more than 50 Kms away from the plant.

Take them out, the figure falls down to, 1,29, 371.

To the east is Sathankulam sub-district. Total population: 96, 820.

Total population, of the area as specified by Dr Udayakumar + 10 Kms: 4, 90, 786

Only 5,00,000 short of the million people as claimed by Dr Udayakumar.

This man, to get his point across, has straight up doubled the population of the nearby areas. And in some interviews, he is even quoting the population as 1.5 million.

Simply put, he is exaggerating the local population numbers to Biblical proportions.

Finally, the population of the village of Kudankulam is 11, 029. In his quest for some grandiose statistics, he forgot this one.

Point 6: The quality of construction and the pipe work and the overall integrity of the KNPP structures have been called into question by the very workers and contractors who work there in Kudankulam. There have been international concerns about the design, structure and workings of the untested Russian-made VVER-1000 reactors.

The Chinese have been building a power plant with Russian help, equipped with the same VVER-1000 Nuclear reactor.

A short while ago, this very reactor was declared as the safest nuclear reactor in the world. That too not by some literary artists like Dr Udayakumar, but by the International Atomic Energy Association (IAEA). You know the global agency responsible for the safety of nuclear power plants?

The very people whose job it is to deal with nuclear safety, declared the VVER-1000, the safest reactor in the World. Need I say more?

For me, the whole post reads as if the Kudankulam Power plant is the harbinger of apocalypse for the state of Tamil Nadu and India in general. That too in the ‘I Say So, So it must be true’ mode of argument.

These three points prove what I set out to prove whatever this guy is saying is total tosh. It means there is absolutely no scientific basis for this protest.

Checklist Item no 2: BIG FAIL

Before somebody says, let me admit that I am not a nuclear physicist or a scientist. There is this comprehensive government report which counters every argument of this man.

By the way, Dr Udayakumar, if by any chance you happen to read this, please tell me why do you keep asking the government for white papers, black papers, etc to prove Kudankulam is safe. Isn’t it bloody time you give a document like the one above to prove why Kudankulam is unsafe?

So to sum it up, the reasons for the protests are dodgy, the timing is skeptical and there is not even a tiny thread of rationality behind it. So why protest at all?

Updated Date: Mar 24, 2012 13:07:11 IST