Driving down from Kanyakumari on the very first day of the Samvad Yatra on 2nd October with a team of around 20 friends, we crossed around 30 kilometers and reached Koodankulam. While one drives through the road to this village, one gets a feel of a classic country side, lush green trees, scores of windmills and glimpses of the Bay of Bengal. Just as you pass by the road, on your right one notices a huge settlement with a big gate. It is the newly constructed Koodankulam Nuclear Power Plant, which is facing people’s rejection.
As the Yatra reached Koodankulam, one witnessed at least a thousand people, gathered outside a newly renovated church, with people shouting slogans, banners in hand saying “SHUT DOWN THE NUCLEAR PLANT”. Greeted in the known Indian tradition, Rajaji was welcomed on the stage to be among the people’s leaders who were sharing their agony against the nuclear power plant.
This region is known for high radiation emission and setting up a nuclear power plant will further contribute to not only the growing number of skin cancer cases here, but also large pieces of land being acquired for the setup of the nuclear plant. In the wake of the tsunami in Japan and the consequent accident at a nuclear plant, villagers fear possible nuclear radiation leak once the plant begins production. Villagers have been staging indefinite fast opposing the project.
When construction began, there was not much opposition against the project. Recently a slew of social workers and environmental activists have begun protests. They said the population density was too high and cite examples like Chernobyl Russia. They also quote the current Japan Fukushima nuclear reactor disaster during the Tsunami that affected Japan. The recent nuclear incident at Marcoule, southern France has further aggravated the protest. The protestors also say that, Germany and many other countries are reconsidering their nuclear energy policy. Japan has begun a similar discussion. The key debate revolves around the question of relative risk posed by nuclear power plant in comparison to short and long term risk posed by current use of non-renewable energy sources such as coal.
There is also a fear that the fish and other life inside the sea will be affected by the water discharged from the nuclear reactor into the Bay of Bengal. The area around the Koodankulam reactor is home to a lot of small scale fishermen. The fear is that they might be affected.
Over one lakh people have joined the agitation to oppose the nuclear power project. More than 100 people are on an indefinite fast against it. The protest is not confined to Idinthakarai. It has become a burning issue in the coastal districts of Tirunelveli, Tuticorin and Kanyakumari with its fallout having an echo in the entire southern region.
On September 22nd, 2011, the Tamil Nadu cabinet passed a resolution urging the Centre to halt the work on the plant until the fears of the local population over the safety of the plant are allayed.
Tamil Nadu chief minister J. Jayalalithaa has also demanded that the Centre temporarily stops the 2,000 MW Kudankulam nuclear power project coming up at Tirunelveli in south Tamil Nadu.