Over five years after massive agitations against the Kudankulam nuclear plant were quelled in Tirunelveli district, protests in connection to the reactors broke out once again on Friday. As gram sabha meetings were held across the state of Tamil Nadu, villages around the contentious reactors moved a resolution to put a stop to the government's plans to construct an Away From Reactor (AFR) facility on the premises of the nuclear power plant.
The AFR is a storage unit meant to store spent fuel generated at the two nuclear plants in Kudankulam. While a Deep geological disposal is widely agreed to be the best solution for final disposal of radioactive waste, the AFR is meant to store spent fuel till the construction of the former.
And while resolutions passed at four villages - Kavalkinar, Vadakankulam, Perumanal and Kudankulam
were recorded by district authorities, a similar move in the village of Vijayapathi was stopped. The decision led to protests at around 11 am in the village and was forcefully dispersed by the police.
According to Kebinston, a resident of Vijayapathi and anti-nuclear activist, who was present at the village meeting, "The Block Divisional Officer (BDO) Selvaraj and his deputy were present for the meeting. They are supposed to record what we as a panchayat decide but they simply refused. That is when protests broke out. They couldn't even offer us a reason."
When TNM contacted the district administration, an official on the condition of anonymity stated that the decision was made based on order from Tirunelveli Collector Shilpa Prabhakar Satish.
"We were told that we can receive petitions from the villagers and give receipts regarding this but not allow them to pass a resolution. The government hasn't officially announced the AFR facility or allowed for a public consultation. So, it is too premature to pass such resolutions now," he says.
Then why allow the resolutions to be passed in other villages?
"In Kudankulam, the crowd was much larger and they feared law and order issues. In this village things were under control," he says. "Law and order problems will end up attracting more attention to the issues. The BDO was only acting on orders from higher authorities," he adds.
A public hearing regarding the AFR scheduled for July 10 was recently postponed indefinitely. A look at the circular shows that only two villages were invited - Kudankulam and Vijayapathi. Activists allege that this was an intentional attempt to shut down dissent against the proposed facility.
"This is a blatant violation of the democratic rights of a Gram Sabha. They have the right to pass such resolutions and district authorities must record it," says G Sundarrajan of Poovulagin Nanbargal. "And their concerns are very valid," he adds.
The resolutions included - opposition to collection of nuclear waste in Kudankulam, demand to stop construction of an AFR facility and demand to permanently shut down the plant. Opposition parties and activists had urged the Centre to come out with a detailed plan for setting up a permanent deep geological repository and drop the plan of a proposed Away From Reactor facility.
"This entire exercise is meant to create storage for spent fuel and an AFR is only a temporary solution till the government finds land to build a deep geological repository," explains Sundarrajan. "But across the country, no state is ready to risk giving land for permanent disposal of nuclear waste. So, residents fear that this will used as an excuse by the government to make the AFR a permanent storage space."