For, those who have been following the convoluted path the project has taken to reach this stage over a period of close to a quarter century know that there is nothing new about the anti-Koodankulam agitations. The people have not woken up suddenly to find themselves close to a potential disaster.
In fact, a high-pitched campaign against nuclear power itself was carried out in the southern districts of Tirunelveli, Thoothukudi and Kanyakumari by activists, intellectuals and some politicians even before the agreement for the setting up of the plant was signed with the now defunct USSR by then prime minister Rajiv Gandhi in 1988. The Chernobyl accident was then cited as a classic example of a catastrophe waiting to happen at every nuclear site.
When the campaign led to the swelling of support for anti-nuclear activism, the Department of Atomic Energy (DAE) stepped in to dispel the fears of the people, in what is now described as ‘counter campaign' by Udhayakumar of People's Movement Against Nuclear Energy, who is now spearheading the latest round of agitation.
That ‘counter campaign' saw the DAE scientists holding several meetings and conferences in the region and also giving talks to school children and college students. Bus loads of local people and also leaders of the various groups opposing the project were taken to the Kalpakkam nuclear plant and shown around the facilities to drive home the point that nuclear energy is safe.
In fact, at that time different groups had different issues. Some opposed land acquisition, some wanted jobs for land losers, some were against the use of water, some were concerned about pollution and for many the spectre of a nuclear disaster loomed large.
Without these oppositions, too, the project ran through rough weather due to various reasons, one among them being the disintegration of the Soviet Union. The US establishment also opposed to the project openly citing various reasons.
Allegations of covert support by the US to the protestors were also rife when - as someone involved in the agitations in those days recalled - a local politician, who spearheaded a protest against the drawing of water from a dam in Kanyakumari district for Koodankulam, was invited to dine with US diplomats in Chennai.
Yet, work on the site began about 12 years ago after the local village heads gave their nod.
The agitation subsided and the villagers watched the construction activity - some even participated in it in a small way - and kept quite when `13,000 crore was spend. They saw the government built a small port near Koodankulam to enable transportation of heavy machinery and equipment. They should have been even aware of the assembling of the nuclear core. Now, when they know that within a few months the first 1,000 MW power plant would go on stream with Tamil Nadu getting close to a 50 per cent share of electricity, they want everything dismantled. Why the U-turn?
It is said that a mock drill on disaster management caused panic among the people. Some say the Fukushima tragedy in March resurrected the phantoms that were put to rest about a decade back by glib talk of DAE scientists. They also point to the fact that more people joined the agitation after a recent blast at an N-plant in Marcoule, France.
Whatever triggered the latest protest, it throws up a plethora of questions. Why did the people fail to put their foot down earlier? Why did they give up the agitation and let the government spend `13,000 crore over the years on the project? And above all: Why now?
Udhayakumar claims that there was only a lull in the agitation and that the anti-nuclear activists were carrying on with their campaign all through these years in smaller ways. He says those who were taken to Kalpakkam were not the real representatives of the locals.
That puts the ball in the nuclear establishment's court. Did it fail in its public relations exercise? Why do the locals now refuse to believe their claims that the� plant is safe?
Were hanky panky methods employed to seek the consent of the local village heads for the plant at that point, instead of really convincing them that nuclear power was safe?
Finally, why did the government refrain from embarking on a full-throated campaign when the present agitation started and slowly gained popular support, drawing politicians of various hues to the Idinthakarai fast site? Is the Centre itself not so sure of the nuclear establishment's claims?
Source- IBN Live