Thursday, 27 September 2012

Fukushima fallout seeps into India's troubled nuclear push
19 Sep 2012

(Reuters)-On a wind-whipped beach on India's southern tip, a small fishing community feels it is falling dangerously on the wrong side of history. While much of the world is turning its back on nuclear power, the villagers of Kudankulam, in a part of India hit by the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami, say their government is gambling with their lives by opening one of Asia's first new nuclear reactors since the 2011 Fukushima disaster in Japan.

Unable to rely on a coal sector crippled by supply shortages and mired in scandals, India is pushing ahead with constructing nuclear reactors despite global jitters over safety. Hundreds of millions of Indians still live without power and factories suffer frequent blackouts-an embarrassment to India's aspirations as an emerging economic powerhouse. But that means little to 41 year-old Francisca, the wife of a fisherman. If the Japanese government was unable to prevent Fukushima, she asks, how can India guarantee their safety?

"After the Fukushima incident, we're really scared that the same will happen to us", she said, sitting in the shade of a canopy among about 1,000 protesters. "Our lives are being spoiled. "The government doesn't see us as human beings". Dogged by opposition for nearly a quarter of a century, the Russian-built Kudankulam Atomic Power Project is finally due to start within weeks, producing 2 GWs of electricity-enough to power about 20 million homes in Tamil Nadu state.

Protests against the plant have intensified as the deadline nears: villagers have been tear-gassed, beaten and one was shot dead this month as they launched hunger strikes and waded neck-deep in the Indian Ocean to form human chains in a last-gasp attempt to stop the plant from opening.

One Sunday earlier this month, thousands of fishermen marched along a strip of coastline among coconut trees and tiny churches towards the yellow-and-white domes of the Kudankulam plant. They camped out on the beach overnight, ate rice stew and planned to march on to the site, where authorities had been expected to start loading fuel rods into the reactors. The next morning, they were confronted by police in riot gear. Scuffles broke out, and tear gas shells sent the protesters scurrying back to their villages.

A curfew-like atmosphere lingered when Reuters visited the villages two days later. Kudankulam's shops were shuttered, its streets deserted and primitive roadblocks of rocks and bushes set up to keep security forces away. Police, parked in groups of about a dozen in the roads surrounding the villages, were seen filming cars that entered and left the area. The clashes are yet another frustration to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's efforts to plug power shortages that have hobbled Asia's third-largest economy at a time of slowing growth and dwindling foreign investment.

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