and a Nuclear Threat in the South of India
J. Sri Raman
Asians Against Nukes
, India - This coastal city in south India has
just survived a double peril - the tsunami disaster
and a nuclear threat. The
waves of tidal height, which hit Chennai last
stop with destroying fishermen's hamlets and flooding
of other homes and lives. The tsunamis also inundated
a part of the nuclear plant located in the city
close to the sea.
have to wait for a full report on the damage.
And, we may only
wait in vain for an official report of this description.
It needs no
further investigation, however, to see that the
complex and the tsunami made a deadly combinationindeed.
nuclear part of the combination ruled out a full
report for now,
for two reasons. No one, in the first place, can
easily dent the
disaster-proof secrecy that surrounds any nuclear
and more important reason lies in the threat of
radioactive leaks. Camera crews cannot capture
these as easily as
carcasses and debris floating in furious waters.
can be slower nuclear horrors than Hiroshima and
Nagasaki . Environmentalists have, for about two
decades, talked of
Kalpakkam as a disaster of this less dramatic
may well have made the situation worse.
incompletely and almost instantaneously post-tsunami
official report peremptorily ruled out any damage
to the complex. Even more emphatically, it denied
any radioactive leak. Even the official report,
however, acknowledged the havoc in the entire
Kalpakkam area, habitat of a sizeable fishing
community, housing the employees of the nuclear
complex as well. On the
of the disaster, at least 60 lives were reported
lost in the employees'
township and some 250 in the rest of the area.
unofficially much higher, has kept mounting since
official concern was voiced over the complex at
all. The complex
comprises: two pressurized heavy water reactors
and a test
reactor, a reprocessing plant and an under-construction
fast breeder reactor or PFBR ("dedicated
to the nation" by the Prime Minister in late
October). The authorities claimed that, while
one of the heavy water reactors had been closed
for "re-tubing" before the tsunamis,
the other was shut down the moment the an inordinate
amount of water from the sea was detected entering
the pump-house for the coolant unit. (The second
reactor was re-started seven days later, this
a word, significantly, has been said in this connection
about the reprocessing plant and its central waste
in particular, besides the test reactor. No reassurance,
words, has been forthcoming about the most crucially
radioactivity-linked components of the complex.
India 's nuclear establishment
is not known for innocent or accidental omissions
statements of this kind.
authorities could not have concealed the deaths
of employees in the Sunday disaster. The complex
has lost scores of scientific and technical personnel,
ranging from a design engineer of the test reactor
washed away while praying in a church mass, to
others carried away by monster waves from within
the about 500 houses destroyed in the sprawling
township. What, however, of the humble woman worker
who, many say, met her watery end inside the complex?
What of the two male workers, posted at the waste
discharge point at the
jetty, who are reported missing?
Doctors for Safe Environment, a forum of physicians
that is asking
these questions, has been raising larger posers
and its location for years. V. Pugazhendhi of
who has carried out painstaking health research
and around, explains why radioactive leaks here
do not belong
to the realm of fantasy.
to a survey under his guidance, the incidence
cancers of blood and bone worked out to three
of 25,000 in the age group of 15 to 50 for seven
from May to October 2003 in the Kalpakkam area.
Set this against
the normal figure of 1.7 per population of 100,000
in the same
age group for a year, he suggests, and you see
of radioactive pollution.
Ramesh of the same forum points to yet another
peril in the making.
He says that "land subsidence" in coastal
areas should be
expected as an inevitable consequence of tsunamis
ñ and underscores
the fact that the fast breeder reactor's site
is just three
to 5.6 meters above the sea level. You don't fantasize,
if you fear
the flattening of the entire reaction by tsunamis
of five to 12 meters,
with nuclear consequences of a nightmarish kind.
to the construction of the fast breeder reactor
raised before. The opponents of the plan, originally,
the plan violated the law of 1991 against such
constructions in the terrain defined as the
Coastal Regulation Zone (CRZ). The official reaction
was an outrage.
It consisted in amending the law to exempt nuclear
from its purview. Kalpakkam is only one of the
installations to endanger India 's coastal environment.
Canute of England and Denmark , says the legend,
stop the waves. The rulers of India can at least
from wreaking nuclear havoc.