Why KNPP safety raked up now, asks experts

Hyderabad: Regretting the protests against the Kudankulam nuclear power plant in Tamil Nadu despite the assurances over safety, two top nuclear officials on Sunday said shortage of manpower prevented full-fledged work being taken up in the plant.

S K Jain, CMD of Nuclear Power Corporation of India Ltd (NPCIL) and Atomic Energy Commission Srikumar Banerjee told reporters here on the sideline of a conference on nuclear fuel that it was surprising that all questions about safety of the plant were now being raised when they had already been settled.

"Let me ask you a few questions…One, if you recall that in past two, three or four months, there was talk that Kudankulam site was not a proper site, it`s a volcano, earthquake and tsunami-prone area. Then there was a question about the safety of the reactors. There was a question regarding quality.

"Kudankulam construction has been going on smoothly and in total harmony with the neighbourhood right from March 31, 2002. In the last 10 years, there was no doubt about the site, absolutely no question raised about volcano. The same people are staying there", Jain said.

He said post-Fukushima nuclear tragedy caused by tsunami in Japan, there were lot of apprehensions. The PM was also concerned and he ordered various measures. In Parliament, he said safety of people is top priority.

"Coming to Kudankulam, everything was settled in April. There were fears. There was tsunami, there was an earthquake.

We were totally successful in all the sides to give that assurance that we will not compromise with safety. In April, everything was ok and how come in Septmber, Fukushima resurfaced. From 2002 onwards, no question, from April, no question", Jain said.

"Third thing, everybody knows that we are not private sector. We have absolutely no reason why we have to adopt short cuts when we know for sure that even after retirement, our liability is not reduced. Even if there is an iota of doubt about safety, we cannot compromise", he said.

Noting that the agitation began flagging fears about Kudankulam safety and after experts had allayed those fears, he wondered why that issue is not raised now.

"Now, people are talking about no nuclear power. Secondly, the questions are about reprocessing and our second stage. Second stage, we reprocess thermal fuel, we produce plutonium for our fast breeder reactor and also for strategic purpose. That is under attack. For the last few weeks, whatever is being talked about, there is no word on Kudankulam safety. They are saying that we do not need nuclear power and so why reprocessing", he said.

Asked if there was a conspiracy behind the anti-Kudakulam nuclear project protest, Jain said "the answer is with you". Jain said "we want to be leader in taking this nuclear technology to use of thorium reactor. We are on that course.

May be next year, sometime 2014, 500 MW with plutonium will start, we will be the only reactor which will be operating fast breeder reactor with plutonium. So far, nuclear technology has been the domain of only a few rich countries.

This is a developing country which will show the path to the world…. Today in Kudankulam, it is the so-called international green activists, lobbyists. Of course, some element of local politics".

AEC Chairman S Banerjee said questions over Kudankulam reactor safety, whether the plant affects the livelihood of the residents, whether it is safe against any natural event, whether the waste will be dumped in the sea or ground and whether there is any prevalence of diseases like cancer in and around a nuclear power station have been already answered even by the expert committee.

Replying to a query, he said manpower shortage prevented full-fledged work being taken up inside the plant. Only two bus loads of personnel are allowed to attend to the work inside the plant every day while the requirement is for couple of thousand of employees to bring the plant into full operation, he said.

Noting that the agitation against the nuclear plant began with fears about Kudankulam safety and even after experts allayed fears, Banerjee wondered why that issue is not raised.

"People are talking about no nuclear power. Secondly, the questions are about reprocessing and our second stage in which we reprocess thermal fuel and produce plutonium for our fast breeder reactor and also for strategic purpose. That is under attack. Last few weeks, whatever is being talked about, there is no word on Kudankulam safety," he said.

Asked if he saw a conspiracy, he said, "Our goal is very clear, we want to be leader in the field of nuclear technology …So far, the technology has been the domain of only a few rich countries…You know the international politics…In Kudankulam, it is the so called international green activists, lobbyists and of course, some element of local politics."

Replying to a query, he said manpower shortage prevented full-fledged works being taken up inside the plant.

Only two bus loads of personnel are allowed to attend to the work inside the plant every day, while the requirement is for couple of thousand of employees to bring the plant into full operation, he said.

Banerjee said a request has been placed with the state government for ensuring that more personnel are able to work in the Kudankulam plant.

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