Villagers gather to protest nuclear power plant in India

New Delhi (dpa) – Protests against a nuclear power plant in southern India intensified Thursday with villagers stopping more than 700 scientists from reaching the facility, news reports said.
Villagers located near the Kudankulum nuclear plant being built with Russian assistance in the southern state of Tamil Nadu want it scrapped out of concerns for their safety and livelihoods.
The villagers stepped up their agitation after a Japanese nuclear plant began leaking radiation when it was hit by an earthquake and tsunami in March. Like the Japan plant, the Kudankulam plant is on the coast in Tamil Nadu’s Thirunelveli district.
Large groups of villagers blocked all entry points to the plant Thursday, stopping about 700 scientists and at least 5,000 contract workers involved in the building of the facility, NDTV reported.
At least 100 villagers have been on hunger strike in front of the plant, NDTV said.
Fishermen in the area have also joined the protest, fearing that water released from the plant would affect marine life.
India’s federal government has said the highest safety measures would be maintained at the plant.
“The government fully shares the concerns of the people of the area and will take all steps to allay their fears,” Prime Minister Manmohan Singh wrote in a letter to Tamil Nadu Chief Minister Jayalalitha Wednesday.
Singh said a panel of safety experts would visit the area for discussions with the villagers.
Jayalalithaa had met Singh on the issue and asked the federal government to stop work on the plant until the villagers’ fears are allayed.
Two of the proposed six reactors at the plant were scheduled to become operational this year.
Energy-hungry India depends heavily on oil exports and has launched an ambitious nuclear power programme to meet part of its energy needs.
India has 20 nuclear reactors with a capacity to produce 4,780 megawatts of electricity but plans to build more reactors and take the capacity to 20,000 megawatts by 2020.
Author: Sunrita Sen