Govt panel refuses to accept violation of AERB guidelines; says nobody resides within 2km of the nuclear plant

Gangadhar S Patil l Mumbai, DNA

If one were to believe the government, no one lives within 2km of the Kudankulam Nuclear Power Plant (KKNPP). However, when DNA visited the site, it found that a thriving township with 450 housing units had come up 1km from the plant boundary, in violation of Atomic Energy Regulatory Board (AERB) guidelines.
A 15-member expert committee set up by the government last November said in its report that there is no habitation within 2km of the plant boundary. But CASA Nagar, a project to rehabilitate survivors of the 2004 tsunami, is a kilometre from the boundary.

The township was planned and built in 2006 and about 2,000 people are already living there. These people lived in Idinthakarai and other nearby villages earlier.
As per AERB guidelines, only natural growth of population is permitted in the sterilised zone (a 5km radius around the plant). Nuclear Power Corporation of India Limited (NPCIL) officials say no rules were violated for setting up CASA Nagar. “Natural growth of population in the sterilised zone is not a mandatory condition, but a desirable condition,” they said. The NPCIL also said the township was not a result of mass migration or industrial activity and that studies have proved that there is no effect of radiation from a nuclear plant on people living around it.

But Ravi Kumar, an activist from Kudankulam village, pointed out that the township could just as well have been built elsewhere outside the sterilisation zone. This would have prevented the needless exposure of women and children to stack emission. In case of a radiological emergency, they will have to be evacuated immediately.
“The expert committee ignored the 2,000 people of CASA Nagar and presented a wrong picture, based on the 2001 census, saying there is no population within 2km of the plant,” he said.
Land for the township was allotted by the Tamil Nadu government and “there was no objection or instruction from NPCIL regarding the location of the township”, said an official with CASA, a non-governmental organisation.

The central government, however, defends itself citing a 1991 Tamil Nadu government order (GO). The GO says only industrial growth in the sterilisation zone is prohibited and there is no restriction on the growth of population.
Since CASA Nagar was only to resettle people from Idinthakarai village, the GO does not prevent it, the expert committee’s latest report argued.
The GO, however, appears to violate conditions laid down by the AERB while clearing KKNPP. “Suitable legislative and administrative control measures should be taken through state authorities to prevent increase in population within the sterilised zone beyond natural growth,” the AERB had said. DNA has a copy of the document.
“It is the responsibility of NPCIL to forbid any such unnatural settlement so close to the plant… AERB should have objected to the construction of the township, which was built five years after excavation for KKNPP began,” said Dr Pugazhendhi, a member of the People’s Movement Against Nuclear Energy