Between Pondicherry and Chennai, if you have driven, you would have found Kalpakkam, a small viltlage which is 50 kilometers (30 miles) from the southern city of Chennai. The Madras Atomic Power Plant, which is located inside the township of Kalpakkam, was inaugurated by the former Prime Minister Mrs. Indira Gandhi in 1985.
The first heavy water leakage happened in the second unit of the Madras Atomic Power Station (MAPS) on March 26 1999. The news was widespread, all over the world, and questions were raised all over on how much radioactive tritium was released, what was the level of radioactive exposure to people who tried to stop the leakage. The top officials of MAPS said that there is no harm for people and no one has been affected by the radiation, adding that the leak occurred because a sealing plug of a coolant channel of the second unit was not positioned properly after the completion of maintenance work .
Again in March 1999, somewhere between four and fourteen tones of heavy water leaked from the pipes at Madras Atomic Power Station (MAPS) at Kalpakkam, Tamil Nadu, during a test process, and 42 people were reportedly involved in mopping up the radioactive liquid.
In 2003, a huge protest happened after a 24-year-old temporary worker died of colon cancer (a type of cancer which affects the large intestine), which is unusual for patients of such a young age. “Anuk kathirveechu paathukaapukkaana Makkal Iyakkam” (Peoples Movement for Protection Against Nuclear Radiation) started their protest against this and demanded justice for the victim. Dr. V. Pughazhendi,a gold medalist from Madurai Medical College, was leading the charge, along with well-known social activists like Mr. G. Sundarrajan, Dr. R. Ramesh, etc.
A case was filed against Dr. Pughazhendi on the charges of threatening people to fight against the nuclear power plant, and also a murder attempt case was filed on him by the local Panchayat leader. He stated that Dr. Pughazhendi tried to murder him, and also that he received an anonymous letter, believed to be sent by Pughazhendi.
In spite of trying to prove that he had no connection with the above allegations, Pughazhendi was forced to give a written apology letter stating that he would appear at the police station whenever he is called for any enquiries, and that if he is not present for any enquiries, then he agrees that the chargers filed against him were true.
Dr. Pughazhendi talks about the harmful effects of Nuclear Power plant.
The Department of Atomic energy funded Dr. Manjulla Datta to carry on a study on this Nuclear Power Plant due to a prolonged protest. In her individual survey study, it has been found that the effect of radiation is massive to the people who are inside the power plant villages. According to her report, the major diseases that are affecting the people are cancer, cataract, TB, ulcer, infertility and mental retardation. Her report stated that as many as 244 Kalpakkam employees were detected with various types of cancer between 1999 and 2009, and most of them were affected with thyroid diseases, which are very common for people living in and around nuclear reactor sites.
In 2011, Pattali Makkal Katchi (PMK), a dominant political party in Tamil Nadu, organized a protest under its chief Mr. S. Ramadoss, against the existence of Nuclear power plant, and said that they would be sending a medical team soon to examine the effects on local people, and asked the government not to import the country’s first fast breeder reactor (Nuclear fast breeder reactor), and also made a demand to the government to shut the nuclear power plant by 2020.
Dr. Pughazhendi says “In 2003, I conducted a survey and I found that immune thyroid is predominantly present among women who are more or less 40 years old, and also the death rate due to Multiple Myeloma (a type of bone cancer) is increasing day by day” .
Atomic radiation is one of the major reasons for various types of cancer in the areas near Kalpakkam. Though the authorities claim that there is no such significance, we can clearly see how much impact the radiation has on people. The authorities claim that there is no higher level of radiation that would cause damage to the people. But scientifically, the prolonged exposure to lower level of radiation is more likely to cause cancer, than few occurrences of high level radiation exposure.
According to Dr. Pughazhendi “This lower radiation level causes much more damage to the people, this low radiation causes damage in the body cells which cannot be found that easily”. Even the wastage from plant emits alpha, beta and gamma rays in which alpha causes more damage, as it enters the body through pores, and settles inside the body, causing long term woes to the people, he added.
The last survey by the atomic power plant was done in 2007, in which the researchers said the area had no such issues of radiation exposure. But, there was a flaw in the survey. Pughazhendi says that the average dose of every community was considered for the survey where the individual dosage should have been considered, as it differs from one person to other.
The intake of this radioactive exposure causes problems not only to the present generation, but also to their future offspring. None of us can forget the disastrous Chernobyl. It exploded and lofted radioactive poisons into the atmosphere. In a study by Belarus University in 2000, it has been found that even after 14 years of the Chernobyl disaster, only 20 percent of children in that area were found healthy, where it was 90 percent before. The same situation might happen in Kalpakkam; even though the radioactive materials are found naturally, the establishment of power plants causes much more health damage to the people.
Ravi’s father explains about the controversial absence of ‘reason for death’ column in death certificate
Though a few people claim that they have been living here for the 30 years and still were not affected by any health diseases, we have to understand that the immunity level differs from one person to other. Ravi (32) of Meyurkuppam, a village few meters away from the power plant, died of stomach cancer. “He was healthy and active, but suddenly, he died of this stomach cancer. We don’t know what is the reason behind this,” says Ravi’s father.
Generally, if a person is declared dead, the concerned Village Administrative Officer (VAO) would mention the reason for the death in one’s death certificate. But here in Kalpakkam, for a majority of people, there is no “Reason for death” column. Even when people raised questions against this, the officer remained silent and said that he wont write the reason for death as there is no column for it. The poor villagers, without any help from the government, suffer mentally and physically.
Why are people are reluctant to leave this place? The main reason they stay, they say, is because of their livelihood. Murugan (27), a fisherman says,
“People say that staying near the power plant will cause us so many health problems and few of them warned us about how it spreads inside our body, we knew all these things but still we stay here because we don’t know any other job than fishing” .
When asked about government’s decision of providing them an alternate place, Murugan said
“They give us an alternate place near Sriperumbudur where we have no fishing to do, if we ask them a place nearby area so that we could survive the government says a big no, so we thought instead of going to some new place and suffer its better we stay here until we are alive”.
“Even if People knew they have cancer, they are not willing to say it openly because they think their reputation will get spoiled, as openly fighting against the nuclear power plant authorities remains a taboo,” says Tamil Nadu Muslim Munnetra Kazhaga secretary and an anti-nuclear activist Abdul Samad. He says that the big technology super heads like USA, and Japan themselves refused to set up a nuclear reactor like PFPR (Prototype breeder reactor), but India supports it.
Manjula (50) says “If we are diagnosed as a cancer patient, they ask us to remove our uterus and they ask us to go to Chennai, but even after getting treatment for more than six months, still people tend to die. I couldn’t able to afford more as I have already spent more than a lakh for my treatment, we drink the same water we use for washing our dishes and clothes, it’s our fate to suffer here.”
When they go for treatment, they are convinced that they have high blood pressure and asthma, and it is only because of it that they are getting cancer. Because of the radiation, even the fishes do not grow properly, affecting their livelihood as well.
Radiation is to Kalpakkam is what automobile exhaust is to Chennai. People know it’s harmful, but they live with it as long as they feel they are exposed to acceptable levels. The government should take the necessary action, and the media should bring this place to the attention of public and should create awareness about this worldwide, and should force the government to stop importing further nuclear breeders, to save at least the forthcoming generations.