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Russia running out of patience as nuclear plant row intensifies

Russia seems to be stuck in a catch-22 situation. The ongoing anti-nuke stir in Southern Tamil Nadu has placed the Kudankulam Nuclear Power Project (KKNPP) in a limbo.

It is only now that Russia has realised that the going might get tough.

Unable to hide the deep angst over the ready-to-commission plant being held up, Russian Ambassador Alexander M Kadakin has done some plain speaking to drive home the point that their patience was running out.

The frustration was palpable when he said that his country could not allow its scientists to remain idle any longer.

This is the first time that a high-ranking Russian official has opened his mouth on the matter.

However, he was diplomatic enough to say, ‘We are not setting any deadline. I am in close touch with the Indian Government but would not put pressure of any kind,’ he said.

‘Our scientists are sitting idle since October 2011. They are scientists of the highest caliber and their services are needed back home and in countries like Slovakia,’ he pointed out.

In the wake of the protests when the Centre had suspended the operations at Kudankulam after the Jayalalithaa Government too pressed for the same, there was gloom in the Russian side.

But, they took heart in Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s assurance of early commissioning of the plant made during his visit to Moscow. However, there was no forward movement and the protests have only acquired a mass character by spreading to the hinterland.

And despite Tamil Nadu plunging into a blackout due to the power crisis, Jayalalithaa refused to play ball with the Centre as New Delhi has not conceded her plea for a liberal financial package to tide over the fiscal crisis.

Now, the AIADMK supremo has no qualms in dumping the anti-nuke chorus as her party had swept the civic poll.

As expected, she has constituted a fresh panel of experts to allay the fears of locals who have rallied under the People’s Movement Against Nuclear Energy (PMANE), spearheaded by the suave S P Udayakumar.

In a deft move, she has axed the leaders of the protest from the panel by packing it with pro-nuclear faces like M R Sreenivasan, former chairman of the Atomic Energy Commission.

This could be sweet music to Russia, for which export of nuclear technology is critical in many ways. It is in this context that Mr Kadakin’s intervention assumes significance.

Debunking the claims of the anti-nuke lobby, the envoy asserted that the design of Kudankulam plant was ‘the safest in the world’.

As such, he argued against comparing it with the ‘ancient American designed Fukushima system’. Thus far Rs 13,500 crore has been pumped into the project and the first of the two 1000 MW reactors is all set for operationalisation.

Four more reactors are in the pipeline. Reiterating that there was no need for any ‘phobia’ over its safety, he questioned the timing of the stir.

‘People have the right to express their concerns, especially after Fukushima incident. But, why did it take six months after the incident for them to wake up,’ was his poser to the anti-nuke leadership.

However, the envoy may not be aware of the fact that massive protests have been there in the past as well, though this was the most militant.

In 1991, one of the leaders of the protest won an assembly seat as an independent on the anti-nuke plank. Recalling the history of the Indo-Russian joint-venture, he said two agreements were signed for the nuclear plant – first in 1998 and the next in 2008.

‘Vested interests have been blocking it. Who are they? How do they feed the protestors every day?’ was his poser to the leadership of the stir and those patronising it.

In his view, only nuclear power alone could help India meet its power demand which would grow in geometrical proportion. All the same, he appealed to the protestors not to view the plant ‘in terms of narrow political considerations’.

‘We hope common sense will prevail on those protesting against the project.’

But, the PMANE leadership has sensed the tactical shift in Jayalalithaa’s stance and has demanded that Sreenivasan be dropped from the state panel.

Having set up a team of experts, they have sought a dialogue with the official panel.

As it appears now, there is no easy way out and the anti-nuke leadership does not show any sign of wilting under pressure. But, how Jayalalithaa tackles the protest would be watched with keen interest.

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Posted by on Feb 16 2012. Filed under Indian News. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. Both comments and pings are currently closed.

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