Jayalalithaa's U turn on Kudankulam

The long stand-off between the Centre and Tamil Nadu government over the Kudankulam nuclear power project ended on Monday with the state cabinet giving approval for early commissioning of the plant. The decision was followed by a crackdown on anti-nuclear protesters who had held up the plant’s commissioning for over six months. “Immediate steps will be taken to facilitate commissioning of the plant,” said chief minister J Jayalalithaa in a statement, which added that the report submitted by an expert panel led by former chairman of the Atomic Energy Commission, M R Srinivasan, had given the plant a clean chit. Srinivasan told reporters that he had explained the difference between the Kudankulam and the Fukushima reactors in Japan to the CM, and she was satisfied that the one in Tamil Nadu was safe from tsunamis. The Centre was pushing Tamil Nadu for early completion of the 2,000-MW project on which Rs 14,000 crore has been spent. Russia, which is providing technical assistance, had last month threatened to withdraw its scientists if the impasse continued. With the state facing a power deficit of more than 4,000MW, public opinion too was building up in its favour. Russian officials in India said that Moscow stood vindicated by Jayalalithaa’s decision. “We welcome the decision by the CM. If local authorities guarantee security, a team of Russian scientists will be sent to the plant on Tuesday itself to start the commissioning work,” Russian embassy senior counselor Sergey Karmalito said. The two pressurized water reactors at the plant are almost complete. “Despite not being allowed to access the site, more than 80 scientists have stayed put in India,” he added. About 195 agitators, including leaders of the group heading the protest, ‘people’s movement against nuclear energy’, were arrested, the police said. Although over 180 cases have been registered against the agitators in the last seven months, no arrest had been made until Monday. Following Tamil Nadu government’s approval for the Kudankulam atomic power plant, the Nuclear Power Corporation of India Limited (NPCIL) is confident of making the first reactor operational within four to six months. NPCIL director S A Bharadwaj said, “We are confident of producing 1,000MW from the first reactor by mid-August or end of August. We will have to speed up work on reactor 1, which was 99.4% ready when the protests stopped work in October last year. The second reactor will take at least six to eight months more.” Clearance will be sought from the Atomic Energy Regulatory Board for initiating fuel loading operations and mobilizing the work force, the Atomic Energy Commsion chairman Srikumar Banerjee said on Monday. He expressed hope that the plant will start operating before August. Chairman of AERB, S S Bajaj, said on Monday some inspections have to be carried out prior to the fuel loading operations. “All systems at Kudankulam were in a preservation board and the plant should be in an okay condition,” he said.

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