Kudankulam Sees Green Light, Some Problems Remain Unsolved

Kudankulam is a nuclear power plant constructed by the Russian company Rosatom in the southern Indian state of Tamil Nadu. Construction process has been challenged by civil unrest and ridiculous new laws introduced by authorities. What is fuelling anti-nuclear protests and who is interested in slowing down the project by using semi-legal tricks?

By Igor Alexeev

The Supreme Court of India gave a final nod to the commissioning of Kudankulam nuclear power plant (KKNPP) one month ago. In its legal judgment India’s highest judicial authority stressed that “KKNPP is safe and secure and it is necessary for larger public interest and economic growth of the country.” The holding of the Court on this delicate issue drew a line under several months of contradictory anti-nuclear protests. Many independent voices in India raised concerns about the use of Western-sponsored NGOs in the failed attempt to stop nuclear progress of the Indian nation. “Nuclear energy is now considered in India as a sustainable source of energy and India cannot afford to be a nuclear isolated nation, when most of the developed countries consider it as a major source of energy for their economic growth,” the Supreme Court of India eventually declared. It is truly a landmark decision.

India’s Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has worked hard to cut India’s overdependence on oil from the Gulf region, destabilized by the US and NATO military interventions. Nuclear power plays the key role in Delhi’s ambitions to secure 8% growth rate over the next 25 years. On February 24, 2012 Prime Minister Singh accused American and Scandinavian NGOs and sectarian “Christian” groups of fuelling protests near Kudankulam construction site. Three of the NGOs were using foreign funds received for social and religious purposes to fuel the protests, violating Indian foreign exchange regulatory rules. These NGOs use various smear tactics and modern social technologies speculating on the environmental fears of the population. Behind the ignorant mob stand the gloomy figures of Western sponsors. However, their neocolonialist mentality prevents them from understanding that India can protect its sovereign energy policy.

Kudankulam was constructed on a solid terrain keeping all the safety concerns in mind and under the supervision of top Indian experts. KKNPP reactors designed by Rosatom’s engineers have a double containment system which can withstand high pressure. Russian reactors are known to be very stable: for example, the Bushehr facility built by Rosatom specialistssuccessfully passed a harsh stress-test during the latest 6.3-magnitude earthquake in Iran. Enhanced safety measures would be implemented in due course. Nuclear scientist and principal scientific adviser to the federal Government of India Rajagopala Chidambaram has confirmed: “We have learnt lessons from the Fukushima nuclear accident, particularly on the post-shutdown cooling system”. Therefore, any allegations of “technical flaws” at KKNPP should be regarded as a result of unfair business practices backed by the adversaries of Indian nuclear progress.

Russia, however, was the first nation to support India’s nuclear aspirations, despite international political pressure. Many nuclear experts in India remember US attempts to hinder the development of Delhi’s peaceful nuclear program. In the past the United States argued that Kudankulam deal violated non-proliferation guidelines, but suddenly dropped all these charges when American companies decided to enter Indian market. Russia’s leading role in Indian nuclear industry and Rosatom status of reliable partner in Kudankulam still makes restless many aggressive competitors and their associates in Delhi.

But the problem is also within. A hot topic in India’s nuclear policy is the implementation of the so-called “Nuclear Liability Act” to the KKNPP project on the national level. Expansive interpretation of this law provides Delhi with legal pretext for unprecedented contract tampering. In fact, it’s an attempt to retrospectively burden the contractor with indemnity insurance (in form of shared financial liability). Clause 7 of the act establishes a dangerous precedent that may affect not only Russian projects but also the willingness of other foreign companies to take part in Indian tenders. It’s unacceptable to change the rules of the game after it has already started. Casting doubts on bilateral nuclear cooperation between India and Russia may have a negative impact on their strategic partnership.

Such initiatives are unheard of in good industry practice and contradict the spirit of mutual trust in Russian-Indian economic relations. It is still questionable whether this provision could be applicable in this particular case. Bargaining over details should not create long-term regulatory risks, because Kudankulam has finally become the vital part of India’s emerging clean energy portfolio.

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Igor Alexeev is a Russian journalist and blogger for Strategic Culture FoundationAsia Times Online and Route Magazine. He writes on the oil and gas sector, Eurasian energy security and shipping industries in the Arctic.