Koodankulam Update: Hot water spillage injures six workers at the nuclear power plant

14 May, 2014. 2.00 p.m. Shopkeepers from Anjugramam, a village about 15 km from Koodankulam nuclear complex, reported seeing at least 6 ambulances rushing by at around 1.15 p.m. Anjugramam lies near a fork in the road, where one fork leads to Kanyakumari town and the other to Nagercoil. Another Idinthakarai resident, Mildred, who was at Myladi (25 km from Koodankulam) reported seeing 3 ambulances rush by at around 1.45 p.m. Myladi is en route Nagercoil. Nagercoil and Kanyakumari are two major towns within 30 km of the nuclear plant, with large hospitals. Predictably, the nuclear establishment denied the occurrence of any accident first. Later they admitted to a minor incident and are reported to have said that the injured were taken to the hospital in the NPCIL township, where they were well enough to walk on their own. Sources from inside the plant report that at least three of the injured were contract workers and the other three were NPCIL staff. Reports also suggest that the accident happened in or around the boiler section of Unit 1, which reportedly attained criticality mid-year last year.
After initially flashing news about the incident, the media is now reportedly playing NPCIL’s statements denying and downplaying the incident. If NPCIL’s past record is anything to go by, truth will be a while in coming. Dr. APJ Abdul Kalam was unavailable for comment.
This accident comes less than a week after the Honourable Supreme Court ruled that it was satisfied with the safety features installed at the plant.

Conversation with NPCIL, Koodankulam Station Director R.S. Sundar on his mobile phone 9443350706 at around 3.40 p.m, on 14 May 2014

NJ (me): Hello Sir. This is Nityanand. I’m a freelance writer. I’m calling to find out if the workers admitted at Krishna Kumar Hospital in Nagercoil are from your plant.
RSS: Who are you? First tell me who you are.
NJ: My name is Nityanand Jayaraman and I’m a freelance journalist from Chennai, currently speaking from Coonoor.
RSS: I don’t speak to freelance journalists, only normal journalists.
NJ: Sir, I am a normal journalist. There are a lot of rumours doing the rounds. I merely wanted to confirm that there was an incident at Koodankulam.
RSS: What did you say your name was?
NJ: Nityanand Jayaraman.
RSS: I don’t know you. Who do you write for?
NJ: I’m a freelancer sir. I write opinion pieces and have published in Yahoo, The Hindu, Tehelka and have written extensively about Koodankulam.
RSS: I only speak to journalists I know.
NJ: Obviously, you can’t know all the journalists. How can I get a confirmation then?
RSS: You go speak to someone else. Speak to Corporate Communications.
NJ: You seem very angry with the media sir. Any problem?
RSS: No problem. There is nothing. i don’t know you. That’s all.
NJ: But you are not likely to know many of the international media either. How can you speak to them then?
RSS: I cannot speak to international media. I cannot speak to you.
NJ: I am not from the international media. I am a Chennai based freelancer. I just wanted a simple confirmation sir. Did any incident take place at Koodankulam today?
RSS: You come on the land line.
NJ: Can you give me the land line number sir?
RSS: You speak to Corporate Communications.
NJ: Can you give me their number sir?
RSS: No. I don’t have it. You call on the land line.
NJ: Can I have the number sir?
[Hands it over to assistant]
Assistant: Take down sir. 259718.
NJ: Area code sir?
Assistant: 04637
NJ: Who should I speak to sir?
Assistant: You just call that number?
NJ: Who should I ask for?
Assistant: Speak to the person who picks up the phone.
[Hangs up]

It makes one wonder, especially when the person who picks up the phone when I called says cryptically that “All the injured are in conscious condition.” If it is a “small incident” as stated by Mr. R.S. Sundar to NDTV, why all this cloak and dagger. If the plant has a sound disaster/emergency response system, why did they have to drive more than 1 hour on bad roads to Nagercoil to treat the injuries from a “small incident.” Clearly, NPCIL does not have a disaster management plan in place, and its corporate communications itself is a disaster that has to be managed.

Click to read Of small incidents and big disasters, Tehelka.com

Wednesday’s accident did not involve radiation. Burns and broken bones are common workplace injuries. It is precisely the commonplace nature of this incident and how it was handled that expose how the Koodankulam set-up has all the ingredients required to bungle the handling of major emergencies. These ingredients are: poor and non-transparent communication, lack of emergency response infrastructure, non-compliance with operating procedures, lack of quality assurance of equipment and personnel…

Shared by Nityanand Jayaraman, a writer and volunteer with the Chennai Solidarity Group for Koodankulam Struggle.

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