News Update 12 noon: Anti-Sterlite Protestors Arrested en Mass in Thoothukudi

Reported by Nityanand Jayaraman

Speaking on phone from Chandra Mahal (a wedding hall) where more than 200 people are detained by the police, Fatima Babu — one of several organisers of the protest — said that the rally demanding Sterlite Copper’s closure was massively attended. At the time of her arrest at around 1145 a.m., at least 7 bus loads of people had been removed from the roads and taken to various locations for detention. The arrests were continuing as more and more people were joining the procession. According to Fatima Babu, by the time of her arrest, nearly 5000 people had gathered. Shops in Thoothukudi, including all vegetable markets, jewellery stores, provision and small stores, have downed their shutters responding to the call join to the strike demanding Sterlite’s closure. Lorry, autorickshaw, taxi and van drivers too stayed away from the roads in solidarity.

“I cannot estimate the number of people that are part of the strike, because there are people as far as I can see, and more are coming,” said Maharajan, a party worker with Marumalarchi Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (MDMK). MDMK’s leader is one of the political figures who gave a call for the rally demanding closure of the copper smelter. The strike has representation from the Conch Coolie (Divers) Association, Anna Bus Stand Autorickshaw Drivers Welfare Association, All India Drivers Welfare Association, Tamilnadu Merchants Federation (led by Vellaiyan), and Anna Bus Stand Taxi drivers Association.

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The Power of Promise: Examining Nuclear Energy in India

M V Ramana in conversation with Nityanand Jayaraman

Date: February 18, 2013. Location: Asian College of Journalism

Published on Youtube on Mar 3, 2013. 30 mins 21s.

English transcript available below. Download the transcript in .doc format.

NJ: Dr. M V Ramana is a physicist at the Nuclear Futures Laboratory, Princeton University. Besides authoring numerous technical papers on the subject of nuclear power, Dr. Ramana is also known as an eloquent and an articulate speaker on the geopolitics of nuclear energy and its changing prospects over the years. In late 2012, Penguin India has published his first solo book, which is called The Power of Promise. He is currently in Chennai, as part of a multi-city tour of India to discuss and release his book. Good afternoon, Dr. Ramana. Thank you very much for being with us at ACJ.

So your book has a very interesting title, The Power of Promise, and in Tamil Nadu, we are painfully aware of the undelivered promises of power, especially the electricity. What is the point that you are trying to make by this title that you have chosen?

Click on cover to see the book in Flipkart.com

Click on cover to see the book in Flipkart.com

MVR: The title came after I wrote the book and as I was studying the history of nuclear energy in India. And what I saw was that over the course of the last seven decades when nuclear power has been established in this country since its inception of the Department of Atomic Energy, the nuclear establishment has made a number of promises of how important nuclear power is going to be as a source of electricity generation in the country, in the future. These projections have always been for the future and they have never been delivered as such. But, by making this promise that in the future there is going to be a large amount of power, they ensure that the Department of Atomic Energy and all the nuclear activities it conducts are supported by the political leadership as well as the elite in the country and this is also combined with yet another promise.

So, the promise here is of two natures. One is of large amounts of energy in the future, but also of, perfect security through building of nuclear weapons. And the Department of Atomic Energy is unique in being a technology that offers these two different promises, these two different aspirations that the elite have. One of being able to consume large amounts of energy, which they feel is necessary for development and economic growth. And of nuclear weapons, which they feel is going to provide them with security. In that sense, nuclear power forms a technology that offers the capacity for mass production, mass consumption, and mass destruction; in that sense, very very unique. What I find is that the nuclear establishment gets its political power through these promises.

NJ: One of the important, kind of, methods by which the nuclear establishment has tried to get its bind to this project, to this whole programme, has been its much doubted three-stage programme. And your book suggests that this has been and will remain a non-starter. Can you tell us more about what this three stage programme is and why you think its going to be a non-starter?

MVR: Before I would say, first I would say, I don’t think it is a non-starter. It has already started, but it’s going it be a non-deliverer. The three-stage programme was first enunciated by the Department of Atomic Energy, in particular its founder who is called Homi Bhabha. The first time he talked about this in 1954 and this was in the context of a debate in parliament, with a critic of the nuclear establishment  as it had been set up at that point, a chap called Meghnad Saha, who was a well-known physicist. And Bhabha basically used the idea that India has a large amount of thorium and he wanted to try and use that thorium to try and make their nuclear power. The reason he wanted to do that has to do with this question of promise.

Let me start by explaining what the basic issue is. So if you wanted to generate large amounts of nuclear power in the country, then you needed large amounts of uranium. And at that time, and subsequently too, what it seems is the case with India and, Indian geology in particular, is that we have fairly limited amount of uranium and the uranium is not particularly of good quality. And to qualify that let me also point out, by limited amount, I mean limited amount of uranium that’s high of quality, that its economic to mine it. Uranium is plentiful. You can find it in your backyard. The amount of uranium you will find by sifting through your entire backyard, will probably be a few grams. So, its not worth it. But, if you wanted to look for somewhat good quality uranium ore then the amounts are fairly limited in India.

Now, nuclear energy is to be big source of power; and that too you want to do it in such a way that it only depends on indigenous resources, then you could not depend on this uranium as it were. It so happens that India also has a large amount of thorium and around the world at that time [1950s], people in nuclear establishments in many different parts of the world felt, France for example, all felt they had limited amounts of uranium and they had to find ways of  exploiting this thorium, which is typically found more abundantly around the world. And as a way to do that, they set up a three-stage programme. In the first stage, what you do is find natural uranium that you find in nature in the cores of what are called heavy water reactors. These are reactors where the neutrons are slowed down through an interaction with water, where there is a heavier isotope of hydrogen called deutirium, which is present. And that deutrinium slows down the neutrons so efficiently that the neutrons have a much higher probability of hitting another nucleus of uranium causing it to fission. So that’s the first stage of reactors.

The next stage is that you take the spent fuel, that is the fuel that has been irradiated inside a nuclear reactor, during the course of which the uranium that’s initially in the fuel would have got converted to plutonium. So you take this spent fuel, after cooling it for a while, you process it in a reprocessing plant, which is basically a chemical plant where you dissolve it in acid and so on, add various chemicals, trying to separate the plutonium. The plutonium in turn, in the second phase, will be used to fuel the reactor, which is called a breeder reactor. A  breeder reactor is one where the core has plutonium, which is actually the one which is fission-ing, and then is surrounded by the blanket of other uranium or thorium, which in turn will absorb some of the neutrons that are escaping from the core of the reactor, to be converted into plutonium, if it’s uranium, or Uranium 233, a different isotope if it’s thorium. And in turn if you produce enough Uranium 233, you could start thinking about reactors where you had Uranium 233 in the core and thorium [indistinct word]…  So, this is the three-stage idea that Bhabha had.

All-Atomic Comics pp. 17 Breeders. Leonard Rifas

All-Atomic Comics pp. 17 Breeders. Leonard Rifas. Click on image to read.

The problem with this idea is essentially the second stage. The second stage involve these so called breeder reactors and these breedor reactors, because of the fact that you’re using this highly fissile plutonium in a very dense configuration you produce a huge amount of heat in a very small volume and this requires the use of metals, molten metals to conduct this heat on to the reactor. You cannot lose water. And this has been a huge source of problems with nuclear reactors around the world. The other set of problems with breeder reactors are that they are susceptible to certain kinds of very catastrophic accidents. All of these typically conspired to make breeder reactors very expensive. And as a result of these many countries, which initially thought much about breeder reactors, have abandoned this idea; this includes the United States, includes the United Kingdom, France… So, as of now, it’s mostly India and Russia, and to small extents China, which is interested in this. If you get through this whole stage, then you have to get to the thorium problem/stage, and thorium has all the problems of the second stage of uranium and other problems, which have to do with the fact that when it produces Uranium 233, it comes with a contaminant, which is Uranium 232, which highly radioactive. So, even to make that substance into fuel rods, you have to do it remotely behind concrete walls and things of that sort, which makes the process very expensive. So, thorium, I would expect it to be much more expensive than the breeder reactors we have. 

NJ: But, we do have a breeder reactor in Kalpakkam coming up.

MVR: We do have, and I’ll talk about that.

NJ: Okay, we’ll come to that in a bit. Now, authoritative sources, including the likes of the Prime Minister, have suggested that India will get nearly 275 gigawatts of electricity through nuclear power by 2052. And we have seen numerous news reports that have just reproduced this, without any critical insight into how achievable it is. What are your thoughts on this and what do you say about it in the book?

MVR: These kind of goals, as I have said, have been enunciated many many times in the past and have never been achieved. The 275000 megawatts by 2052 came around in the early 2000s. And actually in more recent years, it has been devised in a upward storm to 470,000. I’ve seen figures as of that. Apart from all the other problems of nuclear power that it has, long reactor construction time, it’s expensive, all that, all those issues, there is a special problem to this particular projection.

This particular projection is based on building large number of breeder reactors. These breeder reactors, I’ve told you have other problems, but even if you set aside all those problems, assume that you have the money to put in to this and so on, there’s a problem with this projection, which has to do with the accounting for the plutonium that is required. So, as I mentioned earlier, breeder reactors are ones where if you put in a certain amount of plutonium it could generate more plutonium at the end of the cycle. But, in order to get that plutonium out you have to do various things. So, you will have to take the spent fuel out of the reactor, you will have to wait for it to cool, you have to reprocess it in a reprocessing plant, then you will have to take the plutonium out, and make it into fuel rods, rebuild another reactor core with it and then start that reactor. All those things take a certain amount of time. And in the case of the DAE’s projections they have just not alloted enough time for that. So, this is not a matter of being optimistic or pessimistic, it is a matter of physics.

And in mathematical terms, for those people who ubderstand mathematics, the difference between having what’s called a differential equation and a what’s called a difference equation. And the DAE’s thing is inaccurate because it just assumes that the growth will be so smooth and exponential whereas you have to take in to account these discreet actions which have to be done. Once you put into… again, if you go by the DAE’s projections, you will actually end up soon in five to six, ten years with negative amounts of plutonium, because you need the plutonium to fuel the reactor and so on. This is not enough plutonium for that. If you do try to be careful about the plutonium accounting and not assume to have produced it out of thin air, then what happens is these projections are automatically down by 40 to 60%. And if you try to get into account more realistic projections, then you’ll probably come out with 80% of what they have have. Even at the theoritical level, you are not going to be able to reach 275000-475000 numbers that you are talking about.

NJ: Then that figure you’re saying assumes that the second and third stage will be able to go up to…

MVR: This is all only the second stage.

NJ: Only second stage.

MVR: Yeah thorium, even in Department of Atomic Energy’s plans, comes about only after 2052. ….Also, I want to say one more thing about thorium, since you have talked about it. Which is that, there used to be a joke in the electronics industry. The electronics industry, as you know, is mostly based on silicon. And in the 80s, they used to talk about germanium as being ideal metal for semi-conductors and all kinds of chips and so on. But, germanium was found to have various problems. So in the 80s and 90s, people used to make this joke about germanium – Germanium is the material of the future, always has been, always will be. And you see, thorium is very much like that. It’s this magic grade that they want to have it, it’s always in the future, and always will remain in the future.

NJ: Your book meticulously highlights the various mishaps and hurdles faced during the construction and commissioning of various reactors. In one instance, you mention a fire and an explosion proceeded and closely followed the Prime Minister’s visit to Kalpakkam, when she went there, when Indira Gandhi went there to dedicate the MAPS-1 reactor to the nation. Was this incident widely reported? Do these mishaps, which you know are infamously called incidents, come to light automatically and immediately?

MVR: Usually not. In some cases, they do come about. I think, I do not know actually if this widely reported at that point. I found out about it actually through the writings of the retired DAE Secretary, M R Srinivasan, in his autobiography he had talked about this. That’s how I found out about it. What typically happens in  many of these cases is that immediately after the event you often will not find anything about it in public media. Occassionally, some workers leak news of these kinds of things to media and so on. That’s how you find out about it. You find out some, some mishaps through the annual reports that the atomic energy regulatory board…so, you find some information. The picture is neither completely dark nor completely transparent. It’s somewhat mixed. You do find out some details, but some times not.

The 500 MWe Prototype Fast Breeder Reactor (PFBR) under construction at Kalpakkam. Photo credits: S Raghunathan, The Hindu.

The 500 MWe Prototype Fast Breeder Reactor (PFBR) under construction at Kalpakkam. Photo credits: S Raghunathan, The Hindu.

NJ: You’re now in Chennai, a metropolis less than 100 kms from Kalpakkam. And on the other side of Kalpakkam sits Pondicherry, another teeming town. NPCIL [Nuclear Power Corporation of India Ltd.] claims, I mean I know one of its, 25th year, it claimed that the Kalpakkam plants have operated without any hazards for several reactor years. How true is this? What are the kind of facilities that are currently running in Kalpakkam? Is there any cause for concern for people who are living in Chennai or in Pondicherry?

MVR: I would answer this at three levels. First level is, asking just what we know, in terms of empirical things. There have been a number of small incidents of the kind that you have mentioned, various heavy water leaks, things tripping, so on and so forth. Now, if you think about all these things as some kind of an indicator of the health of the system it is sort of like saying – if there is a man that is going around, or woman for that matter who is going around, who has got occassional shortness of breath, who is not able to climb stairs, who has some occasional slight chest pain, and things of that sort, he or she might have not had a heart attack at that point, but clearly those signs are not good. Another thing, to sort of, look at this whole picture is to say, look at the experience so far and can you decide that there has, because there hasn’t been any major accidents, catastrophic accidents, that the system is safe. And again, the answer is no, because the number of years of experience is very very limited compared to the accuracy at the confidence that you want to have about how few accidents there are.

So, to give you an example, if you see the discussions about Koodankulam or any of these reactors, they would often say things like, we have done our analysis of this and the probability of a core damage accident in this will be 10-6  per reactor, or 10-7 , or something like that. Really small number, one part in a million, or one part in ten million, and so on and so forth. If you wanted to get that kind of a figure from empirical data, you would have to have tens and hundreds of thousands of years of reactor experience, without any accidents, to say well this is reasonable. In the absence of that kind of experience, you cannot say, you cannot be sure of this number with any great confidence.

Finally, I would say the most concern about the kind of facilities that they are building in Kalpakkam are two-fold. One, is this breeder reactor that they are constructing, the prototype fast-breeder reactor. It’s the first reactor, commercial scale reactor of the second stage of this nuclear programme. It’s a 500 megawatt reactor, fueled by plutonium, with liquid sodium removing the heat from the core. And this has various problems with its design. In particular, it has something called the positive void coefficient which is very dangerous, which actually led to the accident in Chernobyl, the reactor has a certain kind of behaviour that is not stable. And this proto-fast breeder reactor has been built with a containment, which is the big structure that you see from far in any reactor, which is not of adequate strength in order to contain the accident, if one should happen, a really worse case accident. So, that’s one area where I will concerned about the Kalpakkam reactor.

The second thing is the reprocessing plant, which also is in Kalpakkam, where spent fuel is chopped up and dissolved in acid and plutonium extracted. When this process is done, one should remember that all the radioactivity that is sitting inside this spent fuel, none of it goes away, because that’s a physical property. We cannot destroy radioactivity. So, what happens is all this radioactivity gets stored in the form of, what are called, high level waste, which is extremely concentrated source of radioactivity; usually kept in steel tanks. Ideally, one would like to seal this liquid, actually blend it with glass to form something that is called vitrified waste. In Kalpakkam, for whatever reason, I don’t know why they haven’t managed to get the vitrification plant to work. All the annual reports from the Department of Atomic Energy talk about them building a reprocessing, I mean a vitrification plant, and they always say work is progressing, it’s expected to be completed. But, I have never seen one which says it is completed, as of about a year or so. So, in my sense, even if the  plant is not operating  there will probably be a huge backlog high level waste and this is something which if cooling fails for some reason it can actually explode due to the chemical reactions, in principle it’s possible and this kind of explosion has happened in 1957 at the Mayak processing plant in the Soviet Union, which contaminated a huge area of land. So, that goes to the kinds of things that there would be any worry about.

NJ: Nuclear electricity is cheap! What do your studies suggest, conclude about this suggestion?

All-Atomic Comics pp. 22. Leonard Rifas.

All-Atomic Comics pp. 22. Leonard Rifas.

MVR: This claim about nuclear power being cheap has been made in two ways. One is when the early days of nuclear power, they talked about it being too cheap to meter. That it is so cheap that you don’t even have to cost it, and so on. Those kinds of claims have largely vanished. The Economist magazine said nuclear power has changed from being too cheap to meter to being too expensive to matter. Something of that sort. But, now if you look at the other way by which they talk about this, when nuclear power is compared with another source of energy and ultimate dismay that is cheaper than that.

So, in India the primary source of energy of electricity generation in the country has been coal. And nuclear power has been consistently compared to that. So, in the early years, what they quickly realized was that nuclear power can’t compete directly with coal. So, the strategy was to say, well, near the coal mines, we will certainly not be able to compete, but as you go further and further away from where most of the coal is mined, then you have to include the cost of transporting coal to that thing. And the assumption is, once you go sufficiently far away, then nuclear power is going to become cheaper. So, there will be at least some parts of the country where it makes economic sense to have nuclear power, because the cost of delivering coal for generating electricity will be too high.

So, in the early years, what they would talk about in the 50s and 60s, they were talking about 600 kilometres of distance, 500 or 600 kilometres, and once you go beyond that then nuclear power would be cheaper. But this was before any reactors had actually been built. Once the first set of reactors had been built and their costs sort of understood, what happened was you found that this was not going to happen. So, by the 1980s, as the first reactors happen, they talked about it being 800 kilometres away. Once it was 800 kilometres away, then it can compete. But then, they were very confident at that time, that by the 1990s, Oh, we would have lowered the costs of nuclear power plants, so that it’s going to compete even with the pithead where the coal is mined. Now come the 1990s, all they could say was, you go to 1200 kilometres and then maybe it is going to be competitive. Now, this is roughly the period when I started looking into nuclear power and the early 2000s I made a costing of comparing electricity being generated at the Kaiga Nuclear Power Plant, with a core plant that had recently been constructed at that point at Raichur.

Now, the other thing that you found in all these studies of economics was that they would never use costs of real nuclear power plants, real core plants. There would be some arbitrary figure, 5 crores per megawatt, 3 crores per megawatt, sort of just pulled out of a hat and say, this is the cost of your nuclear power plant. So, we said, no we would like do it empirically, and we look at the Kaiga plant and the Raichur plant. The coal for the Raichur plant comes from 1400 kilometres away. So, more than the 1200 kilometres. And we still found that nuclear power is more expensive for realistic discount rates.

The other claim that you see all the time is that nuclear power so far has not been cheaper but in the future it is going to be cheaper, because we are going to decrease the costs of building these nuclear power plants. Again, experience around the world suggests that this is not the case. In both the United States and France, which have the had the most experience building nuclear power plants, costs have actually increased over a period of time. And this is primarily because, they have had to incorporate more and more safety features into nuclear reactors in part, and in part because everything else has become more and more expensive. So, on the whole I would say, the claim that nuclear power is cheap is just not been found to be true.

NJ: This, you’re not even going into the aspects of waste management and costs of an catastrophic event.

MVR: That’s right. And also, in these so called breeder reactors, this tends to be even more expensive than ordinary reactors.

NJ: So, why is it that if nuclear power is so hazardous, so dirty, so unpopular, why is it that civil countries with democratic governments  are pursuing this so avidly?

MVR: This is a million dollar question. I think that it’s…to answer that, I think you have to understand that countries are not unitary objects. There are different people involved, there are different groups involved. Some of the costs, many of the risks and so on are very unequally borne. The primary risk of having a nuclear power plant accident from a nuclear power plant is very local. Even though, some amount of radioactivity might escape and might spread all over the world, as in the case of Chernobyl and so on, the primary impact is within tens of kilometres of a nuclear power plant whereas for somebody sitting in Delhi or Bombay faraway that’s not a big issue.

Likewise, many of these things, I think, are not, are done on the basis of taxpayer money, not on the base of private money. And in many countries where nuclear power has been put to the test at the market place, even if it is backed up with strong political commitment by the political leadership it has often failed. This has been the case in the United States, it is proving to be the case right now as we are speak in the United Kingdom… so on and so forth. I think that the places where it can be absorbed through some combination of government largesse and public taxpayer money, has been the place where it grows.

NJ: And finally, what is your take on Koodankulam? And what would you do if you were in control of the country’s decision making? And what would you have done and what would you do now that the protests have erupted?

Sea Siege. Koodankulam 08 October 2012. Photo credits: Amritharaj Stephen.

Sea Siege. Koodankulam 08 October 2012. Photo credits: Amritharaj Stephen.

MVR: Yeah. So, that’s a very big if. Somebody like me would never be in the government, in a position of power, but let me try and answer that to the extent that I could. So, you said, if I were in a position of power right now, as your first position, that I take to mean, that I couldn’t sort of answer something like, well, I will just abandon the project as it is. Because that would come out of huge political cost. Assuming that particular answer is not open to me, let me try and suggest a few things, I think, a good responsible government should do in this place.

So, the argument here is that you have already spent 17,000 crores on it, we cannot waste that investment, and so somebody has to bare the risk and so on and so forth. I think that three things should be done. One is that, if this plant were to be commissioned, it should be commissioned with complete transparency to the local people, who are the people who are concerned about the safety of it. So, I would say, if in order to win their trust, which is completely absent at this point, I would open up the operating records, as and when the plant is commissioned. And if at any stage, the local population, if they feel uncomfortable about this plant, about how it is operating and maybe invoking the use of expert knowledge from other places and so on feel that this plant is not operating well, then I would commit to having that shut down and those problems rectified.

The second, I would say, is that having learnt this lesson from Koodankulam, no more nuclear power plants should be commissioned without the consent of the people who live in the neighbourhood. So, in the case of Jaitapur for example, where the local population has clearly shown that they are not interested, that they do not want this plant, I would abandon it right away. This is not fair to sort of do that.

And finally, to address the fact that many of the people who are opposing this plant, are not just opposing it because of fear of radiation or of accidents, but also because it is going to impact their livelihood, the least one can do is to say, well, we would compensate you in case you find, for example, that fish catch are going down or people are not buying your fish or something like that. To which you have to start some kind of baseline survey, and then make some arrangements for how these people will be compensated in case they are going to be bearing losses.

These I think are three very minimal measures that have to be taken, short of sort of shutting this down, if you’re going to ahead with commissioning it.

NJ: One last question I had has got to do with this nuclear power plant in New York, Shoreham, which was, I think, abandoned at the last stage and was then subsequently converted in to using gas as a fuel. Now, why was that done? Why wouldn’t that be a feasible option in India?

Wunderland Kalkar 024

Wunderland Kalkar 024 (Photo credit: Henk-Jan van der Klis)

MVR: It could entirely be a feasible option. I have not really looked in to that. That’s one reason I am not talking about it. That’s an excellent question. There have been plants that have been abandoned at various stages after construction. And perhaps, the even better example than Shoreham is that of the Kalkar reactor in Germany, near the border with Netherlands, which was actually abandoned after the whole plant construction had been done, costing about 5 billion dollars, but before the fuel was loaded in to it. And it was subsequently converted in to an amusement park.

Coming back to the basic question, if you want to say you’ve built this infrastructure, some of it can certainly be salvaged and used for other kinds of power generation, whether that is a realistic alternative or what are the costs of that I have not looked in to this, I have not seen any body else look in to this, so I cannot say it with any authority as to what that would be, how much that would cost, how feasible that would be, and what would have to be left out.

NJ: Thank you very much, Ramana, for your time.

MVR: Thank you.

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Credits:

Camera: Abdullah Nurullah, Urvashi Mukherjee, Shatakshi Gawade, Bhaskar Goswami.

Editor: Soofara Ali

Assistant Editors: Shataskshi Gawade, Abdulla Nurullah

Special thanks to Sashi Kumar, Chairman, Asian College of Journalism.

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This English transcript was done by volunteers in Chai Kadai. Feel free to share, copy, distribute and translate this transcript under this Creative Commons license. Please attribute the video interview to the authors and Asian College of Journalism. 

Chai Kadai. (chaikadai.wordpress.com | chaikadai@gmail.com)

 

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An evening on the sea

Poovulagin Nanbargal presents

An evening on the sea – screening of documentary films on Koodankulam struggle.

“Nothing strengthens authority so much as silence” – Leonardo Davinci.

The screening of documentary films is intended to shed some light on the struggles of the people from Koodankulam spread over a year.

We believe that by screening these documentaries, we could effectively re-construct the various phases of struggle, and also record the voices of the people involved in the struggle in the mainstream.

Join your voices, with theirs. For silence only strengthens authority.

When: December 10, 6.00 P.M

Where: VisCom Hall, Loyola College 

Speakers: Writer Joe De Cruz, director Seenu Ramasamy, Director Ram, director Ranjith,Writer Baskar Sakthi and writer Ajayan Bala.

Contact: 98410 31730

invitation

Chingari Award to the women of Idinthakarai – epicenter of the non violent struggle against the powerful nuclear lobby

Chief Guest Dr. Vandana Shiva lauds the role of women in fighting corporate crime

Bhopal, December 1st 2012: The ‘Chingari Award for Women against Corporate Crime’ was handed over to two women, Rani Dasan and Thenmozhi Manickam, representing the thousands of brave women activists who have rallied against the powerful nuclear establishment in a continuing struggle for justice against great odds. Eminent environmental activist, Dr.Vandana Shiva, the Chief Guest at the function, said, “The Kudankulam struggle has emerged not merely as the most defining challenge to nuclear power in the country today but is also one of the strongest demonstrations of non-violent people’s power. The role of the women in the struggle has been critical in ensuring that the energy of the fight remains undiminished. They are truly the ‘chingaris’ of the struggle and it is an honour to be able to present the award to them.”

Referring to the contribution of the women in the fight, the citation of the award read,” The simple women of Idinthakarai, Kuthenkuzhi, Kootapully, Koodankulam, Vairavikinaru and numerous other coastal villages in Tirunelveli, Kanyakumari and Thootukudi districts embody the spirit of democracy, courage and resistance. Their antagonists are no ordinary entities. Ranged against the beedi-rollers, agriculturists and fisherwomen of South Tamil Nadu is a formidable array of opponents – the Governments of Tamil Nadu, India and Russia; a nuclear supplier lobby comprising multinational companies who see the entire Indian market shutting its doors to them if the Koodankulam struggle were to succeed; a media that has for most part been hostile; a disinterested and cynical public, and national political parties that have either remained curiously silent or come out vocally in support of nuclear energy. In celebration of the power of non-violence over violence, of truth over falsehood and of people’s resolve over the might of a corporate police state, the 2012 Chingari Award is given to the brave women of Idinthakarai, Koodankulam, Kuthenkuzhy, Kootapully and Vairavikinaru.”

Speaking at the award ceremony, Rashida Bee and Champa Devi Shukla, Managing Trustees of Chingari and women who’ve lead from the front in the fight for corporate accountability against multinational Dow-Carbide, said:

“We feel honored to be able to stand in solidarity with the women of Idinthakarai. The Chingari Trust is for the 6th year running been able to shine the spotlight on brave women activists across the country fighting powerful vested interests at great risk to their lives. We also remember today the feisty Dayamani Barla a journalist and tribal activist, who was a recipient of this award in 2008 who is now imprisoned by the Madhya Pradesh government, in a blatant attempt to intimidate and repress a fight against land acquisition. We condemn this action of the state and call for her immediate release.”

The Chingari Trust was started by two women survivors of the Bhopal disaster who were awarded the Goldman Environmental prize in 2004. The women – Rashida Bee and Champa Devi Shukla used the prize money of 125 thousand USD to set up Chingari Trust. More than 150 children affected by the toxic legacy of the Dow – Carbide plant, are provided medical and social support at the Chingari rehabilitation center on Berasia road.

Rashida Bee

Managing Trustee

Champa Devi Shukla

Managing Trustee

(forwarded by Nityanand Jayaraman)

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Fresh cases against Idinthakarai Trio

from Nityanand Jayaraman (Chennai Solidarity Group)

09 November 2012 Idinthakarai Updates:

The Tamil Nadu Police has added three new cases against three Idinthakarai women — Xavier Ammal, Selvi and Sundari — who are already in Trichy Women’s Prison.

The trio were originally jailed in three cases that claimed that they were involved in everything from shouting obscene slogans to carrying aruvals (sickles) and crowbars, to waging war against the Government of India (with an aruval) and Sedition. On 18 October, 2012, the Madurai Bench of the Madras High Court heard the bail appeals of 50 villagers from villages around Koodankulam. The court released 47 villagers, but denied bail to three women — Xavier Ammal, Selvi and Sundari. The women have already spent nearly two months in jail, and given the High Court’s rejection, they are unlikely to return to their families anytime soon.

Their alleged crime was an act that most women would commit intuitively, namely acting to protect their families, their communities and their future generations. Xavier Amma, Selvi and Sundari are strong, though gentle, women who have worked hard to keep their families together by rolling beedis, and selling fish, even while spending time daily in the protest venue with other women. When the occasion demanded, and it did with the impending commissioning of the Koodankulam reactors post-Fukushima, the women of Idinthakarai and surrounding villages galvanised into action. Among these thousands of women, these three have clearly stood out as leaders.

Separately, about a week ago, the Police have booked A. Lourdusamy (68), a seaweed collector, and Nazarene (40), a fisherman, under the draconian Goondas Act. Both are from Idinthakarai. According to an extract from the Wikipedia, “The Tamil Nadu Prevention of Dangerous Activities of Bootleggers, Drug-offenders, Forest-offenders, Goondas, Immoral Traffic Offenders, Slum-grabbers and Video Pirates Act (Tamil Nadu Act 14 of 1982; “Video Pirates” was added by Act 32 of 2004), Section 2(f) states “goonda means a person, who either by himself or as a member of or leader of a gang habitually commits, or attempts to commit or abets the commission of offence, punishable under Chapter XVI or Chapter XVII or Chapter XXII of the Indian Penal Code (Central Act XLV of 1860).”According to a 2011 ruling of the Madras High Court, even a single offense under the Act permits detention of a person as a goonda.

After, sedition and waging war against the State, the Tamil Nadu police’s creative abuse of law is now turning to the Goondas Act as a tool of suppressing dissent.

This is part of the State Government’s vicious program to teach protestors a lesson. It is meant to serve as a warning to everyone that if you are too insistent with your demands, the Government will leave no stone unturned to make life unlivable.

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Sixth Letter From Women of Koodankulam

November 09 2012

Dear Sisters,

We are writing again to you for the 6th time. We realize that all over our country and the world people are speaking for us. As you know the present phase of the struggle that started in August 2011 against the Koodankulam Nuclear Power Plant has gone through so many special and intense moments. Some of which has reached the world, some have not. But for us living in Idinthakarai and Koodankulam villages, we have not respite till we hear that the KKNPP has been shelved. We would also like to see that transparency in decision making and also participation in development programs become part of the democratic process in India. This we have learnt by being here and listening to so many learned thinkers and leaders who have come with support to us. We know that the Nuclear Industry is one ridden with secrets and lies, swamped in corruption and fraud. For this, our own tryst with the implementation of Koodankulam Nuclear Power Plant is enough testimony.

We write this to share with you a matter that has reached our ears recently and which is troubling us no end. Our three dear sisters who were taken away by Police on September 10, 2012 are in Trichy jail. Now we hear that the Madurai bench of the Madras High Court has denied them bail. They have been charged with unlawful assembling, shouting abuses and carrying deadly weapons. We cannot even think for a moment like this about our gentle sisters. We are sure that you remember Xavier Amma lamenting at the Police from the sandy beach drenched in sea water, Sundari shouting slogans in her cracked voice after days of traveling and talking to villagers, Selvi being pushed around. We rub our eyes and pinch ourselves to make sure that these are sights not seen in mindless sleep. No, these are real as the attached photos will not lie. These are images , live and real from a day taken by friends who shared our anguish by being with us. These are images, not worked on in photoshop software or manipulated to prove some vested interest. These are honest copies of our life that speak for themselves.

We are afraid that the trio will be kept indefinitely in captivity so that the morale of all of us here can be broken and trampled upon. While we want to say aloud that we are still strong and convinced, we would also like to convey that we are worried about the future of the 3 sisters. We see their families, pining for them, anxious and restless. We see the faded smiles on the faces of Sundari’s children, the weak but sensitive son of Selvi’s the pain in Xavierammal’s aged mother’s eyes. We all miss them too. If anyone thinks that by treating them like criminals or anti-national suspects, the determination of the women in the movement can be suppressed, they are mistaken.

We have gained strength and energy as we hear from people who have visited them in jail.We are proud that they are holding on conveying to all their companions in the prison the cause they are fighting for. We are inspired by their steadfast courage and will power. We feel that it is permeating through the concrete walls and iron bars of the prison and reaching us.

We wish that all of you would think of the 3 in your prayers. Please come together even as small groups and demand their release. Now it is Sundari, Selvi and Xavierammal. Tomorrow it could be you, me and us.

Do convey this message to the world

With love

Sisters from Idinthakarai

( Conveyed to Anitha.S on 9.11.2011)

Jal Satyagraha. Sep 2012. Photo: N Rajesh. Source: The Hindu

Source: Countercurrents.org

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Updates from Idinthakarai, Koodankulam. 09 October 2012

from Nityanand Jayaraman, Chennai Solidarity Group

As told to me by a source in Tirunelveli:

Koodankulam protestors, and some others who just happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time on September 10 and subsequent dates, had been picked up by the Police, arrested and remanded to judicial custody in Tirunelveli, Vellore, and Tiruchi jails. Yesterday, they were produced before the Magistrate in Valliyoor. This is the second instance that an extension on their remand has been granted.

The arrested people that were brought to the magistrate’s court from Vellore and Tiruchi were not given food, water or allowed to answer nature’s calls throughout the trip. In the earlier instance, when they were produced before the magistrate, they had been brought in hand-cuffed. The Magistrate had taken a very serious view of this, and reminded the police of the supreme court orders on the matter. Unlike the last visit, the arrested people were allowed to meet their relatives yesterday thanks to the presence of about 6 local lawyers who complained to the Magistrate. The magistrate in turn chastised the police and invited the relatives to meet the arrested people inside the court, and hand over food and clothing.

Two disturbing events arose.
1. Thirumani a.k.a Joseph, aged 29 (as per FIR), s/o Lincoln Nadar, Village Koodankulam is a mentally challenged person. On September 10, 2012, a new Sub-Inspector (name awaited) from the Koodankulam Police Station arrested Thirumani. His arrest was not noticed by anybody. He was produced before the Nanguneri Magistrate, who is the same person that helped the police with the remand of Mugilan. In this case too, the Magistrate (name awaited) remanded the arrested person to judicial custody. When solidarity activists in Tirunelveli found out about it, they applied for bail for the young man and requested that the youngster be sent in for immediate treatment. The matter had come up for hearing on 7 October (Saturday), when the Magistrate directed that Mr. Thirumani should be moved to the Tirunelveli Government Hospital, and sought a medical opinion. Yesterday, the medical opinion confirming Mr. Thirumani’s mental state was presented to the Magistrate. The magistrate questioned the Public Prosecutor in open court as to how the Nanguneri Magistrate had been convinced to remand a visibly mentally challenged person. The magistrate told the lawyers to move a bail application immediately. To move a bail application, the sureties produced (such as property papers etc) need to be certified by the Village Administrative Officer. All 5 VAOs and Tahsildars in Perumanal, Idinthakarai and Koodankulam have been instructed to not issue any certification and have refused to do so since the time that sureties were being readied for the release of Sathish Kumar and Mugilan a few months ago. In this case too, Koodankulam VAO Mr. Suresh flatly refused to issue any certification and directed the applicants to approach the District Collectolr. The Lawyers pointed this out to the Magistrate. Considering the mental state of the arrested person, the Magistrate has issued bail on the basis of patta tax payment receipts of 2010. The bail has now been granted, but only because the Magistrate was willing to accept our case only because Thirumani is mentally challenged. For the other persons, bail applications are likely to be a problem because the VAO is unlikely to certify surety papers.

2. Mr. Udayaselvan, s/o Sudalaimani, aged 25, Koodankulam village, is in no way connected to the ongoing protests. The following narrative is a paraphrased version of his oral testimony to the Valliyoor Magistrate on 9 October, 2012. On September 10, he was returning from having picked up clothes from a tailor shop in Koodankulam town where he had given clothes for stitching for a wedding of his close relative. On his way back, he was stopped by policemen. He told them he had to go home to drop off the clothes. The same policemen who had allowed him were joined by several more by the time he happened back. Despite his protests that he had nothing to do with the protest on the beach, he was picked up by three policemen — Police Constable Pal Pandi, Police Constable Lakshmanan and Sub Inspector Anand Raj. All three policemen were reportedly part of the escort that accompanied DSP Bidari and the ADGP. Udayaselvan was dragged into the thorny bushes, and was beaten up badly. One would slap him on his face, while the other would punch him on his head, and the third would hit him on his legs. This went on until he thankfully lost consciousness. Another person, also arrested on the same day from the same location, confirms that he saw Udayaselvan being dragged by his feet and hands and loaded on to the police vehicle. According to Udayaselvan, the Sub Inspector Anand Raj was particularly vicious. As Udayaselvan was narrating this, his mother who was present in the court fainted.

Mr. Udayaselvan said that he did not narrate these beatings on the first occasion for fear of upsetting his mother and sister. But since then (about 15 days back), he has lost all appetite and the effects of the beatings are seriously affecting his health. According to his mother, he has never appeared so weak. His request for medical attention has been granted, and the Magistrate reportedly ordered him to be relocated to the hospital immediately.

According to the person who narrated all this to me, the presence of a number of lawyers appearing on behalf of the arrested people made a big difference to counter the intimidation of the police and bring in a semblance of fairness to the proceedings.

Further updates from Prof. Samuel Asir Raj, Tirunelveli District –

Udayaselvam aged 25 years s/o Sudalaimani of Koodankulam remanded in Vellore Jail has been subjected to harressment and torture by Police Constables Paulpandi and Latchumanan and Anantharaj constables who were acting as personal bodyguards of th IG Rajesh Das and the DSP.. The sister of Udayaselvam was present to meet him. Udayaselvam was told by the lawyers to request for medical treatment and his sister presented to the magistrate, an appeal for medical treatment for her brother through the lawyers. The magistrate was sympathetic enough to record the appeal and order that the remanded Udayselvam be given medical treatment in the hospital at Vellore.

One of the remanded person from Vairavakinnaru is a daily wage labour and the family has been suffering without food and medical treat for the ill child. The wife had to borrow money to come and meet her husband, but did not have enough to feed her child and herself yesterday. We had provided some rice and dhall earlier but they have been exhausted. So we gave Rs.500/- as immediate relief and plan to send more food materials to Vairavikinnaru.We arew also making arrangements to provide medical treatment for the child next week.

Yesterday we sent 5 lawyers to be present in the court at Valliyoor as the remanded persons from Trichy and Vellore were to be produced before the Valliyoor Magistrate for further period of remand. The police has refused to allow the relatives to meet the remanded people. The lawyers complained to the magistrate who then ordered the inspector to allow for meetings to take place.
We have decided to make it mandatory to take along with Adv. Ramesh Ganapathy, five to ten lawyers so as to make our presence felt in the court. This tactic worked yesterday as the police were more defensive. Moreover we were able to obtain a favourable order of exemption (till the case is finished) from court appearance for Mrs. Meera Udayakumar. This was possible as the lawyer made an application for exemption of appearance by stating that Mrs. Meera Udaykumar had familial responsibilities of taking care of two old in laws and two young children particularly when she was being harnessed by Congress goons at home and BJP / RSS at the school which she is running with the responsibility of being a principal.
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