TIRUNELVELI : Nearly three decades after the first contract was inked between India and Russia — a period that saw the collapse of the Soviet Union and the resultant change in world order, and as many as 10 governments at the Centre — Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Russian President Vladimir Putin and Tamil Nadu Chief Minister J Jayalalithaa jointly dedicated Unit 1 of the KudankulamNuclear Power Plant on Wednesday afternoon.
Modi terms the Kudankulam plant another strategic partnership with Russia
Prime Minister Narendra Modi said the commissioning of the first 1,000 MW unit in Kudankulam is a mark of another strategic partnership between India and Russia. Speaking on the occasion of dedicating the first 1,000 MW unit built with Russian equipment, Modi said it is only the start of the collaboration in the nuclear field between the two nations.
Jayalalithaa issues safety concerns
“The smooth commercial operation of this project overcoming many obstacles – economic, political and social, global, national and local – stands testimony to the unwavering commitment to the project of the governments of Tamil Nadu, India and Russia,” said Tamil Nadu Chief Minister J Jayalalithaa.
Recalling how her government addressed the fears of the local public who rose in protest, Jaya said the successful commissioning of the project is an object lesson on how the fears and apprehensions of the local population can and should be allayed, “through a process of engagement and reassurance, and by building community assets and infrastructure."
She expressed confidence that the Nuclear Power Corporation of India Limited will maintain the highest safety standards.
Jaya also urged the leaders to hasten the commissioning of the second unit, “considering the needs of our fast growing economy and the needs of our industrial and agricultural sectors”.
In dedicating Kudankulam nuclear power plant we mark another historic tie between India and Russia: PM Modi pic.twitter.com/vkKkhFFe1Q— ANI (@ANI_news) August 10, 2016
Russia President Putin speaking at inauguration of Unit 1 of Kudankulam Nuclear Power Plant via video conference pic.twitter.com/8Cwxotl6tj— ANI (@ANI_news) August 10, 2016
PM Modi, Russian President Vladimir Putin and TN CM at the inauguration of Unit 1 of Kudankulam Nuclear Power Plant pic.twitter.com/v8xUoZHis2— ANI (@ANI_news) August 10, 2016
The function was organised over video conference between the three leaders in their respective capitals and the fourth point will be at the plant site in Tirunelveli, top officials at KKNPP told Express. The chairman and managing director of Nuclear Power Corporation of India and site director RS Sundar, among others, were also present during the function.
Speaking to Express in the midst of making arrangements for the event, Sundar, a man from Tirunelveli who was appointed the site director, said the Unit 1 was now generating 1,000 MWe of power. “The second unit, which achieved criticality a month ago, will begin power production by month end,” he said.
The complex is en route to becoming the biggest such in the country — the framework agreement for units 5 and 6 will reportedly be ready by the end of the year. “Excavation work is now going on for units 3 and 4,” he added.
Police sources said they had not deployed any additional forces, but intelligence agencies are monitoring the protesters.
This is a major milestone for the project that has been beset with troubles of various kinds over the years: soon after the then Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi and Soviet president Mikhail Gorbachev signed the Inter-Governmental deal in 1988, it was stuck in the international and domestic political developments in both countries.
The governments led by Deve Gowda and Boris Yeltsin revived it in 1998, and the contract was signed by the ones headed by Atal Bihari Vajpayee and Putin in 2002. The civil work began almost immediately.
There were other setbacks as well, including the death of project director Sunil Kumar Agarwal due to illness, and that of Sergei Ryzhov, chief designer of the plant’s light water VVER reactor, in a plane crash in 2011.
But the biggest challenge it faced was when people from the coastal villages that surrounded the plant rose in protest against setting the complex. They were alarmed after reports began coming in about radiation contamination, when a nuclear power plant in Fukushima, Japan was flooded following tsunami.
The activists, whose campaigns were rather passive till then, quickly captured the opportunity to raise a massive and well-organised protest in the second half of 2011. It was not enough to stop the project, but they managed to slow it down and also raised a series of questions about the liability clause, an important but seldom discussed aspect till then.
The protest has finally turned docile over years, and the cost of the project went up from Rs 13,171 crore to around Rs 22, 000 crore.