A committee of Indian experts, appointed by the Tamil Nadu government regarding the safety aspects of the Kudankulam Nuclear Power Project (KKNNP) recently submitted its report to Chief Minister Jayalalithaa, opening a controversial debate over the project, while, the State government also invited the representatives of People’s Movement Against Nuclear Energy (PMANE) for talks.
It is notable that in October 2011, thousands of protesters and villagers living around the Kudankulam nuclear project, blocked highways and staged hunger strikes, preventing further construction work, while demanding its closure as they fear of the disasters like the environmental impact, radioactive waste, nuclear accident etc. In this regard, S P Udayakumar of the movement had pointed out, “the nuclear plant is unsafe” and “the safety analysis report and the site evaluation study have not been made public. No public hearing was held. It is an authoritarian project that has been imposed on the people.”
However, severe differences have arisen between government sponsored scientists and private and former scientists who are really worried about the lives of the local people, living around the Kudankulam project. In this connection, M.R. Srinivasan, a former chairman of Indian Atomic Energy commission and member of experts committee remarked, “Let the government has a cool view of the report…but I have not taken back my words on the issue despite that few government officials are satisfied over the issue.”
Now, in order to conceal its own poor safety measures, Indian government has bribed the representative of anti-KKNPP Struggle Committee, S.P. Udayakumar who has sent a legal notice to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh for insinuating that the anti-Kudankulam protests were funded by United States, and the Scandinavian non-government organisations.
Nevertheless, this debate is because of the fact that India has failed to protect its nukes and plants as country’s past records prove. In this respect, on November 25, 2010, more than 90 Indian workers suffered radiation due to contamination of drinking water at the Kaiga Atomic Power Station in Karnataka. Indian rulers tried to conceal the tragedy, but were compelled to admit it when the media got the story after many suffered persons were hospitalised. The Time of India reported that there “was no official word from the usually secretive nuclear establishment…the employees were in hospital because they experienced a higher level of radiation after drinking water. However, tests confirmed radioactivity in the urine samples.”
Instead of realising their faults and to improve the security of their atomic plant, both Indian scientists and high officials hastened to cover the incident. But their statements were contradictory. Some Indian scientists remarked that the affected employees did not use to “go into the actual reactor area, but work around it”, while Director of the Kaiga station, AM Gupta said that these workers had “no exposure to the reactor directly, it was surprising to see them with higher level of radiation.” In this respect, The Nuclear Power Corporation, which runs Kaiga plant, did not reply to the media queries over the nuclear accident. Deputy Commissioner of Uttara Kannada, N S Channappa Gowda, pointed out that no casualties or injuries were reported. Notably, Indian Atomic Energy Chairman, Anil Kodkar called the mishap at Kaiga an act of sabotage.
Meanwhile, India’s poor nuclear safety can be noted from the statement of Minister of state, Prithviraj Chavan who had clarified that there were no video cameras there to catch who did the mischief, further saying that in future “the government would install cameras in all such areas.” Surprisingly, this statement made it clear that Indian other atomic plants are also without cameras.
In this context, an internal probe by Nuclear Power Corporation had stated the possibility of mischief by an insider who had deliberately added some heavy water containing tritium to the drinking water cooler. So it is a most alarming that anyone can cause any mischief at Indian any nuclear facility. This raises more questions regarding the poor safey of all Indian nuclear plants.
Notably, on July 27, 1991, a similar event took place at the heavy water plant run by the Department of Atomic Energy at Rawatbhata in Rajasthan. Nuclear radiation had affected and injured many labourers there.
In fact, these incidents coupled with other events of nuclear theft, smuggling and killing have become a regular feature of Indian atomic plants and facilities.
In July 1998, India’s Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) seized eight Kg. of nuclear material from three engineers in Chennai. It was reported that the uranium was stolen from an atomic research center. The case still remains pending. On November 7, 2000, International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) disclosed that Indian police had seized 57 pounds of uranium and arrested two men for illicit trafficking of radioactive material. IAEA had said that Indian civil nuclear facilities were vulnerable to thefts.
On January 26, 2003, CNN disclosed that Indian company, NEC Engineers Private Ltd. shipped 10 consignments to Iraq, containing highly sensitive equipment including titanium vessels and centrifugal pumps. Indian investigators acknowledged that the company falsified customs documents to get its shipments out of India.
While in February, 2004 same year, India’s Ambassador to Libya, Dinkar Srivastava revealed that New Delhi was investigating that retired Indian scientists could possibly be engaged in “high technology programs” for financial gains during employment in the Libyan government.
On June 12, 2004, Berkeley Nucleonics Corporation (BNC), an American company was fined US $ 300,000 for exporting illegally a nuclear component to the Bhaba Atomic Research Center in India. In December 2005, United States imposed sanctions on two Indian firms for selling missile goods and chemical arms material to Iran in violation of India’s commitment to prevent proliferation. In the same year, Indian scientists, Dr. Surendar and Y. S. R Prasad had been blacklisted by Washington due to their involvement in nuclear theft. In December 2006, a container packed with radioactive material disappeared from an Indian fortified research atomic facility near Mumbai.
In June, 2009, death of India’s nuclear scientist, Lokanathan Mahalingam raised new apprehension about the safety of Indian atomic assets. He was missed from the scenario and after a couple of days; his dead body was recovered from the Kali River.
Besides, two dangerous developments clearly prove that Indian military officers can even sell or provide the nukes or Weapons of Mass Destructions (WMDs) to the private persons. In this regard, on July 7, 2011, Indian army sources admitted that the 27 officers, mostly lieutenant colonels and colonels bought weapons and arms from the Central Ordnance Depot of Jabalpur, and illegally sold to people of dubious character.
In the recent past, Anti-Terrorism Squad (ATS) of the Maharashtra arrested a serving Lt. Col. Srikant Purohit along with some army officials who confessed that they were involved in training of the Hindu terrorists, supplying them the military-grade explosive RDX, used in bombings of various Indian cities including Malegaon. The investigation further indicated the confession of Lt. Col. Purohit for the bombing of Samjhota express, (Train), while proving close links of the Indian army officials with prominent politicians of Indian fundamentalist parties, BJP, VHP, RSS and Bajrang Dal.
In this context, most dangerous aspect is that Hindu fundamentalists, trained by Indian military experts or secret agency RAW could even prepare and obtain WMDs. Thus they could jeopardise the global peace by using these fatal weapons inside America and Europe so that these developed nations could also point finger at Pakistan because of their ‘stereotypes’ against the Muslims and Islamabad in wake of war on terror.
Nevertheless, despite Indian failure to protect its nukes and nuclear installations through tight security measures and despite nuclear proliferation by New Delhi in violation of various international agreements and its refusal to sign Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), CTBT and Additional Protocol with the IAEA, the US not only included India in its joined non-proliferation goals like Proliferation Security Initiative (PSI), but also signed a pact of nuclear civil technology in 2008. It seems that all the global non-proliferation conventions led by the US are applicable to Iran, North Korea and particularly Pakistan, while India is exempted because Washington has to fulfill its Asian interests through New Delhi especially at the cost of Pakistan and China.
This is right hour that international community must take notice of the dangers posed by Indian failure to protect its nukes, before these endanger whole the world.
Sajjad Shaukat writes on international affairs and is author of the book: US vs Islamic Militants, Invisible Balance of Power: Dangerous Shift in International Relations