What is fuelling anti-nuclear protests and who is interested in slowing down the growth of nuclear power? 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 the 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.
The court's decision is truly a landmark one. India’s Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has worked hard to cut his country’s over-dependence on oil from the Gulf region, which has been destabilized by U.S. and NATO military interventions. Nuclear power plays a key role in Delhi’s ambitions to secure an 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 the 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 used various smear tactics and modern social technologies exploiting the environmental fears of the population.
Behind the ignorant mob stood the gloomy figures of Western sponsors. However, their neocolonialist mentality prevented them from understanding that India has the right to direct 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 were designed by engineers from Rosatom, the Russian state nuclear regulatory agency, and they have a double containment system that can withstand high pressure. Russian reactors are known to be very stable. For example, the Bushehr facility built by Rosatom specialists successfully 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 was the first nation to support India’s nuclear aspirations, despite international political pressure. Many nuclear experts in India remember U.S. 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 the Indian market. Russia’s leading role in the Indian nuclear industry and Rosatom's status as a reliable partner in Kudankulam still angers 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, this law is 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 a vital part of India’s emerging clean energy portfolio.