Parvatharaj Chinnathambi, an IT professional working in Chennai says, "In the district of Tirupur, there are thousands who have been rendered jobless because the garment factories have shut down thanks to the constant power utages."And this was the only job they had - they are not software engineers or government employees like me," he says. Parvatharaj has four brothers, three of whom live in Kovilpatti, Tuticorin district. "They have generators at home so they don't feel the pinch. But yes, I am all for the Kudankulam plant," he adds.
What does the medical fraternity have to say? Severly affected from the constant electricity shortge problem are the hospitals and clinics. In the interior districts of the state, patients are forced to turn back without receiving treatment. Or, have to wait endlessly to be diagnosed till the time the power comes back on.
Says Mr Nirmal, administration head, Life Line clinic, Chennai, “We may not have complete know-how of how a nuclear plant works but the scientists who have prepared the report on it do. Surely, we can trust their judgement. Tamil Nadu has always been in the grips of electricity issues and the Kudankulam plant would be a relief, not just for this state but the nation. After all, there is no gain without pain."
No one is feeling the prick more than labourers. Several thousand textile mills and garment factories in the state are shutting down as you read this. Thousands of labourers have lost their jobs and are out on the streets, wondering what to do next. Those who own the mills are trying to sell them, but there are no buyers.
Mr S Dinakaran, Chairman, South India Mills" Association, has no idea why it is taking the government so long to start up a plant which has been under construction for such a long time.
"We have invested so much money in Kudankulam, then why is this delay occurring? Why is it that everyone is up in arms about the safety of a nuclear plant only after the Fukushima incident happened in Japan? And if our plants can withstand the Thane cyclone, then surely they can withstand any other natural calamity. Twenty lakh people are without a job today, what are they going to do?
But, if the plant does see the light of the day, what happens to the traditional livelihood of the thousands of fisherfolk who inhabit the coasts?
"The coolant water and and other waste from the plant, will be dumped into the sea, affecting marine life. This in turn will severely impact the fishing industry, pushing fishermen to poverty. And the solid waste generated by the plant like spent nuclear rods is currently disposed of by being buried deep into the earth's surface," says S P Udaya Kumar, a representative of People's Movement Against Nuclear Energy (PMANE). The plant, he says, would also emit Iodine 131, 132, 133, Cesium 134, 136, 137 isotopes, strontium, tritium, tellurium and other radioactive particles.
The government has bought huge chunks of lands from locals for the construction of the plant who have been compensated. But they had no initial choice of whether they wanted to sell their land or not. This has turned into a major argument against the plant.
Safety matters The plant is not immune to natural catastrophes. “The tsunami in 2006 flooded the plant installations. In 2011, there were tremors in seven districts of Tamil Nadu,"says Udaya Kumar. The expert panel appointed by the Centre says the plant has a large submarine landslide that will create too small a water displacement to cause a
tsunami. However, no tsunami hazard study has been undertaken as was done for the Kalpakkam plant.
PMANE activist M Pushparayan has also said that the foundation of the nuke plant is not strong enough to hold the reactor. This theory has been supported by A Bhoominathan, professor at IIT, Madras, who has said that there are several weak zones in the sites of various nuclear facilities.
Only time will tell whether the udankulam nuke plant will ever be up and running. Only a response from the Centre can make things clear. A report by the panel of experts on the safety of the plant has still not been made public. Once that is done, the decision could go either way. For now, the people of Tamil Nadu can only wait and watch.