New Delhi/Chennai, May 6 (IANS) Harmonising issues of public safety and economic development, the Supreme Court Monday said steps to operationalise the first unit of the Kudankulam Nuclear Power Project (KNPP) in Tamil Nadu would continue uninterrupted.
“While setting up a project of this nature, we have to have an overall view of larger public interest rather than smaller violation of right to life guaranteed under Article 21 of the constitution,” an apex court bench of Justice K.S. Radhakrishnan and Dipak Misra said.
“We have to balance economic scientific benefits with that of minor radiological detriments on the touchstone of our national nuclear policy. Economic benefit… has to be viewed on a larger canvas which not only augment our economic growth but alleviate poverty and generate more employment,” the court said.
“Larger public interest of the community should give way to individual apprehension of violation of human rights and right to life guaranteed under Article 21,” the court said.
While disposing of a public suit seeking an halt on the project’s commissioning, the court directed the government, including the environment and forests ministry (MoEF), to submit a report on the compliance of all safety steps.
Justice Radhakrishnan said: “The court has to respect national nuclear policy of the country reflected in the Atomic Energy Act and the same has to be given effect to for the welfare of the people and the country’s economic growth and it is with these objectives in mind KNPP has been set up.”
“Public money running into crores and crores of rupees has already been spent for the development, control and use of atomic energy for the welfare of the people and, hence, we have to put up with such minor inconveniences, minor radiological detriments and minor environmental detriments,” the court said.
The petitioner, Chennai-based IT professional G. Sunderrajan, wanted the government to implement 11 of the 17 additional safety measures recommended for the project by a task force set up by the government in the wake of Fukushima nuclear accident in Japan in 2011.
Justice Misra said: “The AERB as the regulatory authority and the MoEF are obliged to perform their duty that safety measures are adequately taken before the plant commences its operation.”
“Safety, security and life would constitute a pyramid within the sanctity of Article 21 and no jettisoning is permissible,” Justice Misra said.
“Therefore, I am obliged to think that the delicate balance in other spheres may have some allowance but in the case of establishment of a nuclear plant, the safety measures would not tolerate any lapse. The grammar has to be totally different,” he said.
“Problems highlighted, while setting up a nuclear plant, are not unique to this nation, because other countries are also grappling with those situations,” the court said.
Justice Radhakrishnan noted that of the “seventeen suggested safety measures, by the Atomic Energy Regulatory Board (AERB), 12 have already been implemented and the rest, in a phased manner have to be implemented….”
“…all the expert teams are unanimous in their opinion of the safety and security of the KNPP both to life and property of the people and the environment which includes marine life,” he said.
Reacting to the judgment, M. Pushparayan, a key leader in the People’s Movement Against Nuclear Energy (PMANE) told IANS in Chennai: “It is a delayed and unjust judgment. It will not bind us and our protest against the project will continue.”
“The KNPP will not even satisfy the power requirements of Tamil Nadu or even Kerala,” Pushparayan contended.
“It is discouraging that the court seems to have not considered important issues like the substandard equipments used in the reactor, Coastal Regulation Zone stipulations, spent fuel storage, conduct of proper mock drill for the locals while deciding on the case,” he said on phone from Tirunelveli district.
According to Pushparayan, around 25 school children submitted a petition to the Tirunelveli district collector to shut down the nuclear plant due to its substandard equipment.
The NPCIL is setting up the project in Kudankulam, around 650 km from Chennai, with two Russian-made VVER 1,000-MW each reactors.