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Kudankulam N-plant: Safety norms gains primacy over commissioning deadline


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Indrani Bagchi

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By 

Posted on May 16, 2013 in THE TIMES OF INDIA.

Kudankulam Nuclear Plant
Kudankulam Nuclear Power Plant, Tirunelveli district, Tamilnadu, India

NEW DELHI: Regardless of the recent promise made by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin on the sidelines of the BRICS summit in Durban about the early commissioning of the Kudankulam nuclear power plant (KKNPP), the government has instructed the Atomic Energy Regulatory Board (AERB) that safety reviews of KKNPPshould be run with a “fine-toothed comb” without being pressured by commissioning deadline. In fact, the government had recently invited the Operational Safety Review Team of the IAEA to do an independent safety assessment of other Indian reactors, particularly RAPS (in Rajasthan).

Last week, the Supreme Court cleared the power plant, paving the way for early commissioning. Originally, the plant was scheduled to be commissioned in 2007.

A whole new set of safety checks were conducted by the AERB after four valves that came from a Russian supplier were found to be “deficient”.

Stung by a series of popular protests about safety issues in Kudankulam, which has inspired protests by a large number of NGOs, the government is keen that no stone is left unturned. If this means the Russians are less than pleased, sources said, so be it. They added that some of the supplies from Russian companies have been found to be below par.

NPCIL has that the commissioning of KKNPP would now happen only in June, after another set of checks are carried out. The company said the physical progress of the plant was 99.6% complete.

This week a group of 60 leading scientists wrote a letter to the PM, and chief ministers of Tamil Nadu and Kerala asking for more stringent safety checks of the KKNPP. They have sought “renewed study” of safety issues by an independent panel of experts. The scientists — most of them serving in state-run institutions — have expressed doubts, “particularly with reference to possible sub-standard components” used in the plant.

These are not scientists advocating against nuclear energy, but concerned about safety issues. “These safety concerns are compounded by the fact that Russian authorities arrested Sergei Shutov, procurement director of Zio-Podolsk, on corruption charges for having sourced cheaper sub-standard steel for manufacturing components that were used in Russian nuclear installations in Bulgaria, Iran, China and India,” they wrote in the letter, The arrest of Shutov, they cited, led to several complaints of sub-standard components and follow-up investigations in both Bulgaria and China.

While the AERB gave an in-principle clearance for fuel loading of the plant in April, hopes that it would be commissioned by May were dashed after faulty valves made news. In an effort to quell the protests and spiralling negative perception about the power plant, the government has been on an information overdrive to educate and be transparent. This week, minister of state V Narayanasamy said, “All nuclear power projects undergo an elaborate in-depth safety review during the consenting stages, like siting, construction, commissioning, etc. After satisfactory review during project stage, AERB issues operating licence to an NPP for a period of up to five years.”

Last week, responding to a question in Parliament, government assured that components supplied to KKNPP are “tested in an integrated manner during commissioning to verify their performance in accordance to design performance criteria. Any shortfall noticed in performance is addressed/corrected as a part of the commissioning programme”.

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Re-posted from THE TIMES OF INDIA

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Koodankulam: A Court in the Supreme Contempt of its People


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P K Sundaram

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By P. K. Sundaram

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The Supreme Court’s verdict on Koodankulam rests on three hugely contested premises: the judges’ belief in the necessity of the nuclear energy for India’s progress, their faith in the country’s nuclear establishment to perform its role, and the judges’ notion of the larger public interest and the apprehensions of small sections which should make way for the country’s progress. Not only have the judges given judicial sanctity to these contestable propositions, but have also completely overlooked the Koodankulam-specific brazen violations of the government’s own norms, raised by the petitioners.

Broken justice

The Supreme Court’s judgement on Koodankulam would go in India’s history in line with the Narmada Dam verdict and other judicial pronouncement reflecting the inability of our post-independence democratic institutions to overcome the narrowly defined confines of ‘larger public interest’, ‘development/growth’ and ‘national conscience’.

Whose interests are larger?

While the petition filed by the Chennai-based environmentalist group Poovulagin Nanbargal presented specific concerns of safety hazards and violations of the government’s own norms in implementing the project, India’s growth and the assumed indispensability of nuclear energy for it is a recurring rationale in the Supreme Court’s final verdict. The judges have gone beyond the scope of the prayer and have extolled nuclear energy as essential for India’s growth, terming the ‘fears’ of people as misplaced. The judgement goes on to prescribe that ‘minor inconveniences’ must be tolerated in the larger interest of the nation.

People’s Movement is Emotional fear, Nuclear Establishment has the Expertise

The second paragraph of the judgement itself calls the people’s massive agitation in Koodankulam an “emotional reaction” to the setting up of the reactor. It almost mocks the people’s concern saying the “fears and unrest” might not have been thought of by Enrico Fermi who set up the first nuclear power plant. Since then, the judgement says, people have reacted emotionally when every new reactor is commissioned. The judgement goes on to add that the people’s concern was mooted even the constituent assembly when the Constitution was being drafted. Does this imply that nuclear energy in India should be regarded a fait accompli?

The judgement accepts the establishment’s narrative on nuclear energy in India unquestioningly.

  • The judgement extols the Atomic Energy Commission (AEC) as the repository of final authority on everything nuclear and the Atomic Energy Regulatory Board (AERB) as a competent regulator, glossing over its dependence on the AEC for funds and human resources and its being obliged to report to the AEC whose activities it is essentially mandated to regulate.
  • The verdict also reposes complete faith in the national policy on nuclear energy and the existing framework to control and regulate all radioactivity-related activities in India.
  • Under the title ‘National Policy’ (page 9) the judges narrate the evolution of India’s 20 nuclear power stations built over last four decades producing 4780 MWs today with a rare clinical coldness, without questioning the nuclear establishment’s claims and its performances in the same period, while under the same title on page 10, it mentions that renewable sources provide “small share” of our total electricity – 15%, which is actually 6 times more than the share of nuclear energy. 
  • In its overview of the global status of nuclear energy, the rapid downward trend of the industry post-Fukushima doesn’t find a mention – France produces 74.6%, US has 104 reactors, world had 439 reactors in 2007 producing 13-14% of total energy. The reality is, nuclear power produced just 11% in In 2011 and thedownward trend is expected to continue due to larger number of reactors ageing and lesser numbers being built today.
  • It doesn’t even question the NPCIL’s claims of producing 20,000 MW by the year 2020 and 63,000 MW by 2030.
  • Transgressing the scope of the petition, the judges have mentioned that “one of the reasons for preferring nuclear energy as an alternative source of energy is that it is a clean, safe, reliable and competitive energy source which can replace a significance of the fossil fuel like coal, oil, gas etc.” The judges have not bothered to see that each of these adjectives have been questioned and have led to review of national policies, including in France where a national energy transformation law is underway.

As the questions raised in the petition involved technical problems plaguing the Koodankulam project, the Court consulted the government’s experts – officials from the Nuclear Power Corporation of India Limited (NPCIL) and the Atomic Energy Regulatory Board (AERB). Unfortunately, no independent institutionalised expertise on nuclear issues exists in India outside the confines of the Department of Atomic Energy.  This led to a situation in which the Judges have no option than to believe the same official experts against whose refusal to acknowledge the risks was the petition filed. While this made the entire proceeding lop-sided in the first place, there was still scope for the judges to look into the glaring violations and specific risks in Koodakulam which do not fall strictly under nuclear expert issues.

The crucial issues of supply of sub-standard equipments by ZiO-Podolsk, violation of Coastal Regulatory Zone stipulations and Environmental Impact Assessment norms, lack of clarity on the crucial issue of spent fuel storage, non-compliance with proper mock evacuation drill required by the AERB norms, much larger population in the vicinity than stipulated etc. have either been glossed over or have been legalized post-facto.

Court validating a political deal?

The judgement mentions India’s civil nuclear agreement with the US in 2005 and then with France and UK in 2008 and 2010, and explains them as the govt’s effort give effect to the “National Policy for development” for which “India has entered into various bilateral treaties and arrangements with countries which have considerable expertise and experience”. It is a well known fact that the nuclear deal came from the US side and the energy justification was a later concoction to justify it. The integrated energy policy of 2006 came one year after the Indo-US nuclear deal. In fact, it was the nuclear establishment in India which was the first one to get surprised with the news of Indo-US nuclear deal in 2005. The deal was essentially about the US manoeuvring internationals institutions norms of the  NSG and the IAEA to legitimise India’s nuclear weapons and ensure its entry into global international commerce. India’s compulsory purchase of the French, American and Russian reactors was a price it paid to achieve this. Former AEC Chairman Anil kakodkar himself has admitted in the past that importing foreign reactors, with an embarrassingly low liability cap,  had to do with accommodating these countries’ interests.

 Nuclear Energy and National Policy

After enthusiastically elaborating India’s national policy on nuclear energy, the judges say, “it is not for Courts to determine whether a particular policy or a particular decision taken in fulfilment of a policy, is fair” (page 13). Precisely. The petition before the court nowhere sought to discuss the rationale or desirability of the nuclear policy, if at all India has one. The petition raised concrete questions about safety norms and their violations. Then why the judges have went on to declare nuclear energy is green, clean and essential for India’s development? The judges quote an old case in Lodon to undermine that its “only duty is to expand the language of the Act in accordance with the settled rules of construction”, and hence “we cannot sit in judgment over the decision…for setting up of KKNPP in Kudankulam in view of the Indo-Russia agreement”. Fine, but what about ensuring that the inter-governmental agreement between India and Russia is made public and the liability provisions within it be made compliant to the law of the land?

After the aforementioned introductory part, the SC verdict has two parts – the first deals with safety and security of NPP, International COnventiions and Treaties, KKNPP Project, NSF and its management and transportation, DGR, Civil Liabilities, DMA, CSA and other related issues. Part II deals with environmental issues, CRZ, desalination plant, impact of radiation on eco-system, expert opinions, etc.

In part I, the verdict seeks to find out whether the project has adequate safety measures. In doing so, it starts with elaborating the Safety Codes of the AERB (in 12 full pages), without questioning its institutional autonomy or making mention of the CAG’s report on the AERB in which it strips down the myth of AERB’s independence and its efficacy. Details of India’s international obligations and its adherence with IAEA safety norms, based on the AERB’s submission, take several pages more.

IAEA’s 2008 report emphasizing tripling of electricity supply by 2050 is highlighted by the judges. The IAEA’s contested claim of nuclear energy being a low-carbon electricity is adopted unquestioningly.

The verdict reposes its complete faith in “the safety and security code of practices laid down by the AERB, the IAEA and its supports so as to allay the fears expressed from various quarters on the safety and security of KKNPP”

The judges mention PUCL vs Union of India and others case of 2004, where the court upheld that the AEC deals with a sensitive subject. The veil of secrecy remains intact in 2013 even if the civilian and military nuclear facilities are separated as per the Indo-US nuclear deal.

Safety Issues:

Reading the Supreme Court verdict’s sections on Koodankulam’s safety is not much different than reading AERB’s or NPCIL’s stated policies on nuclear safety. Elaborate claims of safety standards and practices, but very little about whether these guidelines sufficiently address the specific questions raised by the protests, even less on how efficient and democratic these procedures are.

In the section under part-II titled “KKNPP  Project” the judges have looked into site selection procedures and site-specific vulnerabilities of Koodankulam. The judges come out convinced that Koodankulam is totally safe for the reactor project – having absolutely no potential of earthquake, Tsunami or other geological disturbances. The evidences presented by the petitioners about the area being geologically unstable and having a history of earthquakes, volcanism and karst have gone completely unheard.

Much attention has been given to the questions of safely storing Spent Nuclear Fuel (SNF) and finding a Deep Geological Repository (DGR) for KKNPP. These are generic issues plaguing nuclear reactors everywhere and globally the nuclear industry has been struggling to find the answers for several decades. Not surprisingly, there are ready-made and extremely tentative solutions: the NPCIL has agreed to find a repository to store nuclear waste and has given details of its long-term pursuits in this direction, and it has assured the court to safely story the SNF. The AERB’s code of “Management of Radioactive Waste” has been discussed at length, to be found sufficient to address the problem. Typically, Indian nuclear establishment does not acknowledge nuclear waste as waste, because it claims it will reprocess most of it for the second phase of its 3-phase  nuclear programme, to which even the judges have shown admiration. Lost of course is the fact that reprocessing leads to more harmful and long-term wastes and India’s phased nuclear program has been too far from becoming a reality. The judges note : “the experts feel that setting up of a DGR is not much of a technological challenge…but more of a socio-political issue”. The massive  disapproval of proposed waste repositories in the US and elsewhere was based on independent expert opinion is lost again. The verdict mentions a proposed DGR in the abandoned Kolar mines of Karnataka. Of course on this and other several important issues, the NPCIL retracting publicly from its position taken in affidavits filed in the SC had its own trail over last 6 months.

The judges have noted that the Koodankulam reactor has its Spent Fuel Pool inside the primary containment, with a capacity to store fuel equivalent to 7 years of full power operation of  the reactor. That the presence of SFP close to the reactor core complicated the accident in Fukushima and is a concern even today in Japan finds no mention, of course.

Fukushima never happened !

While the judges mention the post-Fukushima safety review ordered by the Prime Minister, they have failed to take into account the critiques of the whole process and the serious risks of relying on such an internal safety review without any independent supervision or assessment. On the 17 Koodankulam-specific recommendations, the court is assured by the AERB that the NPCIL will implement them satisfactorily. In the subsequent paragraphs, the verdict rhymes the nuclear establishment’s lullaby on radiation: We are exposed to radiation in our daily lives, cosmic radiation, radiation from earth’s crust, air travel, X0ray, CT-Scan, angiography, angioplasty etc etc.

In the section titled ‘Response to People’s Resistance’, the Supreme Court gives a sanitized, government version of the dialogue with people. It makes no mention of the fact that the 15-member expert committee appointed by the government did not even bother to meet the protesting people in Idinthakarai, declined from sharing essential safety-related documents with people and completely failed to address the questions raised by the movement. While this sham of a dialogue was on, the state government kept on piling false police charges, the local congress goons kept beating the protesters, the local media kept provoking against the movement leaders and none other than the PM indulged in maligning the people’s genuine struggle. The judgement quotes the government experts group’s conclusion at length and feels satisfied. It also takes no notice that the fact that the Ex-AEC Chief’s appointment as the head of expert committee constituted by the Tamil Nadu State Government subsequently reflected a seriosu conflict of interests.

Under the heading ‘Civil Liability for Nuclear Damage’, the judges in principle agree to the importance of strict liability in nuclear sector, but fail to address the Koodankulam-specific problem of opacity on liability issue. The Russian officials have been claiming they have an exemption from liability under the Inter-Governmental Agreement (IGA)

Discussion on Disaster Management Plan (DMP), the SC verdict elaborates about the guidelines of the National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA) on radiological emergencies and has pressed for better coordination between the NDMA, the DAE, and the state administration to ensure swift evacuation and management in case of a disaster. Much emphasis has been given on the need to spread awareness among the people about nuclear accidents, however, the brazen violation and bluffing by the NPCIL on disaster management receives no attention.

Although the Supreme Court quotes AERB’s norms on population near a reactor sites and specifically mentions that no public habitation should be there within 1.5 km radius of the reactor, it has failed to take into account the Tsunami Colony in Koodankulam where more than 2500 people reside at a distance of just 700- metres from the reactor. Also, the judges have held that the emergency preparedness plan (EPP) for KKNPP is adequate for around 24000 people in the 5 km radius called ‘sterilised zone’ while the norms stipulate not more than 20000 people. The catch here is, the even the 24000 figure used by the SC is taken from 2001 census, not the 2011 census!

The judges admit the importance of the mock-drills and off-site emergency exercises, but strangely caution that ‘such mock-drills are conducted to educate the public not to scare them away, but make them understand that the project is part of the national policy, participatory in nature, and hence we cannot remain as a nuclear-isolated nation’. This would only ensure that the nuclear establishment remains insulated from public scrutiny. The judges’ faith in the affidavit filed by the district administration on off-site emergency exercises flies in the face of reality.

In the last paragraphs of part-I, the Supreme Court judges have iterated their faith in NPCIL’s promise to fulfill its corporate social responsibility (CSR) – millions of rupees allotted for building schools, hospitals, roads and so on. From Tarapur to Rawatbhata to nearby Kalpakkam, local people have seen the realities of such promises.

The second part of the verdict, focused on environmental impacts, again starts with the need to look at environmental issues in the perspective of indispensability of nuclear power in the ‘national policy’ – nuclear energy has a unique position in the emerging economics in India, it is a viable source of energy and it is necessary to increase country’s economic growth !

The judgement in this part dwells elaborately upon the arguments presented by the both sides, but only to concur with the government that Koodankulam project does not violate environmental impact assessment guidelines as the project was notified in 1988, prior to enactment of EIA requirements in 1994! The flimsy affidavits filed by the NPCIL and the MoEF have found better audience with the Supreme Court judges. The court has elaborated upon the rather general and very lenient attempt of taking of environmental impacts in Koodankulam as per a letter written by the then Prime Minister, quotes the 1989 memorandum of the MoEF, the 1989 stipulations by the AERB for clearance, and finally with the MoEF’s letter dated 6 September 2001 in which it legalised the violations in the wake of 377.30 crores already spent on the project, feels confident that the environmental impacts have been taken care of and no violation of EIA stipulations have happened. In case of Coastal Regulatory zone (CRZ) clearance, it again validates the 1994 exemption given to the Koodankulam project.

The EIA reports for the proposed 4 other reactors in Koodankulam have used the EIA studies for Koodankulam 1 and 2 as base-line, which were prepared without a public hearing. Supreme Courts doesn’t find it worthy of objection.

Modifying the initial plan to take water from two nearby dams, construction of a desalination plant was started in 2006 in Koodankuiam. The petitioners had pointed out that the desalination unit would have its own hazardous environmental impacts and will also add to the overall pollution and hence had demanded a fresh EIA clearance. The court has said that desalination units are not listed under the 1994 EIA stipulations, so absence of such an EIA in Koodankulam is not a violation. Of course, the cumulative impacts also do not need any re-assessment then!

Similarly, the Supreme Court has brushed aside significant objections on CRZ clearance and post-factto legalization by TNPCB of the increased temperature of affluent water in Koodankulam. Under the heading ‘Sustainable Development and Impact on the Eco-System’, the verdict quotes elaborately from the Rolay Commission on Environment Pollution (UK, 1971), Stockholm Conference (1972), UNGA’s World Charter for Nature (1982), Rio Summit (1992), the UN MIllenium Declaration of 2000, UN Conference on Sustainable Development (June 2012) and so on, but only to conclude that “we have already found on facts that the KKNPP has been set up and is made functional on the touchstone of sustainable development and its impact on ecology has been taken care of following all national and international environmental principles” !

Larger Public Interests

Then the judges take it upon themselves to decide whether the claims of “smaller violations” of nearby population’s right to life under Article 21 of the Constitution should take precedence over production of energy, which is “of extreme importance for the economic growth of our country..to alleviate poverty, generate employment etc.” The judgement looks into various earlier cases of objections to ‘development’ projects on environmental and right to life grounds, and concludes that a balance between “economic scientific benefits” and “minor radiological detriments” has to be found. The pre-conceived notions of ‘development’ take over the judicial rigour and objectivity and in their hurry, the judges have done a grammatical faux pas: “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″! We can over look the grammatical blunder of our judges, but what about terming the massive protests by thousands of people in Koodankulam, run for over 25 years in a thoroughly peaceful manner, as ‘individual apprehension’? Who is the ‘larger community’? Do the interests of the farmers, fishermen and poor people of India do not form the ‘larger public interest’?

The judges have gone ahead to claim that apprehensions of far reaching consequences of radioactive effects has “no basis”! The say: “Nobody on the earth can predict what would happen in future and to a larger extent we have to leave it to the destiny….Apprehension is something we anticipate with anxiety or fear, a fearful anticipation, which may vary from person to person.” The Court goes by the “expert opinions” of MoEF, EAC, TNPCB, Report of IOM, Report of Engineers India Limited, NEERI’s EIA etc and concludes that all expert bodies are unanimous that in their opinion KKNPP has fully satisfied all safety norms.

Justice Dipak Misra in his prologue emphasizes the need to “march ahead with life allaying all apprehensions with a scientific mindset accepting the nature’s unpredictability to survive on the planet earth on the bedrock of the doctrine – survival of the fittest”. He again goes on to describe how elaborate the DAE’s guidelines on nuclear safety are, and concludes that ‘all possible measures have been taken to avoid any kind of calamity’. He goes on to quote extensively from the IAEA’s 1994 Convention on Nuclear Safety and the Joint Convention on the Safety of Spent FUel Management and on the Safety of Radioactive Waste Management 1997, to which India is not even a signatory, to appreciate the “world wide concern for public safety”. He again quotes in extenso from the AERB’s post-Fukushima Safety Review of KKNPP. However, an unquestioned faith in the nuclear establishment about adequacy of these recommendations and the establishment’s sincerity to implement leads to plain judicial reassurances.

Justice Misra looks into proportionality of safety vis-a-vis the necessity of nuclear energy development. While accepting the need for ensuring safety for present and future generations, he holds that ‘generation of nuclear energy is a necessity in a progressive modern state’ and ‘promotion of development and protection of the environment have to be harmonized’. Besides other cases, Justice Misra cites the Narmada case and quotes that “In a democracy, welfare of the people at large, and not merely of a small section of the society, has tobe the concern of a responsible Government.”

In the final judicial directions, the judges have asked the NPCIL to file a report before the Supreme Court before the final commissioning, certifying that each and every aspect of safety including environmental impacts, have been taken care of. For the periodical safety maintenance and reviews, safety of the spent nuclear fuel during transport, radioactive discharge to the atmosphere, compliance with the 17 post-Fukushima recommendations, and adherence to the NDMA guidelines, the court has directed the NPCIL, AERB, MoEF, TNPCB and other concerned bodies ensure strict compliance, but has essentially reposed faith in their efficacy and sincerity. The Supreme Court has ordered that a Deep Geological Repository should be set up at the earliest so that SNF can be transported from the nuclear plant to the DGR.

Withdraw Criminal Cases Against Protesters: The Supreme Court has directed to withdraw al criminal cases filed against the agitators in Koodankulam and to restore normalcy and peace.

The Supreme Court’s verdict rests on three major premises: the judges’ belief in the necessity of the nuclear energy for India’s progress, their faith in the country’s nuclear establishment to perform this role, and the judges’ notion of the larger public interest and the apprehensions of small sections which should make way for the country’s progress. All three of these are immensely contested propositions. But not only have the judges given judicial sanctity to these contestable claims, but have also completely overlooked the Koodankulam-specific brazen violations of the government’s own norms, raised by the petitioners.

In retrospect, the struggling people of India would find approaching to the Supreme Court in such matters pointless, and counter-productive, as the courts themselves are part of the system which has failed to address the widening gap between the aspirations and lives of the deprived masses and the mainstream notions of ‘larger public interest’. Prayers before the judiciary on such matters ends up legitimising the same ‘experts’ and disastrous notions of progress that the people have been fighting against.

DOCUMENTS:

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Re-posted from DiaNuke.org

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Stop Kudankulam fuelling, lives are at stake!


By Dr. A .Gopalakrishnan (a past chairman of the Atomic Energy Regulatory Board)

English: Internationally recognized symbol. De...

The government, through its Department of Atomic Energy (DAE), the Nuclear Power Corporation Limited (NPCIL), and the Atomic Energy Regulatory Board (AERB) is racing to bring the Kudankulam Nuclear Power Project, Unit-1 (KNPP-1) to full-power operation at the earliest. The questions predominantly troubling the conscientious public today are simply these: Is the Kudankulam Unit-1 ready for introduction of nuclear fuel assemblies into its core (‘fuelling’), having fully completed all the safety modifications and additions recommended by AERB’s Post-Fukushima Committee to Review Safety of Indian Nuclear Power Plants? What other mandatory, pre-fuelling safety-related tasks such as conducting proper emergency drills in villages within a 30 km-radius of the reactors remain? What are the serious implications to public safety if NPCIL and AERB move forward with fuelling activity and bring this reactor to its full power of 1000 MWe in the current state of inadequate and incomplete safety status?

On some of the glaring defaults of the current actions of the DAE, NPCIL and the AERB vis-à-vis KNPP-1, there are three Special Leave Petitions (SLPs) currently before the Supreme Court of India. The next hearing of one SLP that seriously pleads for stopping fuelling activity is set for September 27. As early as on March 26, 2012 , a writ petition (no. 8262) was filed in the Madras High Court for a direction against the DAE, NPCIL, AERB and others to implement all the recommendations of the AERB’s Post-Fukushima Report before fuel-loading is started. In response, the AERB counsel informed the court , “— that before initial fuel loading is done, the compliance of all the requirements under Annexure-8 (of the AERB report) will be ensured by the AERB and it is only after its satisfaction any direction (for loading fuel) will be given—” . Subsequently , the High Court decided to reserve its orders on August 2, 2012 , pending detailed judgement to follow.

n the interim, since the court had not imposed any stay on actions by NPCIL and AERB, chairman, AERB, used this opportunity to issue a clearance for initial fuel loading of KNPP-1 on August 10 after reviews by their internal committees. The original petitioner then filed yet another writ petition (no. 22253) in the Madras HC on August 13, challenging the fuel-loading clearance given by AERB, even while 11 out of the 17 safety recommendations of the AERB’s Post-Fukushima Report still remained to be implemented. AERB, in reply to this writ petition, submitted two affidavits, first one on August 18 and another on August 22.

he post-Fukushima evaluations by an independent AERB committee, headed by a past chairman of the AERB had recommended 17 safety upgrades in Annexure-8 of its report. The committee, however, did not sort these on the basis of relative importance, urgency or priority. The sense you get from this report is that all 17 corrective steps are equally important and AERB must insist on all of them being fully implemented and tested before fuel-loading is permitted. This is consistent with the affidavit earlier submitted to the Madras HC by Mr R. Suresh Kumar, counsel for AERB, “ — that before initial fuel loading is done, the compliance of all the requirements under Annexure-8 will be ensured by the AERB and it is only after its satisfaction that any direction will be given—–” .

However, in their affidavits to the same court on August 18 and 22, AERB reversed its stand by stating, “—recommendations in Annexure-8 of the Post-Fukushima Report were considered (by the internal AERB committees) during review of the application for fuel loading submitted by NPCIL. The review indicated that KNPP-1 has adequate safety measures against external events — In order to further enhance safety , as an abundant measure , some additional safety enhancements proposed by NPCIL were reviewed in depth and accepted for implementation in a phased manner.”

“Based on the review and resolution of NPCIL submissions, AERB agreed for short-term (less than six months) and long-term ( less than two years) implementation of the Post-Fukushima recommendations from the date of the fuel-loading clearance”.

Ultimately, the Madras HC did not agree with the plea of the protesters for full implementation of Annexure-8 safety steps before fuel loading is initiated and the matter is now being heard by the Supreme Court. Even as the Supreme Court hearings are going on, the NPCIL and the AERB are already loading the nuclear fuel into KNPP-1.

What the AERB has done is a total volte face of its earlier stated positions in the Madras HC, and contrary to the spirit and recommendations of the AERB Post-Fukushima Safety Evaluation Committee.

This has happened because the DAE, NPCIL and AERB appear to be under the direct control of the PMO on the Kudankulam issue, and none of them dares to take any decisions on their own.

The PM, is for months accused in the national and international press for India’s policy paralysis, the dwindling performance of the power sector, and for substantial slippage in the execution schedules of many major projects. During his last two visits to Russia, the PM promised expeditious completion of KNPP-1&2. The local protests at site have put a monkey wrench into his promises and timetable. PM and his PMO consider their face-saving to be more important than the possibility of imperiling the lives of people living near KNPP-1, and appear to have clearly instructed the DAE-AERB combine to rush through with commissioning the plant. The subservient DAE and AERB seem to be complying with his directions.

In this hurried approach to starting the KNPP-1 project, what essential safety precautions are the NPCIL and AERB tossing by the wayside? As per current plans, the reactor will be operated at least for the first two years or more at the full power level of 1000 MWe, without its primary containment being assessed for its ultimate load-bearing capacity; without the availability of a portable diesel-powered unit with sensors and instrumentation to monitor essential safety parameters in case of a total blackout; in the absence of a set of mobile self-powered pumping set for emergency area use; without rectifying the serious inadequacies in instrumentation for independent monitoring of plant status during major accidents; and without the addition of mobile back-up power units like air-cooled diesel sets. Why each of these actions should take as long as 24 months to complete is unimaginable, but these actions have to be indeedexpedited, since they are all essential for mitigating the consequences of a major accident.

The AERB committee has also strongly recommended the urgent installation of an additional seismically-qualified 8,000 cubic-meter capacity back-up water storage tank as an alternate source for use under emergency situations where such actions as injection of borated water into the core and into the spent-fuel pool, charging water into the steam generator secondary side, etc will require excessive amounts of water. The already provided emergency water-storage facility has not been seismically-qualified and may not withstand moderate earthquakes. This anomaly has to be urgently rectified through analysis and repair. This existing storage was also found to be inadequate in holding capacity , for removing decay heat for a period of a minimum one week . This too is to be rectified. In case of a beyond design basis accident (BDBA), the emergency operating procedures to be used are still to be formulated and documented, to help impart training on BDBA to the operating staff.

It is more than 16 months since the Fukushima accident occurred and NPCIL has not even started planning for these procedures. Each of the above tasks is put in for “short-term” completion, namely, within the next six months. I doubt whether a satisfactory completion of many of these tasks can be achieved in six months, each may take more like one year at least.

As it stands, the important point to note is that NPCIL and AERB are NOT going to carry out any of the short or long-term tasks mentioned above, before the reactor is fuelled and brought to 1000 MWe power level. This approach is totally unacceptable from the safety point of view. Whether these 17 safety corrections are implemented or not, the probability of a major accident will remain more or less the same. But, ALL these safety corrections are necessary to ensure that the mitigation of the consequences will be far more acceptable with the corrections implemented than without, and these safety corrections will provide a distinctly safer environment for populations around the KNPP-1. Therefore, ALL the above-mentioned long-term and short-term safety corrections recommended by the AERB committee must be completed before the reactor is fuelled. Whatever fuel so far loaded into the core can be taken out safely and stored for future use.

The author Dr. A. Gopalakrishnan is a past chairman of the Atomic Energy Regulatory Board (AERB).

Reproduced from DNA

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Work continues at Kundakulam Nuclear plant as does police crackdown on protesters


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KoodankulamNuclear Power Project site, commissioning expected by the end of May

Jeemon Jacob
Thiruvanthapuram, 2 nd April 2012

Work at the Koodankulam Nuclear Power Project site continues to be on a fast track, and according to sources the plant will be ready to commission within eight weeks. According to an official working at Koodankulam Nuclear Power Project site, the commissioning of the plant is expected by the end of May. Scientists and officials had reviewed the progress of the project last week. “Our scientists and technicians are working over time and we will be able to complete the project in time,” said the official who wished to remain anonymous.

Meanwhile, the government crackdown on anti-nuke protesters continues. The Madurai Passport Officer has directed PMANE convener Dr SP Udayakumar to surrender his passport as a criminal case is pending against him. On Friday 30 March, officials from the intelligence bureau…

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PRESS RELEASE By Prasanth Bhushan : Thiruvananthapuram April 1st 2012


Human rights activist and Team Anna core member Prashanth Bhushan is a Senior Supreme Court lawyer practicing in Delhi and a social activist. He is the son of lawyer and former Law Minister of India Shanti Bhushan.

PRESS RELEASE By Prasanth Bhushan : Thiruvananthapuram April 1st 2012

I visited Koodankulam yesterday to meet the people fighting against the nuclear power plant to see for myself what is happening there. It was very impressive and inspiring to see the discipline and determination of the thousands of people, particularly women and children who were sitting at the dharna site at Idinthakarai.

It is unfortunate and condemnable that the govt. and the local police administrators have arrested hundreds of these protestors and instituted hundreds of cases against them, making absurd charges of sedition, naxalism etc against these peaceful protestors.

Nuclear power is the most expensive way of generating electricity apart from being extremely hazardous, as has been pointed out by a number of independent experts such as Dr.E.A.S.Sharma (former power secretary), Dr. A.Gopalakrishnan (former Chairman, AERB) among others. Apart from the risk of a catastrophic accident as happened in Chernobyl and Fukushima which renders tens of thousands of square kilometers land uninhabitable and uncultivable, there are very serious problems of storage of spent fuel and safety of the nuclear fuel.

That is why most countries of the world, especially developed countries have abandoned nuclear energy and are phasing out their existing plants. Japan has shut down all except one of their nuclear reactors after Fukushima which were generating 34% of their electricity.

Yet, strangely India is embarked on a massive expansion of nuclear power, going to the extent of seeking to import plants like Jaitapur which are untested and will cost 2 lakh Crores (for a 10000 MW plant) which makes it more expensive than even solar or wind energy. It is being done for the benefit of foreign nuclear power plant manufacturing corporations at the behest of their governments? In the absence of any transparency in these deals will the people not be justified in suspecting that kickbacks are motivating these decisions?

In the case of Koodankulam, there are several additional problems which make the site unsuitable for setting up a nuclear plant. An independent expert committee has pointed out that there is considerable scientific evidence of volcanic activity in this area and it is also an earthquake prone zone which can have a Tsunami as well. There are several populous villages in the immediate vicinity as well as a colony recently established by the government for rehabilitating the Tsunami victims. Also, most ominously, the NPCIL has not complied with the AERB’s condition that the plant should have a secure source of fresh water and storage for 60 days requirement of fresh water for cooling the fuel rods.

The project was given environmental approval many years ago without any public hearing and without considering these serious issues. All this becomes even more serious in the absence of setting up of an independent regulatory body for nuclear energy. The AERB continues to function as a department of the Atomic Energy Commission. Even the 3 prior safety audits of existing plants conducted by the AERB in ’79, ’86 and ’95 which pointed out serious problems of safety with the existing plants have not been put out in the public domain despite the Prime Minister’s promises.

The Koodankulam protestors are therefore fully justified in agitating against the plant. It is imperative that the government respects their sentiments and fears and immediately suspends work at the plant. It must constitute a credible independent expert committee to examine all the safety issues which have been raised, in a transparent manner with public hearings and not resume work on the plant till all safety issues have been credibly addressed. All the arrested agitators must be released and the cases against them withdrawn. All plans of setting up new nuclear plants must be suspended till an independent safety regulator is set up and safety audits of all existing plants and proposed plants is conducted in a transparent manner.

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Kudankulam on fire …


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Myself . 

By T.V. Antony Raj
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From October 2011 onwards, thousands of protesters and villagers living around the Russian-built Kudankulam nuclear power plant in the southern Tamil Nadu state, are blocking highways, staging anti-nuclear demonstrations and hunger strikes, preventing further construction work of the nuclear power plant, and demanding its closure.

Why?

Because they distrust the assurances given by the Central Government regarding safety, and fear the disasters that could arise from

  • environmental impact of nuclear power generation
  • radioactive waste
  • nuclear accidents

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Kudankulam Nuclear Plant
Kudankulam Nuclear Plant

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The phrase “nuclear accident“, immediately brings to our minds the nuclear disaster at the Fukushima I Nuclear Power Plant also known as Fukushima Dai-ichi (in Japanese dai-ichi means “number one”), after the Tōhoku earthquake and tsunami on 11 March 2011. This disaster culminated in a series of equipment failures, nuclear meltdowns, and release of radioactive materials into the environment.

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Fukushima I Nuclear Power Plant. Tight crop sh...
Fukushima I Nuclear Power Plant. Tight crop showing reactors 4, 3, 2 and 1, reading left (South) to right (North). Area shown is about 600 by 350 metres. 日本語: 福島第一原子力発電所。 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

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The devastation at Fukushima Dai-ichi is the largest nuclear disaster since the catastrophic nuclear accident at the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant in Ukraine on April 26, 1986.

The agitation in Kudankulam

The Kudankulam Nuclear Power Project (KKNPP), which was initiated in 1988 by an Inter-Governmental Agreement signed on November 20, 1988 by former Prime Minister of India Rajiv Gandhi and former Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev, for the construction of two nuclear reactors.

The agitation against the Kudankulam Nuclear Power Project started as low-key protests by anti-nuclear protesters. About 20,000 residents of Kudankulam and surrounding villages marched out to show their support for the activists. More than a thousand local fishermen joined them and announced a strike in support of the protests.

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The anti-nuclear protesters have stated specific reasons for opposing the Kudankulam Nuclear Power Project (KKNPP). They say, “More than 1 million people live within the 30 km radius of the KKNPP which far exceeds the Atomic Energy Regulatory Board’s (AERB) stipulations. It is quite impossible to evacuate this many people quickly and efficiently in case of a nuclear disaster at Koodankulam“, etc.

S.P. Udayakumar

“Fukushima has greatly helped our agitation,” said S.P. Udayakumar, activist and leader of the voluntary People’s Movement Against Nuclear Energy (PMANE). For 20 years, Udayakumar has led PMANE on a campaign against the Koodankulam project.

“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’s an authoritarian project that has been imposed on the people,” he said.

The Atomic Energy Regulatory Board (AERB), the top government agency to ensure safety standards, conducted a safety audit of India’s NPPs a few months back. Despite all clear certificates, anti-nuclear activists and experts have called for an audit by an independent body. They say that given the non-transparent nature of India’s state-controlled nuclear energy sector, there is no way to estimate whether safety issues will be carefully followed.

Anti-Nuclear protests and Hunger Strike

An indefinite hunger strike was started by the anti-nuclear protesters on September 11, 2012. With the hunger strike becoming a serious threat to the health of 127 participants, negotiations between the protesters and the state government of Tamilnadu began on September 15, 2012, but it soon reached a stalemate. The protests and the hunger strike ended twelve days later with J. Jayalalitha, Chief Minister of Tamilnadu, announcing that the state government would adopt a resolution against launching the nearly completed nuclear power plant. She fulfilled her promise the following day.

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On Thursday, September 22, 2012, the Tamil Nadu Cabinet passed a resolution urging the Center to halt the work on the Kudankulam Nuclear Power Project until the fears of the local population over the safety of the plants are allayed. The 12-day fast by the anti-nuclear protesters came to an end following assurances by Ms. Jayalalitha.

Photo: A. Shaikmohideen

Rt. Rev. Yvon Ambroise, Bishop of Tuticorin Roman Catholic Diocese, came to the protest venue at Idinthakarai on Thursday and offered fruit juice to those who were on hunger strike. He addressed the gathering and explained in detail the demands put forth during their meeting with Ms. Jayalalithaa in Chennai on the previous day. The Bishop said:

We urged the Chief Minister that the State Cabinet pass a resolution demanding the permanent closure of the KKNPP and appealed to her to withdraw cases against some of the protesters during the agitation. We also appealed to her to draw a comprehensive alternative energy policy, which should make sure tapping of non-conventional energy sources at the optimum level so that the environment and people living near such power generation units do not get affected. Since the Chief Minister’s replies satisfied us to the maximum possible extent, we agreed to withdraw the ongoing indefinite fast.

S.P. Udhayakumar, leader of PMANE gave the details of various meetings to be held in Madurai and at Samithoppu in Kanyakumari district to decide on the future course of action against nuclear programmes in the country. “We’ll even lay siege to the KKNPP in the near future to ensure its permanent closure,” he said.

Before the protesters left the venue they vowed that even though the fast had come to an end nevertheless they would intensify their struggle against the Union government in the days to come.

However, the sprawling pandal erected for the protest is yet to be dismantled. “It will be there till the Union government gives a satisfying reply to our demands. If not, the pandal will come in handy for us again,” said S.V. Antony, president, Uvari panchayat.

This agitation by the anti-nuclear protesters forced Ms. Jayalalitha to make a u-turn on her plans to add six reactors to the Koodankulam Nuclear Power Plant which already has two reactors constructed, though not yet operating.

Ms. Jayalalitha wrote a letter to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh urging the government to put the expansion on hold until local concerns were addressed. People have been “agonized, disturbed and gripped by a fear psychosis due to the scope and magnitude of the issue in the wake of the Fukushima mishap,” she wrote.

Dr. A.E. Muthunayagam, convener of Government of India’s Experts Group (EG), which did a survey of the safety features in the plant, expressed his willingness to hold discussions with the anti-nuclear protesters.

On December 2, 2011 PMANE released a press statement welcoming Dr.  Muthunayagam’s willingness to hold discussions with them.

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Press Release

The People’s Movement Against Nuclear Energy (PMANE) welcomes the statement of the Central Government’s Experts Group (EG) convener, Dr. A.E. Muthunayagam, that expresses the group’s willingness to hold discussions with the scientific team of the PMANE.

We request Dr. Muthunayagam to suggest a few possible dates and venue for such a meeting as soon as possible. We would also request him to arrange a visit of the KKNPP site for all the 28 members of our scientific team.

It is also pertinent to remind him of our request for some of the basic documents on the KKNPP project such as the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA), Site Evaluation Study, Safety Analysis Report, VVER Performance Report, Detailed Project Report (DPR) and all other relevant documents for reactors 1 and 2 in order to facilitate our scientific team’s meaningful dialogue with the Central and State teams.

We would also take this opportunity to insist that the work on the two reactors be halted as demanded by the Tamil Nadu Government’s Cabinet Resolution even as we are engaged in a dialogue process.

S. P. Udayakumar, Ph.D.
Coordinator
People’s Movement Against Nuclear Energy

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A Public Interest Litigation (PIL) has also been filed against the government’s civil nuclear program at the Apex Supreme Court. The PIL specifically prays for the “staying of all proposed nuclear power plants till satisfactory safety measures and cost-benefit analyses are completed by independent agencies“.

In February 2012, Mr. Udayakumar sent a legal notice to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh for insinuating that the anti-Kudankulam protests were funded by United States and Scandinavian non-government organisations.

The pro-government scientific community

The anti-nuclear protestors themselves have enough detractors who rally and protest in favor of commissioning this nuclear power plant. Here are some views by the scientific community on this issue.

Dr. A.P.J. Abdul Kalam, former President of India, after visiting the Kudankulam Nuclear Power Plant on November 6, 2011, asserted that there is no need for any panic. “The third generation nuclear reactor is totally safe and is a boon to the people,” he said.

He emphasized, “I am a scientist, I am a technologist, I support nuclear energy along with solar and wind power as it is a clean and green energy which is very much required for the country’s rapid growth now”.

He further added that the reactors located at 13.5 m height would not be effected even by a Tsunami nor would an earthquake threaten them, as Kudankulam is not within any seismic zone. The scientists have taken into account all these natural calamities before designing and fabricating the plant. While 99% of the spent fuel would be processed for reuse in the reactors, the remaining one percent would be converted and protected within a thickly walled underground concrete containment and no waste from the reactor will be dumped in the sea.

Former chairman of Atomic Energy Commission of India Dr. M.R. Srinivasan said that one should never compare the Fukushima plant with Kudankulam and added “The Fukushima plant was built on a beachfront, but the Kudankulam was constructed on a solid terrain and that too keeping all the safety aspects in mind. Also, we are not in a tsunami prone area. The plants in Kudankulam have a double containment system which can withstand high pressure. At least, Rs 14,000 crore has been spent. If we don’t operate the plant immediately, it will affect the economic stability of our country.”

In mid-November 2011, Mr. Srinivasan speaking on the ‘Current scenario of nuclear power‘ at a meeting organized by the Press Information Bureau said that since options like gas, solar and wind energies are expensive, one should never say ‘no’ to nuclear energy, “If we don’t go ahead with nuclear plans, we wont be able to supply electricity to an aspiring population of India. So it’s necessary that the 15-member committee, appointed by the Centre, discuss every point of it with the people,” he said.

A center panel constituted by the Government of India, which did a survey of the safety features in the plant, said the Kudankulam reactors are the safest and fears of the people are not based on scientific principles. The panel’s convener Dr. A.E. Muthunayagam, also added that the protesters have asked for some documents which are not related to the safety of the reactor hence he suspects the very nature of their questions.

Nuclear scientist and principal scientific adviser to the federal Government of India Rajagopala Chidambaram has said “We have learnt lessons from the Fukushima nuclear accident, particularly on the post-shutdown cooling system,” and added Fukushima nuclear accident should not deter or inhibit India from pursuing a safe civil nuclear program.

Recent Developments

In early January 2012, the Department of Atomic Energy (DAE) for the first time admitted that the deaths of some employees and their dependents at the Kalpakkam nuclear site situated about 80 kilometers (50 miles) south of Chennai, were caused by multiple myeloma, a rare form of bone marrow cancer linked to nuclear radiation. The DAE acknowledged that nine people, including three employees working at the Madras Atomic Power Station at Kalpakkam died of multiple myeloma and bone cancer between 1995 and 2011. The DAE did not willingly divulge the details. This information came to light in response to a Right to Information inquiry from October 2011. The DAE had previously stonewalled all previous requests for information.

While the prime minister (PM) accuses NGOs funded from abroad of trying to sabotage the ‘state-of-the-art’ Kudankulam nuclear power plant (KKNPP), various studies carried out by government agencies as well as experts suggest that the site is unsafe for a nuclear project.

The website DNA in an article titled DNA investigations: Kudankulam’s lurking dangers  published on Feb 28, 2012, says:

“The studies reveal potential threats to the nuclear reactor campus from near-shore tsunami, volcanic eruptions, and Karst (vulnerable landscape). DNA has a copy of the reports submitted by the agencies and experts,

An expert committee appointed by the Tamil Nadu government on Tuesday submitted its report on the safety aspects of the Kudankulam Nuclear Power Project (KKNNP) to Chief Minister Jayalalitha, marking a crucial stage in the debate over the project. Ms. Jayalalitha in the wake of the acute power shortages in the state, which certain quarters say has been artificially created (see Press meet – Artificial Power cuts in Tamilnadu), has made a u-turn once again by favouring the commissioning of the plant.  “In accordance with (today’s) cabinet decision, immediate steps will be taken (to facilitate commissioning) of the plant,” she said in a statement, breaking her silence over the issue.

S.P. Udayakumar reacted:

Of course, we feel cheated by the chief minister J. Jayalalithaa. She has been using us. She encouraged us all these days and allowed us to carry on with the protest. I visited the chief minister’s office twice and met her and also visited the collector’s office. Even then, there were cases against me. Why didn’t the police arrest me then? She has let us down… But yes, I felt we were deceived. We were tricked. But I could a sense a pattern, a build-up in the direction of the state government’s reversal of its decision to support the protesters. When I met the chief minister for the first time she was very cordial. I had a one-on-one talk for 45 minutes. But the second time she did not even talk to me. So the state government’s decision was not entirely unexpected. It was only delayed by seven months.”

There is a general opinion in Tamilnadu that to win the Sankarankoil by-poll Ms. Jayalalitha acted as a sympathizer of the anti-nuclear protesters and now that her party (AIADMK) had won the by-poll she doesn’t need them anymore.

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