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THE KOODANKULAM EXPOSÉ-AND THE RIGHT TO KNOW


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Sunday 10 June 2012

THE KOODANKULAM EXPOSÉ-AND THE RIGHT TO KNOW

Aerial view of Tamil Nadu, India from Space ta...
Aerial view of Tamil Nadu, India from Space taken by NASA. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

This week’s front-page lead story tells us everything we need to know about the premium value of Right to Information in any democracy. Indian advocacy groups making use of new Right to Information laws have unearthed an evaluation report which exposes startling information that has implications not just for South India and Sri Lanka, but almost the entirety of the Indian Ocean — particularly the Bay of Bengal.

For those who have not read the story, the Koodankulam nuclear power plant in Tamil Nadu is poised to deposit dangerous quantities of nuclear wastes in the Indian Ocean, which is a potential calamity facing our people, and possibly a calamity facing the people of India as well.

The story speaks for itself — and what action the Government of Sri Lanka will take in this regard remains to be seen. This is in short order, a disaster waiting to happen. Indian environmental scientists themselves are saying so, as could be gathered from our front-page story and the other feature story in perspective on page 5. (sic)

How all these dangers were exposed is another issue in its entirety. No Indian could have got close to ferreting out the truth on the calamitous dangers of the nuclear plants in Tamil Nadu had they not had the benefit of Right to Information laws.

So, the Koodankulam example is one in which it could be said without hyperbole that Right to Information legislation possibly meant the difference between life and death. No doubt the Indian authorities would heavily contest the assertions of the environmental lobbyists, but it clearly is a tall order to contradict the Site Evaluation Report (SER) which states unequivocally that a good part of the Indian Ocean is bound to become a dumping site for nuclear wastes once the T’ Nadu plants are commissioned.

How the entire issue would play out in India, and with reference to Indo-Sri Lankan relations would be interesting, and would be moot, but the success of the Indian lobbyists in making use of Right to Information legislation leaves us Sri Lankans envying our Indian neighbours, trying as we have been to get similar legislation passed in our parliament.

The government stymied the UNP’s efforts to ram through such laws, but this was at that time on condition that the government would come up with its own draft. It was argued as many observers of events at that time would recall that the UNP Bill was in fact redundant as the government had plans for a Right to Information Bill, and was close to making the whole thing a fait accompli.

But no Bill on the Right to Information has materialized, and despite the fact that noises are being made about Private Members’ motions etc., that might gift the people this vital legislation at last — everybody including lobbyists, journalists and private citizens have waited in vain.

There could be larger calamities than the Koodankulam plants that are waiting to happen, particularly at a time when concerns of ‘development’ seem to take precedence over all rational considerations.

Please also read about the flouting of environmental legislation to install an entire village in the Nilagala/Gal Oya forests, elsewhere in this newspaper. How many more such depredations are being kept under a lid, simply because we do not have the right to know?


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India’s nuclear radiation threat to Sri Lanka by David Soysa


June 6, 2012, 8:44 pm

by David Soysa

“God is so far away, and US is so near”. So goes a popular Mexican saying which is equally applicable to Sri Lanka’s plight, being so close to India.

Although Sri Lanka survived even India’s (under Indira and Rahul Gandhi) ‘Agni’ Terrorism, we and even our future generations may not be able to survive from a possible nuclear disaster to Kudankulam 2000 MW nuclear reactor in India. The Russian-built reactor is only 150 miles from Jaffna, and less than 600 miles from Hambantota.

Justice C. G. Weeramantry (former Judge of the International Court of Justice) in a letter addressed to the world’s Environmental Ministers (and published by our newspaper after Japan’s Fukushima disaster) under the title “Halt Construction of new reactors” highlights; a) lethal doses of radiation to exposed persons 150 miles away from the damage to a nuclear reactor and the radio active contamination of the environment more than 600 miles away are a dire note of warning; b) radioactive contamination of the environment could result in congenital deformities for a thousand generations to come; c) no power on earth can insure against, earthquakes, tsunamis, wars, insurrections, negligent management and other disasters; d) several nuclear accidents have already occurred even in developed countries like the US, Russia and Japan. Even the resources of those countries were strained on damage control. Smaller states (like Sri Lanka) could be completely crippled and e) besides accidental damage reactors, radioactive nuclear waste disposal poses a grave threat to humanity.

These are dire warnings from an internationally respected authority on international law. I could hardly add a word, to wake up Sri Lankans, who are sleeping at noon, while the clock is ticking away in Kudankulam. This is not the first time either. When India announced plans to launch Sethu Samudram project in violation of the international law, even our High Commission in New Delhi took no notice. It took a full page article published in The Island of 13th October 2004 to wake up Sri Lankans. Fortunately, our ablest Foreign Minister Laxman Kadirgamar and Secretary H. M. G. Palihakkara took prompt and effective action to save Sri Lanka from that potential danger to our environment, security and shipping. It was done diplomatically and scientifically.

India, which is seeking a seat in the Security Council as a permanent member, has been notorious for violating and treating UN conventions and decisions with impunity and contempt. To date India has failed to implement the famous UN Security Council Resolution on Kashmir, passed several decades ago. Instead, the Indian army is maintaining a reign of terror against the majority Muslims. It is not surprising therefore that India has built a massive nuclear reactor at Kudankulam close to the sea and only 150 miles from Jaffna, without either informing Sri Lanka of the project or obtaining a no objection clearance from the latter as required by International law.

In an article published in The Island of 05.08.2007, I alerted our authorities with the following. I followed this with another published in The Island of 03.12.2007. But that too did not wake up Sri Lankans. “A two thousand mega watt nuclear power project on the coast of Tamil Nadu is being built, to be completed by 2008, like the Sethu Canal project. Indian citizens are now demanding to be informed of the safety aspects of the nuclear fuel complex at Halaya Kadal and the fast breeder reactor at Kalpakkam, where 30% of the staff lost their lives due to last Tsunami in December 2004. A nuclear submarine base is planned to be sited at Ramanathapuram in the Sethu Canal.

Indian security analysts of Tamil Nadu have begun to express their grave fear that a devastating nuclear disaster could occur due to one of the following. First, as it happened to Kashiwasaki Kariwa plant in Japan, an earthquake could damage the nuclear plants in Tamil Nadu coast end so close to Sri Lanka resulting in deadly radioactive leaks affecting both Sri Lanka and Tamil Nadu. Besides earthquakes, the area is also prone to tectonic activity, cyclones and tsunamis, according to Indian meteorological department. The department has assigned Palk Bay area as an area for volcanic and cyclonic activity”. (The Sunday Island of 05.08.07).

In conformity with Sri Lanka’s current culture of damage control after the damage (remember the pre-Geneva and post-Geneva debacle) our authorities are now seeking to negotiate with India a Radiological Emergency Preparedness Programme. Thus, we have given our approval for India’s nuclear plant in Kudankulam implicitly. What use are these programmes in the event of an accident? Such programmes could not prevent disaster due to the Fukushima accident. While Japan and Germany are closing down their nuclear reactors, since accidents cannot be prevented, India is planning to build more nuclear plants as stated by Indian Prime Minister after the Fukushima disaster.

Besides UN Conventions on Nuclear Safety, International Law requires ‘every State to ensure that activities under its jurisdiction are conducted so as not to cause any damage by pollution to other states and their environment.’ Article 146 of United Nations Convention on “Law of the Sea (UNCLOS)” also deals with the need to protect human beings and the environment. India has violated these UN Conventions.

While Sri Lankans have been sleeping, in India long before Fukushima disaster, Peoples’ Movement Against Nuclear Energy (PMANE) organized some 9,000 people to perform satyagraha and several hundreds are on an indefinite fast against Kudankulam plant. AMANES indictment adds “as a result of our rulers’ nuclear madness, our land, water, air, sea, marine life and food security will become poisoned”. Shouldn’t we enlighten our fishermen in the North and the East on this danger? Minister of Fisheries may not be concerned.

A.P.J. Abdul Kalaam, missile scientist and India’s former President visited Sri Lanka recently. It is a pity that our media (or the authorities) could not ask Kalaam, how he plans to prevent an earthquake, tsunami, cyclone (or even an enemy attack on the prime target) from damaging the Kudankulam plant? Judge Weeramantry in his open letter referred to earlier adds: “Indeed, we are committing the gravest possible crime against future generations and are doing so with a full consciousness of the effect of our actions”. What a judgment on the crime of indifference, by those sleeping at noon!

There appears to be some Sri Lankans in authority who are too nervous to raise this issue with India, after India let this country down in Geneva on 22nd March 2012. This is a reflection of ignorance of how other friendly countries settled such issues very amicably. Ireland, US, UK, New Zealand, Japan are well known examples. Space restrictions prevent me from going into details which find themselves in an article I wrote to the People’s Bank Economic Review – August – December 2005. As trustees of the environment, should we betray the unborn future generations just to please India?

Soviet Union leader Khrushchev said after a nuclear disaster “the living will envy the dead”.

 

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