SRI LANKA: New Nuclear Plant from India Has Neighbor Up in Arms

The Indian government says Sri Lankan opponents of its newest nuclear power plant have resorted to a campaign of propaganda and media misinformation to keep the facility from going live.

All the same, the anti-nuke effort is making an impact: New Delhi said it will enter into a “broad dialogue” with Colombo officials to convince them of the Kudankulam Nuclear Power Plant’s safety.

“The safety aspect will be a part of the broader agenda for talks over cooperation in nuclear energy but we are already telling them that India will abide by all international conventions over nuclear safety,” The Times of India quotes an official dealing with Sri Lanka.

KNPP has been more than a decade in the works, and will be India’s seventh and largest nuclear facility. It is located in Tamil Nadu’s Tirunelveli district, around 250 km from Mannar in Northern Sri Lanka. Activists in both countries say the plant poses a regional threat, and that inadequate resources exist to respond to a Fukushima-scale disaster.

(Officially, Sri Lanka’s government has raised no objection to KNPP, though it says it may install a girdle of early-warning radiation detectors along the northern coast. Unofficially, Colombo is no doubt enjoys watching New Delhi squirm. India recently voted for a US-sponsored resolution at the UN Human Rights Council against Sri Lanka.)

Whether propagandistic, media savvy or both, the anti-KNPP movement has rallied support in large part via high-profile – and much-YouTubed – protests that have drawn participants from as far away as Japan. A planned “siege” of the plant Oct. 8 has prompted the Indian government to pour in extra security forces and a clash seems likely. (Two protestors have died in earlier actions.)

And it’s not only Sri Lankans putting up a fight. In a September press release, India’s People’s Movement Against Nuclear Energy derided the government’s reaction to its “nonviolent” protests.
“Just like a hapless wife brutally assaulted by her male chauvinistic and drunken husband, like an innocent little child beaten up by his abusive parent, our honest, hardworking, and pious people have been violated, their possessions vandalized, their 400-day long nonviolent movement vilified,” the group wailed, “By our own government!”

In the current global post-Fukishima atmosphere of widespread concern about nuclear power plant safety, it’s difficult these days to imagine any project going forward without some degree of citizen resistance.

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