The obscene closeness of the Kalpakkam Atomic Power Station to the ancient rock-cut temple complex of Mahabalipuram, pictured above, near Madras on India’s southeast coast in Tamil Nadu, prickled my skin. It was 1990, and the climb to the seemingly idyllic sculptures was my first trek on the subcontinent. I soon realised extremes are the essence of India.
My high-caste Indian friend casually remarked that a lower-caste community had been forcibly evicted in 1980 to build the nuclear edifice. The next morning, however, I discovered those people had since returned, constructing their pathetic lean-tos against the containment wall of the nuclear plant. A protruding pipe dribbled into a filth-strewn trench played in by the children.
As India’s first locally constructed nuclear power station, it is one of six nuclear power plants that now spread from New Delhi to Koodankulam in the south, totalling 20 reactors.
It did not rain one day that year I spent in India. Despite the abundance of solar energy, seven more reactors are under construction.
Only this year were the deaths of nine people, including three employees of the Madras Atomic Power Station, admitted by India’s Department of Atomic Energy to be caused by multiple myeloma, a rare form of bone marrow cancer linked to nuclear radiation.
The Indian government’s civil nuclear program is under a legal cloud with a Public Interest Litigation case filed against it at the Supreme Court. Despite this, nuclear capacity has been increased, with France backing the largest plant, the 9900MW Jaitapur Nuclear Power Project in Maharashtra.
With such international support India is now proposing a massive increase in its nuclear power capacity, and is dependent upon Australia’s low-enriched uranium to build thorium atomic reactors. Mass protests surrounding the proposed sites are ignored domestically and internationally.
That Australia is involved in the expansion of this toxic industry defies rational explanation. The 26-year uranium export ban was there for a good reason – to keep shut Pandora’s box.