Accident Sites – radiation, cancer, blindness, tardiness, cover-ups. The lessons from the Kalpakkam nuclear facility

In the end, loud voices were all that mattered. After three months of extended discussions, legislators in the Indian Parliament yelled their assent. The Civil Liability for Nuclear Damage Bill, 2010 was a legislation.
As India charts its journey towards extended nuclear commerce — the legislation allows India to trade with global private firms in nuclear technology — we highlight key coordinates on the Indian nuclear map as we seek to understand how ready we are to embrace nuclear energy.
Last week’s story, Nuclear energy. Ministries warn they are far from ready, 4 September, laid bare the backroom machinations as the government worked to ensure that the Parliament cleared the draft Nuclear Liability legislation. Amidst the loud public din, voices of government officials warning that they were ill-equipped to deal with nuclear accidents were drowned out. When the legislation was finally passed in the Rajya Sabha, Minister of State for Science and Technology Prithviraj Chavan, attempting to take dissenters on board, declared, “This is not final… We will take care of every single suggestion. If required, the Bill will be changed for the better.”
This week, TEHELKA travels to Kalpakkam and Kudankulam in Tamil Nadu where two nuclear plants are located.
IN AN inconspicuous corner of the Department of Atomic Energy’s (DAE) website is a large map that could easily belong in a student’s science textbook. On the map that captures atomic energy establishments in India, it isn’t difficult to find Kalpakkam. Located around 70 km from Tamil Nadu’s capital, Chennai, Kalpakkam plays host to seven nuclear organisations — from the Madras Atomic Power Station that generates nuclear energy to the Kalpakkam Atomic Reprocessing Plant that reprocesses spent fuel from the reactors for reuse in other nuclear programmes. But there is yet another reason to accord Kalpakkam a special place on the Indian nuclear map. The two pressurised heavy water reactors installed at Kalpakkam were developed indigenously. Commercial operation at the atomic power plant began way back in 1984 and 1986; and currently the plant produces 440MW of electricity from the two reactors. Plans for an additional 500MW capacity are on the anvil.
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