Chennai: “We are under house arrest, without drinking water and even milk for children. Our stock of provisions is running out and we do not have vegetables,” complained a housewife living inside the Kudankulam Nuclear Power Project (KNPP) site in Tirunelvelli district, around 650 km from here.
For the third successive day Saturday, anti-KNPP protesters have blocked entry points to the plant preventing employees from going inside for work.
Around 1,000 people including children — ranging from month-old babies to school-going kids — and old people, are confined to their homes at Kudankulam since Thursday.
Families of hundreds of contract workers and employees of contractors Larsen & Toubro Ltd are residing inside the KNPP campus since the past several years.
There are around 50 school-going children residing inside the KNPP compound but are unable to attend their classes since the past three days.
L&T is executing the construction contracts for Nuclear Power Corporation of India Ltd (NPCIL) at Kudankulam.
The NPCIL is building two 1,000-MW capacity nuclear power reactors with Russian technology and equipment in Kudankulam. The first unit is expected to go on stream in December.
The total project cost is estimated to be around Rs.13,000 crore.
For the past seven days, 106 people have been fasting demanding scrapping of the nuclear power project at Idinthakarai village near Kudankulam. Around 1,500 villagers have lent their support to the protesters by participating in the relay fast.
None of the people whom IANS spoke to wanted to be identified fearing backlash from the protesters.
“Children have not gone to school since the past three days. We are not able to get water cans from outside. We boil the desalinated water and use it for drinking and cooking,” another woman not wanting to be named, told IANS over phone.
“Perhaps the government should air drop essential items,” said another person.
“The gate passes of those who go out of the compound are seized by the protesters outside and it is difficult to come back without the pass,” a resident said.
According to L&T officials, the contract labourers, mainly north Indians, are quitting the place as they are not able to get kerosene for cooking from the local market.
“The local workers are not interested in working overtime. Hence we had to bring in labourers from outside,” NPCIL Chairman and Managing Director S.K. Jain told IANS.
L&T officials said it will be difficult to mobilize some of the specialist work force again once normalcy returns.
Security forces stationed inside the plant are also facing problems as they are not getting replacements and are unable to change clothes.
“Our peaceful protest demanding scrapping of the project is on. The project work should be stopped immediately,” People’s Rights Movement Coordinator S. Sivasubramanian, who is spearheading the protest, told IANS.
Queried about the people living inside the KNPP complex, he said: “We are not preventing the people from coming out. The villagers fear that the project would affect their livelihood.”
The district collector and police officers Friday visited the protest site but returned without even having a word with the protesters, he said.
“The government should stop the nuclear power project work first and have the dialogue with us,” he said.
Meanwhile, skeletal staff continues to do the maintenance work at the first reactor. The first 1,000-MW reactor has completed what is called a “hot run” – trial run of the reactor with dummy fuel — to check all the reactor systems, including steam generation.
“We have a canteen inside and food is supplied to the staff inside. None of our employees were able to enter the plant today (Saturday). The canteen staff are operating with minimum facilities,” a senior plant official told IANS.
Many employees are inside the plant since the past 48 hours to carry out maintenance work, he said.
According to NPCIL officials, shutting down the plant and restarting it is an elaborate process, which would lead to further delays. (IANS)