HAZMAT and Kismet: Dangerous Cargo and Dispassionate People


S. P. Udayakumar – TRANSCEND Media Service

The Indian Supreme Court is trying to find out the Indian government’s and the Department of Atomic Energy-DAE’s plans to store the Koodankulam spent-fuel, transport this dangerous cargo to reprocessing plants, and to safe-keep the radioactive wastes. The government and the DAE clearly have no plans or preparations for any of these important steps. They lied to the Supreme Court about Kolar Gold Fields plans recently and swiftly retracted in the wake of stiff opposition in Karnataka.

The attitude and approach of the government and the DAE is this: “We will cross the bridge when we come to it.” This careless, callous and casual approach is dangerous, more dangerous than deadly radiation itself. Manmohan Singh & company want to open nuclear power plants all over the country but have no plans to deal with the nuclear wastes.

Please see below a four-year-old report on the Koodankulam Nuclear Power Plant-KKNPP fuel transportation from Thiruvananthapuram to Koodankulam. Good luck to you all, my dear fellow countrymen and women!

Back in August 2008, I witnessed a rather unique convoy to fly by me when I was at Parakkai Road Junction in Nagercoil. There were a couple of police jeeps in the front followed by a few heavy trucks with gigantic and heavy-duty cylindrical pipes that were tied together by thin steel wires, and a JCB at the end. The executors obviously had two clear goals: one, don’t attract any undue attention and two, get out of the place as fast as you possibly could. Hence the casual air and unusual haste!

The executors made sure nobody knew that the cargo was coming, and that their convoy carried no unusual signs or symbols or warnings. So when the developmental motorcade was marching past, nobody knew what was really going on. Clearly, it was not a VIP escort, nor was it an emergency response squad. What was it? People were dumbstruck, media was silent, and civil society groups were clueless.

I knew it; a handful of others seemed to know it too. It was the highly radioactive and extremely dangerous nuclear fuel rods for the Koodankulam nuclear power plants. It was HAZMAT, hazardous material, that was being transported on busy public roads through densely-populated towns and townships with little care or caution. What disturbed me most was the lack of transparency (viz. not letting the people know what was being carried through their neighborhoods), the complete absence of any accountability (viz. not preparing the people for any untoward incidents, or accidents, or potential disasters) and most importantly, the reckless speed with which the deadly HAZMAT cargo was driven from Thiruvanathapuram airport to Koodankulam.

I wondered if the Chief Minister of Kerala, his ministerial colleagues and the Mayor of Thiruvananthapuram city were informed about this patriotic parade. Was the municipal chairman of Nagercoil town alerted at all? Then again, it did not actually matter because in this country most elected representatives, politicians, bureaucrats and all those “leaders” identify themselves with the views and values of the establishment and not with the people they claim to be serving. None of the “ordinary citizens” of Kerala and Tamil Nadu were informed, educated or alerted about the dangerous cargo that was crisscrossing their localities.

As the dangerous cargo was flying by with such haste and grandeur, people on the roadside were muttering: “what is it?” I loitered around asking people what was going on just to assess the public mood and the level of awareness that the people had about the nuclear happenings in the neighborhood. The majority had no idea whatsoever. Some thought it was none of their business, others felt it was a routine matter of trucks plying on the national highway, and yet others opined that it was all a sign of India growing (did they mean glowing?).

A few said matter-of-factly, “Oh that should be the fuel for the Koodankulam plants.” Even those “informed” citizens did not mention the terms “plutonium” or “fuel rods” or “criticality” or anything like that. Nobody seemed to know anything about the radiation risks and dangers.

I stood there depressed and dejected about the future of our land, our air, our water, our sea, our food, our people, and most importantly, our children and grand children. . The central government, state government, local bodies, the Department of Atomic Energy, nobody bothered to tell us anything about the cargo that was going to go through our domiciles. The media did not report a single line about this deadly procession. The “ordinary citizens” had no clue.

I have seen such radioactive HAZMAT transportations in Europe and the United States and have even blocked such trucks in France , the nuclear wonderland, along with French anti-nuclear activists. Those trucks had warning signs and symbols all around them and they inched forward like a pregnant woman with utmost care and caution. The local public was always forewarned and their right not to allow these disastrous demons through their neighborhoods was often respected even if it was not always honored.

Here in India , the authorities’ approach and the civil society’s attitude seem to be the same: “don’t ask, don’t tell.” When nobody asks and nobody tells, what we have is perfect ignorance. And ignorance is bliss! What HAZMAT, it is kismet that decides our future here in India. Isn’t that so?


S.P. Udayakumar, Ph.D. – Tamil Nadu, India:
* SACCER-South Asian Community Center for Education and Research (promoting life-long, life-wide and life-deep education)
* TRANSCEND Network, South Asia Convener (TSA) (For Rethinking South Asia)
* People’s Movement Against Nuclear Energy (PMANE)
* National Alliance of Anti-nuclear Movements (NAAM) (For a Nuclear-Free India that has No Deals, No Mines, No Reactors, No Dumps, and No Bombs).

This article originally appeared on Transcend Media Service (TMS) on 10 Dec 2012.

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