Kudankulam/New Delhi: The Supreme Court on Thursday refused to stay the loading of fuel into the Kudankulam nuclear plant even as the villagers formed human chains to protest in the sea demanding that the project be stopped. Even as the government told the Supreme Court during a hearing on a petition against loading of fuel that the plant was safe, the court observed that the safety of those living in its vicinity is of prime concern.
While the government maintained the loading was yet to begin and the plant will be operational only at least two months after the procedure, the Atomic Energy Regulatory Board confirmed that all safety guidelines are yet to be met at the plant. The board said that fuel loading in the reactors of the plant has not begun as yet. "We are waiting for final clearances, a major pre-fuel loading process is complete," the AERB said.
The court will hear the matter on next September 20. Earlier, the court heard arguments from petitioner Prashant Bhushan and the Centre.
The court's decision comes as hundreds of people from Tamil Nadu's Idinthakarai village, the epicentre of the protests against the Kudankulam Nuclear Power Plant (KNPP), stood in the sea water on Thursday to protest moves to load uranium fuel in one of the two reactors.
Villagers, mostly fishermen, are agitating by forming a kilometre long human chain in the Indian Ocean. However, the police have promised to intervene if law and order is disturbed. Coast guard aircraft are surveying the area.
With black flags fluttering in the backdrop, the protesters said they were prepared to sacrifice their lives to protect their livelihood and ecology through the 'jal satyagraha', taking a leaf from a similar protest in Madhya Pradesh.
"What we are observing is Jal Sathyagraha - peaceful demonstration in the sea," said anti-nuclear activists who have taken the example of villagers of Khandwa district in Madhya Pradesh demanding land as compensation and reduction of Omkareshwar Dam recently.
Though the protest was intended to be from 10 am to 4 pm, the activists said they would continue it indefinitely on a relay basis.
The Coast Guard aircraft hovered over the sea and its ships kept a vigil off nearby Idinthakarai as the villagers, including women and children, from Kudankulam and nearby fishing hamlets walked into the sea for the show of strength.
Officials said Coast Guard aircraft and ships had been deployed to monitor the entire coastal area even as more than 4,000 police personnel, supported by Rapid Action Force, continued to maintain a strict vigil, having almost sealed the entire Kudankulam town to bar entry of outsiders.
Police said they were monitoring the human chain protest from a distance and would not act unless 'provoked extremely'.
The protest in the sea was held even as the Peoples Movement Against Nuclear Energy leader SP Udhayakumar, who has been spearheading the over a year-long stir, remained elusive with police searching for him.
Udayakumar had announced he would surrender before police on Tuesday night but later did a somersault citing people's sentiments against it.
Earlier, IT professional P Sundarrajan moved the apex court on Tuesday contending that the government should not go ahead with the loading of the fuel rods till 17 safety steps recommended by the expert committee are implemented.
Mentioning the matter before the bench, counsel for the petitioner Prashant Bhushan told the court that the expert committee was set up after Fukushima nuclear power plant accident in Japan, to suggest safety steps to ward off any such incident.
Bhushan told the court that out of 17 safety steps recommended by the expert committee only six have been put in place and to implement the remaining 11, the Nuclear Power Corporation of India (NPCIL) will require six months to two years.
Besides the central government, the petitioner had made the Atomic Energy Regulatory Board, NPCIL, the power plant director and the Tamil Nadu Pollution Control Board respondents.
The petitioner had said that the recommendations of the government's own expert task force on the critical safety features had not been implemented so far.
(With additional inputs from PTI, IANS)