On 10 September 2012, thousands of people from four villages in Tamil Nadu gathered on the beaches of Idinthakarai, a village in the state’s Tirunelveli district, to protest against the Kudankulam Nuclear Power Plant, located barely two kilometers away. That day, uranium fuel was being filled in the plant—the final step before the nuclear reactors are functional.
As the protestors—the majority of whom were women—marched towards the plant, the state responded with tear gas and subsequently opened fire on the crowd. The protestors fled to the sea to escape the police. One person was killed, and 66 people were arrested—several of them on charges of sedition.
The KNPP is the largest nuclear power plant in India. It has faced opposition from local residents and fishing communities ever since it was first proposed in 1979. Construction on the plant began in 2001, and it has been operational since 2013. The protestors claimed that the plant’s effluent, discharged into the sea, releases toxins and impacts the quality of fish. They feared that the plant will take away their livelihood and that of future generations. Fish workers said that since the plant has been operational, the quantity of fish has reduced, and the varieties diminished.
Protests against the project picked up speed in 2011 after the Fukushima disaster in Japan, which involved a major earthquake, a tsunami and a nuclear accident at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant. According to Japan's Reconstruction Agency, formed to coordinate the post-disaster rebuilding, at least 15,000 people were killed in the disaster and thousands had to be evacuated. Residents of Idinthakarai, which had been hit by a tsunami in 2004, feared a similar fate.
Last month, the Tamil Nadu Pollution Control Board called for a public hearing to discuss building an Away from Reactor, or AFR, a facility to store the spent fuel. The hearing, scheduled for 10 July, was postponed, amid renewed protests by villagers.