Anti-nuclear protesters lose in India, win in China

A counterintuitive juxtaposition of news stories. First, in ostensibly democratic India, the country's newest and largest nuclear power plant has just gone on line—despite years of angry protests by local peasants in Tamil Nadu state. The first unit at the Russian-built Kudankulam Nuclear Power Project (KNPP) and India's 21st reactor went critical July 14, the Nuclear Power Corporation of India Ltd (NPCIL) announced. Earlier this year India's Supreme Court ruled against a challenge to the opening of the plant, saying the project was for the "people's welfare." Both the Communist Party of India-Marxist-Leninist (CPI-ML) and the Tamil nationalist Marumalarchi Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (MDMK) have pledged a new round of protests to demand it be immediately shut down.

The CPI-ML also pledges stepped-up protests to halt the nuclear projects at Jaitapur in Maharashtra and Chutka in Madhya Pradesh. But politicians are already blaming protesters for standing in the way of progress. Minister of State V Narayanaswamy says delays due to protests at the plant have resulted in a loss of over Rs 2000 crore ($350 million) for India. "The struggle committee is responsible for this as they had misled people with wrong information," he said. (PTI, July 19; AFP-JIJI, July 15; Zee News, July 14; BRICS Post, July 12; Zee News, July 2)

Simultaneously in totalitarian China, the government has cancelled a nuclear project following a single rare protest by local residents, who carried banners saying, "We want children, not atoms." The local government in Heshan, Guangdong, confirmed its decision July 18 to cancel the planned project in Longwan Industrial Park, which was to be built by the China National Nuclear Corporation (CNNC). Weeks earlier, some 1,000 people took what they called an "innocent stroll" at the project site, carrying signs against the plant and facing off with helmeted police. (Times of India, July 18)

There is a paradoxical unity in this seeming contradiction. The leaders of totalitarian China look at the unrest in India and see a threat to their closed system to be headed off—while in "democratic" India, the peasantry are sufficiently disenfranchised that the far more open system can afford the chaos of their protests. Ironically, in both cases there is an element of repressive tolerance at work.

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  1. Guangdong: direct action gets the goods

    Another example of how protest means more in countries where it is prohibited. Authorities in Guangdong province say they have canceled a waste incinerator project, following several days of protests which saw police vehicles overturned and a number of local residents injured by police. The government of Luoding City said on its website it was rescinding approval of the project "in response to public demands." The protests began just days earlier, when at least a thousand people rallied outside the factory, belonging to China Resources Cement Holdings, one of China’s biggest producers. (IBT, April 9)

  2. Leak at Indian nuclear power plant

    The Kakrapar Atomic Power Station in Gujarat suffered a coolant leak March 11 that persisted for 10 days before technicians finally succeeded in stemming it. The first reactor at the planet, built by Nuclear Power Corporation of India Ltd. (NPCIL), shut down automatically when the leak began. (Economic Times, India, March 25)