NEW DELHI // As India's newest nuclear plant gets ready to start generating power within two weeks, there have been suggestions that the government should have involved residents in the planning to avoid the growing violent protests.
The opposition to the Kudankulam plant, in the southern state of Tamil Nadu, gained momentum last year after the earthquake and tsunami that caused the meltdown at Japan's Fukushima Daiichi nuclear facility.
Tamil Nadu was hit hard by a tsunami in 2004 and the protesters fear the plant, which sits on the coast of the Bay of Bengal, is vulnerable to natural disasters.
Last week, state officials said Indian police had fired on about 2,000 protesters near the Kudankulam plant, killing one person. They said protesters had thrown stones and sticks at police and five officers were injured.
On Thursday, hundreds of activists, mostly women and children from nearby fishing villages, formed a human chain as they waded into the sea near the plant. Children formed human pyramids and raised a black flag in protest. Women clung to ropes from the beach, as they braved the waves.
"What is missing is that the government has not been open to dialogue. There is a long-standing history of protest but the government has been ignoring what the people have to say," said MV Ramana, a physicist who works at the Nuclear Futures Laboratory and the science and global security programme at Princeton University in the US.
An estimated one million people live within a 30-kilometre radius of the plant. This is the "same kind of radius as Fukushima", said Mr Ramana. "This means if there were to be a natural disaster, evacuation would be an issue."
Some of the issues that have not been discussed with residents, he added, include the land and water needed for the plant, which could affect farmers by redirecting water meant for irrigation, as well as the effect of the hot water discharged from the reactor on marine life and the livelihood of fishermen.
There are also fears of contamination of groundwater and soil.
Plans to begin generating power remained on track after India's supreme court rejected a petition on Friday by protesters to stop fuel being loaded into one of the two Russian-made reactors. But it said it would look into safety concerns raised by the protesters.
The plant will provide two gigawatts of electricity, enough to relieve a countrywide power crisis.
India currently generates 2.25 gigawatts of power but there is a need for twice as much, said Harry Dhaul, the director general of the Independent Power Producers Association of India, a non-governmental organisation that lobbies to improve the power sector.
Last month, India suffered the worst blackouts in history, leaving more than 600 million people without power. "The nuclear power plant in Kundankulam is extremely important because there is a huge gap in the demand and supply of power in India. What the nuclear plant will generate, that is a cheap option," said Mr Dhaul.
The plant will initially provide an estimated 1,000 megawatts of electricity to Tamil Nadu. The rest of the generated power will be shared by other south Indian states, including Andhra Pradesh.
Tamil Nadu already has prolonged power cuts and the price of electricity is among the highest in the country. In Andhra Pradesh, three days each week is declared a "power holiday", where industries shut down due to lack of electricity.
"This plant is a strong case of investing in the power sector," said Mr Dhaul, dismissing detractors who said a nuclear power plant will generate electricity for businesses, ignoring farming and fisheries. "Electricity is not for industrial use only. Everyone will draw from it."