India's Supreme Court has found in favour of commissioning Kudankulam 1&2, in judgement of a lawsuit filed in September 2012 arguing that starting up the plant violated local residents' human rights, and which objected to other aspects of the plant's development.
Construction of the plant was hampered by protests and demonstrations in 2011.
In a 247-page ruling, judges K.S. Radhakrishnan and Dipak Misra mentioned the Bhopal disaster several times, and reviewed the state of the country's nuclear industry, its regulator and its legal basis, but did not go into technical issues.
In the case of Kudankulam in particular, the judges said that they were convinced that the reactor design incorporates advanced safety features.
It reported the reports of a 15-member expert group set up to respond to the concerns of local people, which submitted reports in December 2011 and February 2012 arguing that their fears were unfounded.
Surveys of nearby villages found a total population of about 24,000 within 5km radius of the plant, compared to the 20,000 recommended by the AERB citing code. It said that no-one lived within the 2km exclusion zone, contrary what was claimed in the lawsuit.
The lawsuit complained that the temperature of the water released by the plant was raised from 5° to 7°C improperly; the judges found that NPCIL merely transferred a rule that applies to thermal power plants, and pointed to the results of multiple environmental reviews that found no damage to biota as a result.
The judges ruled that the suit's concerns about radiation release caused by normal operation were unlikely.
The ruling said: We have, therefore, to balance "economic scientific benefits" with that of "minor radiological detriments" on the touchstone of our national nuclear policy. Economic benefit, we have already indicated has to be viewed on a larger canvas which not only augment our economic growth but alleviate poverty and generate more employment. NPCIL, while setting up the NPP at Kudankulam, have satisfied the environmental principle like sustainable development, corporate social responsibility, precautionary principle, inter-intra generational equity and so on to implement our National Policy to develop, control and use of atomic energy for the welfare of the people and for economic growth of the country. Larger public interest of the community should give way to individual apprehension of violation of human rights and right to life guaranteed under Article 21....Nuclear power plant is being established [sic] not to negate right to life but to protect the right to life guaranteed under Article 21 of the Constitution."
The judges did voice concern about the storage of spent fuel at the plant, and criticized operator Nuclear Power Corporation of India's seeming lack of action in developing a deep geological repository for nuclear waste:
"Research is on to handle SNF [spent nuclear fuel] in DGR [deep geological repository] which, in the near future, let us hope, would be a reality, but that shall not deter us in holding up of such a project which has been established at KKNPP in implementation of the India's Nuclear Policy. We may, however, caution that it is of utmost importance that the Union of India, NPCIL etc. should find out a place for a permanent DGR. Storing of SNF at NPP site will, in the long run, poses a dangerous, long term health and environmental risk." It adds: "Noticeably, NPCIL does not seem to have a long term plan, other than, stating and hoping that in the near future, it would establishes [sic] a DGR."