Kundankulam's reactors, built by state-owned Nuclear Power Corp. of India in conjunction with Russia's Atomexport, are to be the first foreign-designed reactors to operate in the country since the 1970s.
Environmentalists, anti-nuclear campaigners and local residents have protested Kundankulam plant on and off since 1988 over concerns that radiation from the plant could endanger those who live in close proximity to it, but opposition to the facility in the southern Tamil Nadu state has intensified since Japan's Fukushima nuclear plant disaster in March 2011.
Although Kundankulam had received governmental approval, a petition filed with the Supreme Court in September sought to restrain the Union government and other authorities from commissioning the facility.
Also in September a villager protesting against the plant was killed when police opened fire at angry community members who had surrounded a local police station. That same day, police dispersed tear gas upon thousands of protesting villagers marching towards the plant.
The Supreme Court in its decision Monday said the plant was "safe and secure and it is necessary for the larger public interest and economic growth of the country. Nuclear power plants are needed in the country for the present and future generations."
But G Sundarrajan, the activist behind the Supreme Court petition, says that before commissioning, Nuclear Power Corp. of India still needs to address 17 safety concerns. He told the Journal he's confident that campaigners would get another chance in court.
"There is always a tab to pull the decision back," he said. "Ideally we wanted them to stop the commissioning but they have gone ahead with a conditional order."
Construction on Kudankulam began in 2002 but wasn't completed until 11 years later because of delays caused by the anti-nuclear protests.
Indian government safety regulations specify that there should be no residents within 1 mile of a reactor. Sundarrajan says there are nearly 10,000 people living within about half mile of the facility, the Journal reports.
Of the 2,000 megawatts of electricity to be generated by Kudankulam, Tamil Nadu -- which faces peak hour deficits and load-shedding from 6-8 hours daily -- will be allocated 925 megawatts.
India has 20 operational nuclear reactors in six nuclear power plants with a capacity of 4.4 gigawatts, generating less than 3 percent of the country's total electricity. Ten of those reactors were commissioned after 2000. The government aims to increase total nuclear capacity to 35 gigawatts by 2020.