Chennai: The day-long siege at the Kudankulam Nuclear Power Plant (KNPP) in Tirunelveli district on Saturday by around 1,500 villagers has been called off on the assurance that the workers and others inside the project campus would be vacated by December 15, said an activist.

"The district collector and other officials assured us that the workers and employees of Larsen and Toubro Ltd living inside the project campus would be asked to leave by Dec 15. Based on this assurance, we called off our siege," S Sivasubramanian, coordinator of the People's Rights Movement, an organisation fighting for the plant's closure said.

Expressing surprise at the development, a senior KNPP official said there was no information from the district administration on this aspect.

"We were not part of the negotiations that the district administration had with the protestors," said the official, who did not want to be named.

Contacted by a news agency for clarifications, District Collector R Selvaraj was not available for comment as he was "busy".

Villagers laid siege to the KNPP to demand immediate stop to all work at the site while officials of the Nuclear Power Corporation Ltd (NPCIL) denied any stopped work had been resumed.

"This morning, around 10 people from West Bengal came to Kudankulam and asked for directions to the plant site. When villagers enquired about their mission, they said they were labourers hired by a contractor to carry out work inside the project site," said Sivasubramanian.

"This only proves our charge that the NPCIL is not respecting the Tamil Nadu assembly's resolution to stop all activities till the fears of the locals are allayed," he added.

As the word spread around, people from Kudankulam and surrounding villagers gathered outside the KNPP site gate and sat on protest.

Activist R Thadeus said that men and women were sitting on both sides of the road and traffic is not blocked but nobody could go inside the KNPP site.

He said more than 500 people were working inside the plant site and on Saturday around 150 labourers were supplied breakfast from the NPCIL canteen.

In a statement, the NPCIL said that it "has not called any persons for restarting halted activities".

"By such rumours, it appears that even minimum activities required for the preservation and surveillance activities will also get disrupted."

There have been widespread protests against the two 1,000 MW nuclear power reactors that the NPCIL is building with Russian technology and equipment at Kudankulam, around 650 km from here.

The project cost is estimated to come up at Rs.13,171 crore.

Villagers fear for their lives and safety in case of any nuclear accident and the long-term impact it would have on the population.

They had earlier laid siege to the plant on October 13 and did not allow anyone to go in. The state government had asked NPCIL officials to keep away till the situation normalised.

However, as the trial run - technically called hot run - of the first unit was over, the NPCIL said it was carrying out essential maintenance work so that the equipments do not fail or the reactor and pipelines do not rust due to stagnant coolant water.

The agitation has put a stop to the project work, thereby delaying the commissioning of the first unit by several months.

In order to allay the fears of the public, the central and the state governments have formed two separate committees. The state panel includes representatives of the People's Movement Against Nuclear Energy (PMANE) that spearheads the protest.

Meanwhile, the central government appointed 15-member expert panel is likely to meet December 13 at Kanyakumari to discuss its responses to the issues raised by protestors and people. The central panel is expected to meet the state panel on December 15.

"Hopefully, it would be the last meeting and the project will be allowed to progress further," a senior NPCIL official said preferring anonymity.

(Agencies)