Address concerns

Address concerns

The protests staged against the Kudankulam nuclear power project in Tamil Nadu’s Tirunelveli district by local residents underline the lack of transparency about  government policies and in execution of projects which carry major hazards and the need for adequate public consultation on them. The fast undertaken by the protesters has been called off now on assurance from chief minister Jayalalitha that their concerns would be conveyed to the prime minister. The state cabinet has also passed a resolution seeking suspension of work on the project. A union minister had met the protesters after the chief minister had brought it to the attention of the prime minister that the Centre had not taken any steps to allay the apprehensions of the residents about the project.

But the issues of concern are yet to be addressed to the satisfaction of the residents.
The potential dangers posed by nuclear power plants have always worried people living in their vicinity. The fears have been aggravated by the disaster that struck the Fukushima  plant in Japan earlier this year and its meltdown. Countries like Germany have abandoned nuclear power programmes in view of the safety concerns that they raise. India may not be able to say no to nuclear power because its power needs cannot be entirely met by fossil fuels and renewable energy programmes. So the government has undertaken an ambitious nuclear power generation programme.  But  the projects in  all states where they are proposed to be set up have met with opposition. West Bengal has rejected the plan to set up one in Haripur. Much of the work on the first phase of the Kudankulam project has been completed and the first reactor is ready for commissioning in December. Hundreds of crores of rupees have already been spent on the project.

The government and India’s nuclear power establishment have been opaque and even dismissive of public concerns about projects. Any project, let alone a nuclear plant, has to be accepted by the local people and the public at large and this can happen only if there are satisfactory answers for the environmental, safety, security and livelihood problems that they raise. Bland assertions about the claimed safety record of India’s nuclear plants will not be enough. Better information, public education and sensitivity to the concerns of the people are needed to win the support of the people of Kudankulam for the project.

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