Playing mischief

Prime minister Manmohan Singh’s charge that some non-government organisations which have been agitating against the Kudamkulam nuclear power plant in Tamil Nadu are being funded by entities in the US and Scandinavian countries is not new.

The prime minister only made more specific a charge which had been made by the Nuclear Power Corporation of India last year when the protests against the plant were rising. The home ministry has reportedly withdrawn the licences of three NGOs which have used their funds to finance the agitation. The two 1000 MW reactors which are ready for operation in Kudamkulam have been set up with help from Russia. The Russians have felt business rivalry with them in some countries may have played a role in the protests.

The government and India’s nuclear power establishment have to take the blame for not sharing with the public full information and not removing the doubts and apprehensions of the people, especially the local residents, in time. Too much secrecy and even a disregard for public opinion had marked the attitude of the authorities. When the agitation intensified the government tried to counter it with a sensible campaign and even fielded credible persons like former President APJ Abdul Kalam for it. It may have helped to some extent but the agitation has continued. It is difficult to imagine that it is all an expression of local concerns and fears. Diehard anti-nuclear activists and other interests could conceivably have combined to play on the worries and fears of the local residents and to keep the agitation going.

It was after the nuclear mishap at Fukushima that the agitation against the Kudamkulam plant gained momentum. But the Fukushima reactor was of a very old vintage, while the Kudamkulam plant is the most modern with the best safety features incorporated in it against all conceivable threats and contingencies. There is hardly any chance of a tsunami or an earthquake endangering the plant.  It can be argued that the most unexpected and the unlikeliest situation can arise but that can not be an argument to stall and undermine a project which is being set up in public interest. India needs nuclear energy for development and the  Kudamkulam plant will help a lot to reduce Tamil Nadu’s power problems. Well over Rs 14,000 crore has been spent on the project. There should not be any going back and if  mischievous elements are trying to stall it they should be exposed. 

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