Green signal

The Supreme Court’s clearance for the Kudankulam nuclear power plant is welcome and should lead to its early operationalisation. The final green signal comes after a similar order passed by the Madras high court and favourable reports made by review committees which had been tasked to study the safety issues raised in connection with the plant.

The court, after studying these issues and taking into consideration the opposition of the environmentalists and the local population, has come to the conclusion that the plant does not pose a threat to the life or health of the people. However it has made the commissioning of the plant conditional on all safety clearances and has laid down 15 guidelines relating to safety, security and environment, which should be strictly followed before and after the plant goes on stream. 

The broad principles laid down by the court should guide discussions and decisions on situations involving development and environment. It has clearly said that the larger public interest has precedence over minor public inconveniences which may be caused by a development project. It has also underlined the importance of nuclear energy in a power-famished country like India. Unfortunately there is a perception that development and environment are mutually exclusive.

Much of the opposition to the Kudankulam plant came from an absolutist opposition to nuclear energy. Those who held a rejectionist view were able to create apprehensions in the minds of the local people who would naturally be concerned about their safety. Predictably the activist groups are not happy with the court order and are planning to continue their agitation. The government and the nuclear authorities should intensify their efforts to remove misinformation and doubts from the minds of the local people.

Modern reactors like those being set up at Kudankulam have foolproof safety systems unlike the first generation plants at Fukushima which was hit by a disaster in 2011. The Kudankulam location is also not prone to earth quakes or tsunamis. However safeguards  against the most impossible situations should be put in place. In future also, as the court has said, in the case of nuclear plants there should be a case by case evaluation of environmental and safety issues and rigorous and continuous monitoring of operations. In order that this is most effectively done the atomic energy regulatory board, which now reports to the government, should be made an independent and autonomous body. This will create public trust in it. 

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