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The nuclear fear factor

With barely two weeks to go for the Kudankulam Nuclear Power Plant (KNPP) to start production, the protests from the people in and around the reactor seem to be reaching a fever pitch. This suggests that they are fearful of what might happen when the reactor is fully functional. This is because the government has done little to allay their fears, whether real or imagined.

With India's energy needs growing by the day, there is no option but to tap into all the available energy sources. This, however, should not be at the cost of environmental damage and human life. Energy generation using nuclear power has always been contentious because of the dangers it involves. Nuclear power plant accidents, like the 2011 Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant disaster, Three Mile Island, Chernobyl and the Rawatbhata nuclear plant leak in 2012, have created very negative perceptions about nuclear energy.

For India to progress on its economic trajectory, power generation is essential and with a dwindling supply of coal, coupled with the rising prices of oil imports, the government is forced to turn to other sources to meet ever-growing energy needs. The reliance on alternative sources of cleaner energy have not really taken off for several reasons, like the lack of ideal conditions for tapping wind energy or the government's failure to give solar power generation the required thrust through incentives and better technology.

It is this energy vacuum that nuclear power fills. As noted by MS Swaminathan earlier this year, there is a greater need for better communication between the people and scientists, which, to a great extent, will help remove most of the fears about nuclear power plants. Though prominent personalities in the field of atomic energy like MR Srinivasan, former Atomic Energy Commission chairman, have been reiterating that KNPP is the 'safest nuclear plant in the world', the government has not been able to convey this message successfully.

Through effective communication that the highest standards of safety are being implemented, the government and the people could find themselves in a win-win situation. Things have already been left too late. But the government cannot get away with not communicating with the people, if for nothing else at least to ens-ure that such glitches don't hamper future civilian nuclear projects.

 

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