In an attempt to counter growing opposition to the country's nuclear expansion plans, the nuclear establishment has launched a unique public relations effort - roping in young scientists and engineers to interact with citizens.
The Bhabha Atomic Research Centre (BARC) recently formed a core media team of eight young scientists, in each of its 19 core research groups. The team is responsible for disseminating information through exhibitions, workshops, seminars, models of nuclear plants and state-of-the-art audio and visual tools.
Fears and misconceptions about nuclear energy, particularly after the recent Fukushima nuclear incident in Japan, have stalled several nuclear projects in the country. "Senior scientists are crucial for explaining policy issues. But to communicate to the academic community and people at large, and allay their fears, young scientists are the best, because they are flexible and can explain in the language of the people," said RK Sinha, director, BARC.
In September, 200 such scientists attended a two-day workshop called Development of communication skills for public awareness programmes at BARC. "Today, the internet and digital media can be used to reach a large number of people. Senior scientists neither have the time nor the inclination to the medium, but younger ones are comfortable with it," Sinha added. "Scientists are groomed only for technological and scientific mandates. Now, we want to cultivate them to address public concerns."
Next month, BARC's scientific officers, Dimple Dutta, 34, and Anand Ballal, 38, hope to interact with students at the National Children's Science Congress in Jaipur. "The BARC is like a black box. Most don't know the ongoing research at the institute. Besides, there are misconceptions that nuclear energy is bad and the phobia surrounding radioactivity needs to be cleared," said Ballal. Their task is to de-jargonise scientific facts about nuclear energy.
"India is an emerging power and nuclear energy has a big role to play in the country's development," said Dutta adding that people need to be made aware of the benefits of nuclear energy in fields such as agriculture and health care and that it is safe.
"With the Jaitapur plant proposed in Maharashtra, I will be in a better position to address unfounded fears of the locals in Marathi, which is also my mother tongue," said Prashant Kelkar, 35, reactor engineering department, BARC.