No clear policy at Koodankulam

The Violence that has accompanied the protests against the nuclear power plant in Koodankulam is regrettable. At least one person has died in the police firing on the protesters while many have been injured in the cane charge. The protest should not have taken a violent turn and, equally, the police retaliation should not have been so brutal. The government, too, should not be so dismissive of the protests against the nuclear power plant by claiming that they are the handiwork of foreign funded NGOs. At the heart of the project is the serious issue of the safety of the nuclear power plants about which the local people are rightly agitated as it concerns their lives. The agitation is largely a grassroots affair led by farmers and fishermen who are worried about their health, safety and livelihoods. More than a million peple live in the close vicinity of the plant and many of them are worried about a repetition of a catastrophe similar to the one that took place in Fukushima on 11 March 2011 in Japan, where a tsunami and an earthquake caused a nuclear disaster. Given the population densities and other factors involved, it would just not be possible to evacuate such a large number of people or to save them from a nuclear disaster if it takes place. Not just a natural event but even a terrorist attack can cause a nuclear disaster. In the aftermath of the Fukushima disaster serious questions about atomic energy as a clean and safe alternative to fossil fuels have been raised. The disaster has fuelled a worldwide concern about the safety of nuclear plants which is leading to a rollback of nuclear power in many advanced countries, as, for example, in Germany. The issue is larger than that of merely the Koodankulam nuclear power plant and is related to the energy policy of the country as a series of similar plants are planned across India with foreign collaboration. There is no doubt that India, as a rising power, has to rapidly raise its power output to fuel its growing economy. Yet the question is whether nuclear power is the best way to supply this energy deficit, or whether the country should go in for renewable or alternative sources of energy generation, which are safer and cheaper.  The fears and concerns of the local community with regard to the Koodankulam plant should, therefore, not be taken lightly. In a democracy, a decision of such importance that will seriously affect the local people should not be taken without their approval and acquience. It is, therefore, for the government to review its policy towards the plant in case it is not able to win the people over to its point of view., and to reconsider its policy towards nuclear power in general as well.


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