India should adopt communicative practices of nuclear powerhouses,not just their technology
The Nuclear Power Corporation of India Ltd (NPCIL) has admitted that had it better addressed the fears of the local communities near the Koodankulam nuclear project and more promptly perhaps the confrontation could have been avoided. As the NPCIL loses Rs 5 crore daily because of the delay in commissioning the first of the twin 1,000 MW reactors long after it missed the December deadline for going critical S.A. Bhardwaj,NPCILs director-technical,has regretted that the hot run,conducted last August,was done without informing the public: We took it for granted that people would understand… We should have gone from door-to-door and explained… There was certainly a lack of communication.
Although the NPCIL has since launched a major campaign,the protests,once led by the Catholic church,have become self-sustaining,as reported in this newspaper on Monday. The home ministry has cracked down on the NGOs associated with the Church,after the prime minister flagged the problem in a recent interview to Science. However,how did the NPCIL come to take the population around a nuclear site for granted? Notwithstanding the agendas of globe-trotting professional activists,concerns expressed by locals themselves cannot be dismissed as paranoid,no matter how ill- or misinformed. Around the anniversary of last years Fukushima disaster in Japan,thats a lesson for the NPCIL.
The governments problem at Koodankulam is not the accident that struck the Fukushima plant. Its the handling of Fukushima before and after a story of complacency and inadequate communication. Communication can counter opposition with fact and argument,such as how safe the third-generation Russian reactors at Koodankulam (or the French EPRs at Jaitapur) are compared with Fukushimas first-generation reactors or that India needs nuclear energy to reduce its dependence on environment-damaging thermal power. While India collaborates with advanced nuclear powers like France,it should also learn from the best communicative practices of the EDF (Électricité de France) before it secured sanction for its plant at Flamanville. Moreover,an independent nuclear safety authority,like the French ASN,would make safety clearances immensely credible. Public confidence can only be won by taking the public into confidence,not by diktat.