Having dealt with strong opposition from the locals to some of its nuclear power projects, including Kudankulam and Jaitapur, R K Sinha, Chairman of the Atomic Energy Commission (AEC) and Secretary, Department of Atomic Energy (DAE), said public outreach was an essential discipline for the department, helping it link the benefits of atomic energy to the society.
“We have been doing it for a long time. But of late, there have been certain elements of fear in the minds of the public that needs to be addressed in a much more different manner. Public outreach has to have a range, right from the level of scientists, my colleagues, to a villager. There are different ways to approach them and different ways of outreach, for it to be effective. There is one way to convince scientists and another way to convince villagers,” Sinha said during a session on public outreach.
He asked scientists to make themselves visible. “Hardly anyone knows the other dimensions of the activities that DAE is doing, especially in agriculture or healthcare. How many know that the Tata Memorial Centre is actually a part of DAE? Even the awareness of what we do for public good is not so high. There is a plan to have a proposal to bring people to the Bhabha Atomic Research Centre (BARC), those who want to come. The mystery has to be removed,” he said.
K Vijay Raghavan, Secretary, Department of Science and Technology, said the government was pressed at taking policy decisions that were extraordinarily complicated and people should understand what evidence meant in terms of taking policy decisions.
He said India needed to change its way of communicating and use TV, radio and internet in multiple languages to reach out to maximum people. “It is important for scientists to communicate. Scientists must also communicate with the government. But it’s not easy. In other countries, public TV, radio channels have a lot on science and we can learn from it. Our challenge is that we have a huge demographic dividend and we need to do this in multiple languages,” he said.
According to R Chidambaram, Principle Scientific Advisor to the Government of India, if society has to feel the impact of important developments, the public must be made aware. “One of our major scientific achievements recently has been the Mars mission and PM Narendra Modi was there when the last manoeuvres were carried out. This not only encouraged scientists, it further rekindled public interest in space missions,” he said.