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Updated: March 5, 2012 00:44 IST

Losing the plot

Ligia Noronha
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Attributing motives: Anti-Kudankulam protesters at the site of the n-power project. Photo: A. Shaikmohideen
The Hindu Attributing motives: Anti-Kudankulam protesters at the site of the n-power project. Photo: A. Shaikmohideen

The response to the anti-Kudankulam protest shows that space for the democratic right of dissent is shrinking.

I have been watching with a growing concern the unfolding story around the issue of the nuclear plant at Kudankulam. My concern is at two levels: One, that it seems bizarre that it should not be expected that there would be an additional concern about nuclear energy post-Fukushima, given the whole new dimension of risk that the incident brought to light around the nuclear question; and two, that the manner in which the confrontation is unfolding is an example of a larger pattern of not wanting any questions or dissent around India's growth story.

It would indeed have been disturbing if people were not worrying about a nuclear plant post the Fukushima incident, especially in an area which has experienced a tsunami. This is not to suggest that this particular plant would not withstand a tsunami, were that to ever happen again, but that it requires a whole new level of thinking around nuclear energy and the handling of the concerns that people have about safety and regulatory oversight. That incident demonstrated how a country with the best laid out plans, the use of advanced technologies, a rule based society and a government that actually works could still not protect its people from the forces of nature. It jolted Japan into a revisiting not only of its nuclear plans, buts also the very way it goes about organising its energy systems. Here is a country with 30 per cent of its electricity coming from nuclear energy, with plans to raise the share to 50 per cent by 2030, deciding to do a detailed review. Japan is looking to move to more decentralised energy systems, what it calls “smart community backed by information technology” so that the energy systems are no longer centralised as these carry with them the risks of serious accidents, either natural or man made.

The Japanese case demonstrates more than anything else that in India we need to worry much more about all risky development projects, because we have a larger and poorer population, with far lower social safety nets in place than in many other parts of the world, less transparency and regulatory accountability making people more vulnerable to risks than in other, more developed countries. In all the dialogues and workshops we have organised and/or attended, the discussions on nuclear energy highlighted the fact that while nuclear energy is seen as certainly increasing the energy options available to India, the jury is still out on whether it is an option for sustaining energy security, especially when security is understood not just in terms of availability and affordability but also in terms of human security. A larger expanded understanding of security would suggest that all risky development projects need to be studied carefully in terms of the security that they address. Whose security? At what cost?

But the handling of the protests is symptomatic of a larger malaise that is becoming noticeable. As the enthusiasm with the oft repeated comment of India's arrival on the world stage as an economic power grows, there seems to be an increasingly reduced space for questioning and dissent, as if all of these protests, these inconvenient questions raised, the people and groups doing so are obstacles to growth and the race to the head table. There is less patience with issues raised, and motives and agendas are attributed to those raising them. There is need for a serious rethink in all of this. Quite apart from this attitude being unacceptable in a democracy, it is also not strategic, as with diminished social licence to operate, it will become increasingly difficult to carry out such projects in a democratic society.

It is indeed true that India needs development, needs a large amount of energy and metals to meet its growth. But we need to factor in the risks and the costs much better and engage with people and their concerns as we do so. It is clear that a number of power and mining projects will affect local lives and the environment. We need to balance the two, as both comprise aspects of our national interest. That is the big challenge. And if this calls for a slower growth, a slower implementation of planned or proposed capacity we should accept it, just as we do when market conditions are not favourable. Of course, we have power deficits and very large unserved or underserved populations, but perhaps we can also think of redistributing some of the power from those who are appropriating it disproportionately within the country to those who have not. If mining is causing significant social and ecological stress in a region, as for example in Goa, we need to have a cap on how much mineral can be mined or have a moratorium on new projects until the situation improves. Let us use the same arguments that we use so well internationally within the country. We need it for ourselves. No foreign hand needs to tell us this.

(Ligia Noronha is Director, Resources, Regulation and Global Security, TERI, New Delhi.)

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Whoever says that Germany has Phased out Nuclear power,For God's sake please think again.Although Germany is a developed economy,it is small country with population almost equal to that of Tamilnadu.Although I'm not against or for nuclear power,I appeal the centre to consider the future of the livelihood of people around Koodankulam and also the environmental changes that might adversely affect the ecosystem of the region.

from:  Vijay Bhaskar
Posted on: Mar 8, 2012 at 18:40 IST

I agree completely with Vivek, the level of quality of construction required for ANY nuclear plant would be greater than any construction company in this country would be able (willing as they may be) to provide. Comments suggesting that scientists have validated the safety standards are either ill-informed about the workings of our country or just plain biased. Which nuclear plants in places other than India and Japan are coastal? Japan - since they have few options, but what's India's excuse? On TV, when an activist suggested they build a plant close to the capital rather than on the coast, some fool on the panel said that there was one just outside Delhi - and the congress person on the panel used that piece of misinformation as her basis of attack on the activist. It's this sort of argument that would suggest that large amounts of (illicit) money has changed hands to get this plant built.

Oh, and Sudhinder, sea water isn't generally used in nuclear power plants.

from:  Sunil De
Posted on: Mar 6, 2012 at 19:05 IST

200 days of agitation and not allowing people to go to work, two expert committees have reviewed, de novo the safety and other concerns concerns and still the article says that there is no place of dissent is not a balanced thinking. Most of the nuclear plants world over are coastal and there is not enough water in land locations for a power plant. nuclear plants are best at coastal locations particularly in India where water is to scarce a commodity.

from:  sudhinder thakur
Posted on: Mar 6, 2012 at 10:10 IST

Why is it surprising that a poor populace, used to being neglected, exploited and
left for dead decides that it does not want one more harbinger of doom in its
neighbourhood. What cannot be done safely in a world-class nation like Japan,
namely building a nuclear plant next to the sea and get it to survive a tsunami,
cannot be done in a chronically corrupt and technologically backward nation like
India, period.

Let me see the central and state governments built roads or bridges that can defy
the normal grind of weather let alone a tsunami. The last thing we need is a
combination of Bhopal and Chernobyl in India. India has enough sites for building
plants and we don't need one plumb in a tsunami-risk area.

The governments emotional and financial fixation on the plant makes it unable to
put two and two together. Nuclear plants and sea-sides do not go together!

from:  Vivek
Posted on: Mar 5, 2012 at 20:23 IST

In the name of democracy and dissent, and fueled by political parties
with vested interest, the general public is being misled to hold the
country to ransom every time the Government of the day tries to do
something good for the nation.Activists like Mr. Uday Kumar wants to
hog the limelight for their own selfish interest or for a suspected
foreign hand. Where was Mr. Uday Kumar and his cronies twenty years
back?. He says he has records to prove that he has been protesting for
the last twenty years.Let him produce them to the media. If he were to
be sincerely interested in the welfare of the "aam aadmi" he has
lacked the courage of conviction all these years and somebody or an
organisation is giving him incentives and motivating him now to
become "a martyr". If he is that transparent let him explain to the
country two things --one, on what scientific grounds he is objecting
and two who is funding the public if not Foreign NGOs instead of
denying he has not rcd a single rupee.

from:  s.srinivasan
Posted on: Mar 5, 2012 at 19:49 IST

@ S Kumar You believe this govt which has been involved in SCAMS in
every department and now has stooped so low as to catch a hippie
German and brainwash the public he has been funding the anti-nuclear
movement? Let's take the arguments of NPCIL, about the safety of the
plant. He addresses the radiation concern for fishing around KKNPP.
Japan NEVER allowed nuclear plants to be set up in fishing areas as it
is well known that fish catch is severely affected around nuclear
plants. The plant is right ON THE SEA! with NO SHORELINE to protect it
from Tsunami waves. The Plant is at a height of 7 metres, Tsunami
waves in Japan reached 39 METRES! Once the unit is flooded with salt
water everything will be disabled. No human alive will hang around to
put any systems into place as everyone will drown or try to escape. We
then will, like Japan is now doing, be pouring sea water over the
reactors for years and years" Is it worth the risk for a miserable
1000MW? For an outdated clunky technology???

from:  angeli alvares
Posted on: Mar 5, 2012 at 19:22 IST

on looking to the global scenario it is our national interest to look
after our energy need , which is the major factor in the development
of particular nation ,we are heading in competition with superpower
nation so its not about the individual's life. And coming to the
safety part with the help of well qualified scientist and researches ,
various test had happened to ensure its safety but yes, when it cm to
natural catastrophe then we don't even know about the whole countries
future so its better to move with the world and at least improve the
living standard of our country by providing them basic need .

from:  arjun
Posted on: Mar 5, 2012 at 17:26 IST

We should not go to the blame game whether to government or people of the state.The thing we should go to the demand of present. Do we require the nuclear plant or not. I think it is highly required as there is huge power deficit in the whole country. The problem is more vague in the village. Today we can't fully be dependent on the hydro power plant or thermal power plant. We need to find the alternate power generation scheme and nuclear is one of them.
But the thing is regarding safety measures which cant be neglected as we have seen the results in japan.
Government should take the all required measures of safety and let it be open to public so that they can know the real scenario. There should not be any thing hidden to public as results will be faced by them. So, instead giving assurance please inclose all safety measures to people.

from:  mayank singh
Posted on: Mar 5, 2012 at 17:06 IST

We should not go to the blame game whether to government or people of the state. The thing we should go to the demand of present. Do we require the nuclear plant or not. I think it is highly required as there is huge power deficit in the whole country. The problem is more vague in the village. Today we can't fully dependent on the hydro power plant or thermal power plant.We need to find the alternate power generation scheme and nuclear is one of them. But the thing is regarding safety measures which cant be neglected as we have seen the results in japan. Government should take the all required measures of safety and let it be open to public so that they can know the real scenario. There should not be any thing hidden to public as results will be faced by them. So, instead giving assurance please inclose all safety measures to people.

from:  mayank singh
Posted on: Mar 5, 2012 at 16:51 IST

Till the KKNPP was nearing completion the protests did not show up in this manner. Only after the change of regime in Tamilnadu in the recent elections this problem started. I am a retired petty clerk living in the northwest part of Tamilnadu suffering from power cut, contaminated water, mosquitoes, and poor civic services. It is funny to talk about reducing our level of consumption by some where as we have not even reached the basic level of fulfilling our needs.

from:  chandrasekaran
Posted on: Mar 5, 2012 at 14:31 IST

Completely one sided post.
The govt. did do a lot initially to assure the people who were
protesting. All the big scientists of the country gave assurances about
the plant. There were extra safety initiatives taken by the PM, when he
ordered a safety check after the Fukushima incident.
Tell me any option that the Govt left out to assure the people. But no,
these NGOs keep giving philosophical reasons to shut down nuclear power
completely. And the funny thing is that they don't specify exactly what
is wrong with the Koodankulam plant. Science is not a democracy. Only
trained engineers and scientists can say whether a plant is safe or not.
I agree that the govt is generally harsh about dissent in this country,
which is sad, but this is not one of those scenarios.

from:  S Kumar
Posted on: Mar 5, 2012 at 13:05 IST

Coming from a person who has contributed for the ecological
maintenance and conservation of energy and resources in India, even
being appointed by the GoI themselves, this article goes a long way in
shaping the public opinion in favour of the struggling people of
Koodankulam. Let the proponents of nuclear energy give heed to atleast
people like LIGIA NORONHA. She is not an illiterate fisherwomen from
the grounds of Idintakarai.
We dont need foreign hands to teach something so clear and loud. We
need electricity, we are for energy security, but not at the cost of
human security and lives

from:  Jayashreei
Posted on: Mar 5, 2012 at 08:49 IST

"Drawing disoriented dividends", "diabolical discourses", "delayed
decisions", "disturbing dissents" and "devil's playground" are what
seem to have becoming byword for "Indian democracy". The third thing
that baffles me, apart from the two that find you speechless, is the
way in which the NGOs and GOI have locked horns. As it's difficult to
get people along with the proposed nuclear plant it would have been
fantastic if they'd (NGOs and GOI) have shun difference sand arrived at
a common minimum program. After all both these institutions vow and
project themselves as the crusader of Indian democracy and development.
Imprudent it'd have been if there were no anti-nuke protests but
equally insane and annoying in the way hue and cry NGOs are making when
they are questioned. What is the point in not willing to be scrutinized if
they have nothing to hide. If there is no hanky-panky going inside the
NGOs they should not fear query and questions.

from:  Ajeet Tiwari from Patna
Posted on: Mar 5, 2012 at 08:11 IST

After a long time since KKNP issue gained prominence in print and other media, I am pleased to read this article offering some sane advises on development in India and how it should occur.
The article succintly puts that 'dissent' is not 'anti-development' or 'anti-national' rather a welcome sign of civilised democratic society.

from:  Vadivel
Posted on: Mar 5, 2012 at 07:39 IST

I disagree. The protesters were allowed to protest and pretty much
shut down almost all activities in the nuclear plant for 6 months.
Several rounds of talks were held between the government and the
protesters. Two independent expert committees had spoken to the
protesting groups. So people have been allowed to voice their
opinions. Period.

The problem is that none of the protesters are familiar with the
technical reasons behind Fukushima reactor's failure and have no
understanding of the fact that the technology has moved on these 40
years. If there can be no technical or other meaningful discussions
with the protest groups then where is the basis for dialog?

I think the government has handled this issue with patience for 6
months.

from:  Anand
Posted on: Mar 5, 2012 at 06:34 IST

No one wants to think about nuclear energy too much, because the answers
desired are becoming less and less available. So the solution is to ram
the conclusion through and trim the dissent.

from:  Vidyut
Posted on: Mar 5, 2012 at 01:04 IST
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