The water used to cool the Rawatbhata reactor was pumped back into Chambal river. Before and during my pregnancy, I drank the tap water supplied to us from the same river. I didn't go even so far as to boil this water. Nothing went wrong.
Kudankulam has been in the news and how! Little did I imagine in 2002 that this remote area of southern Tamil Nadu where there are more ant-hills and dry winds than paddy fields and winding rivers would capture the public imagination for all the wrong reasons!
When we first came to reside here, the township in Chettikulam was being built at a feverish pace. My daughter was just two and we were allotted a ground-floor apartment. There were no trees or plants in the neighbourhood. Snakes, scorpions and centipedes sniggered at our discomfort. The water we received came from a borewell some 10 km away. Sometimes, the trucks ferrying water came late at night and even those who'd been toiling endlessly at the plant site had to wait to take their shower. Rice cooked in this water had a yellow tinge. But what tormented us the most were the heaps of dust that piled up inside our homes each time the strong eastern winds blew. It was not enough to mop and clean the house just once each day. In desperation, we boarded up all our windows. Whenever we longed to see the blue sky or gulp fresh air, we quietly stepped outdoors. My daughter was constantly ill and the searing heat added to her woes.
Gradually, things started falling in place. An RO (reverse osmosis) plant was set up. Seawater was converted into water fit for drinking. Trees were planted and within the next few years, we saw the transformation before our very eyes. The winds hardly overburdened our homes with dust. This rain shadow area soon started to get more showers and flowers and fruits began to grow in abundance. No man's land was no longer a wasteland.
Then the world watched Fukushima, and the clouds of mistrust rapidly spread to these shores. Today, nuclear-power-bashing has become the rage. Fishermen fear for their lives. Emissaries emerge from the woodwork and move blatantly from village to village, whipping up a campaign against nuclear power. Some of their antics clearly defy logic.
They have taken the law into their own hands. They “can” block the roads and prevent sincere Central government employees from discharging their duties. I open an NCERT Civics Reader. It reminds me in no uncertain terms that we are a country that's federal in form and unitary in spirit. The complexities of Centre-State relationships leave me spell-bound.
Our domestic helpers speak of these events in hush-hush tones. They ask me whether the house I live in will be erased after we have been hounded out of the township!
In the bustling town of Nagercoil, about 45 minutes away, shopkeepers run diesel generators to overcome the unbearable power cuts. Small industries find it difficult to stay afloat. Thousands of workers face the risk of unemployment. There are more carbon emitting vehicles on the roads than ever before. Pollution levels are touching an unbearable high. The vegetable market tries to lure customers with gooseberries as big as tomatoes. Bananas, carrots, aubergines and even shallots have never looked more big and beautiful. Insecticides, pesticides and fertilizers have increased crop outputs. There are more people suffering from cancer than the Regional Cancer Centre can handle.
But that's fine. There's more danger in a nuclear power plant. Everyone talks about Hiroshima and Fukushima. Somewhere a nuclear bomb and the fallout from an old reactor have fused to make a clean, green source of energy a larger-than-life monstrosity. For those who live here, these changes evoke mixed emotions. True, everyone has a right to question the safety of these reactors. But let us take a few moments to turn the pages of history. India set up its first atomic power plant in the 1950s. Till date, nuclear power operators have, by and large, maintained the highest safety standards imaginable.
Between 1994 and 1999, I lived at Rawatbhata, Rajasthan. Reactor 2 on the bank of the river Chambal was still generating power. The water used to cool the reactor was pumped back into the river. Before and during my pregnancy, I drank the tap water supplied to us from the same river. I didn't go even so far as to boil this water. Nothing went wrong.
My appeal to all my countrymen is to trust our technocrats. We, the families of the personnel who work in these reactors, treasure our lives as much as you do. Our children study in the school within the township. We try to teach them to value science, not to denounce it. They are not frogs in a well. They know that in order to progress, man must be willing to explore the frontiers of the unknown. Be vigilant but do not panic. The growth of a nation depends on its people.
(The writer is a freelance journalist and her email ID is firstname.lastname@example.org)