Recently, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) gave a clean chit to the safety systems at the Rawatbhata nuclear power station in Rajasthan. This is the first review by the agency of an Indian nuclear facility. It follows global and national concerns about the safety of nuclear power stations in the aftermath of the disaster in Fukushima in Japan after a tsunami last year. Importantly, the agency added that systems were in place to provide awareness on radiation safety to local residents and to improve the quality of maintenance work and reduce radiation doses.
IAEA’s verdict will come as a relief to the atomic energy department, which has been under relentless attack by anti-nuclear activists for more than two years. Yet, it will be foolhardy for the department to assume that an IAEA thumbs up is all that matters to quell fears over the expansion of nuclear energy projects in India.
The secrecy with which India’s atomic energy department has conducted itself over the decades and its failure to meet its commitments of providing the promised quantum of nuclear power that it was to by 2000 means that there’s a general indifference to the activities of India’s nuclear establishment. Most persons, while convinced of the integrity, intelligence and honesty of this department, are largely suspicious of nuclear energy and the risks of radiation. Civil rights activists, many of whom are conceptually opposed to nuclear power, have largely succeeded in stoking exaggerated fears of radiation, and the nuclear establishment—opaque at the best of times—didn’t really care about public engagement.
Apart from radiation, there are soon going to be more questions asked of the progress being made on India’s three-stage nuclear programme. India now has access to fuel from Canada and Australia, thanks to recent agreements, and can no longer blame international blockages for any tardiness on technological progress. While it is the government’s choice to allow international inspection of safety facilities at a plant, it should actually now approach IAEA to inspect safety arrangements in other nuclear plants in the country. Proactive initiatives on this front will help bridge the trust deficit that exists between a section of citizens and the atomic energy establishment.
Can inspections by IAEA help refurbish the nuclear establishment’s image?