The ongoing local agitation against the commissioning of the 1,000 megawatt Kudankulam nuclear power project in Tamil Nadu speaks well of the country’s democratic form of governance. However, this comes at a heavy price. For, here is a project where a staggering sum of Rs13,000 crore has been spent and, since September, it has been waiting to load fuel and start producing electricity. The loss goes beyond generation shortfall, or the damage to sensitive equipment needed for a nuclear facility.

Labourers working inside the Kudamkulam Nuclear Power Plant, in Kudamkulam in Tirunelveli district, leave on Tuesday after protesters blocked way infront of the plant. Photo: PTI

It is naive to convince anyone about a 100% safe plant, especially with the Fukushima episode fresh in public memory. And the ‘N’ word conjures images of mass destruction like few others. But extremes don’t define the median and development comes at a cost that vastly overrides the collateral damage that technology presents.

What is important then for the government is to make it clear that while the extremes will not occur, it can’t promise the same about small incidents such as radiation spills or minor breakdowns in a nuclear plant. In such cases, it must convince the local community that it is geared to deal with the situation and ensure that lives are not lost.

However, such outreach can’t be a reaction to local protests that have ignited just before the plant commences power generation; it needs to be done in a concerted manner during the entire length of the construction phase of the plant, which can stretch for as long as seven years. At the same time, while allaying the fears of local communities is important, the latter alone cannot decide the mechanics of larger developmental goals such as setting up nuclear plants to cater to a power-starved nation.

For sheer demonstration, effect of a motley crew of villagers holding up a fully built mega power plant is a bad precedent. After all, large investments are needed to set up a nuclear plant, and at some point, private participation will need greater encouragement than it receives now.

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