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Business News/ Politics / News/  PM indicates foreign NGOs behind nuclear protests
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PM indicates foreign NGOs behind nuclear protests

PM indicates foreign NGOs behind nuclear protests

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New Delhi: With rare candour, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has said that foreign activist organizations are fuelling protests at the Kudankulam nuclear power station as well as the opposition to the commercialization of genetically modified food crops in the country.

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Singh made his comments in an interview to the journal Science. To a question on why his government had put a moratorium on the release of Bt Brinjal, he said: “Biotechnology has enormous potential and, in due course of time, we must make use of genetic engineering technologies to increase the productivity of our agriculture. But there are controversies. There are NGOs (non-governmental organizations), often funded from the United States and the Scandinavian countries, which are not fully appreciative of the development challenges that our country faces."

On the Kudankulam project in Tamil Nadu, where NGO-led protests have stalled the commissioning of two 1,000 megawatts (MW) nuclear reactors, Singh said, “The atomic energy programme has got into difficulties because these NGOs, mostly I think based in the United States, don’t appreciate the need for our country to increase the energy supply."

The interview, part of a larger, optimistic report by Science on the state of Indian science, will be published in Friday’s edition of the peer-reviewed journal.

“These are baseless allegations. Our funding is from the fishermen and other people who are affected by the project. We haven’t received any money from any foreign source," said Pushpa Rayan, a spokesperson of the People’s Movement Against Nuclear Energy, which is leading the protests in Kudankulam.

The 13,000-crore power project, which was to be commissioned in March, as well as an upcoming one in Jaitapur, Maharashtra, have been stalled due to agitations led by farmers, fishermen and anti-nuclear activist groups.

Though protests at nuclear plants in India aren’t unusual, the tsunami in Fukushima, Japan, last year—which led to the meltdown of three nuclear reactors, raised atmospheric radiation levels, forced public evacuations, and led to a ban on food and milk exports from the region—raised international fears about the general safety of nuclear plants.

That also prompted India’s department of atomic energy to undertake a safety review of nuclear plants in the country and moved the government to bring in legislation to create an independent nuclear regulatory authority.

While the Atomic Energy Commission has given a clean chit to the safety of India’s reactors, the authority is yet to come into being.

The Nuclear Power Corp. of India Ltd, the country’s sole nuclear power plant operator, runs 20 reactors and is constructing seven more, including the ones at Kudankulam. The existing reactors produce 4.7 billion watts of nuclear electricity and the establishment has announced plans for facilities for 14 billion watts in the forthcoming 12th Five-Year Plan (2012-17).

Spokespersons in the Prime Minister’s Office, the Atomic Energy Commission and Nuclear Power Corp. said they wouldn’t want to comment before the interview was published.

In 2010, the then environment minister Jairam Ramesh put a moratorium on Bt Brinjal, conceived as a harbinger to several genetically modified versions of food crops such as maize and rice, that still remains in place today.

Ramesh has said the wide-spread opposition to GM crops from several states and the lack of public-sector backed GM seeds guided his decision.

Opposition parties said the Prime Minister should be more revelatory. “I haven’t read the interview. But if the Prime Minister said this, it shows the utter failure of the government," said Prakash Javadekar, a spokesperson for the main opposition Bharatiya Janata Party. “The PM cannot make allegations. If he has proof, he should expose those who indulge in anti-India activities."

An expert, however, said Singh had effectively given a strong backing for India’s nuclear establishment through the interview. “This is the PM asserting his confidence in the safety and the need for nuclear power," said Ajey Lele, an analyst at the Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses.

jacob.k@livemint.com

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Published: 23 Feb 2012, 10:54 PM IST
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