The Nuclear Power Corporation of India (NPCIL) has blamed foreign activists for their “major role” in backing locals whose protests have stopped work at the Koodankulam nuclear power plant in Tamil Nadu. While the spectacle of a globe-trotting crew of activists-errant often confounds development projects across the world — and Koodankulam fell a victim once their domestic counterparts cried wolf — the ball, however, is firmly in the Union government’s court. That Koodankulam has snowballed from a safety issue to a political headache is the Centre’s failure.
There are two salient truths here which do not necessarily constitute a paradox: a developing economy like India needs nuclear power to cut down its reliance on fossil fuels that increase the atmospheric levels of black carbon. India will need both more and more energy in the coming decades as well as a healthier, sustainable diversification of its energy basket. On the other hand, public concern about a nuclear plant cannot be brushed aside, no matter how emotional and counter-factual. Ideally, every nuclear project should be preceded by prolonged interaction between government, nuclear authorities and locals. In India, safety concerns are compounded by the general negativity about land acquisition. It calls for articulate and thoroughly involved political leadership.