|Protesters at the Kudankulam Nuclear site|
The attempt of this post will be to move beyond the “Nuclear Power- Bad, Renewable Energy- Good” vitriol of the current debate.
While nuclear power does come with its risks the demand from protesters for a complete close-down of all nuclear plants is naïve. The last 20 years have demonstrated the advantages of a booming economy on our society. Poverty has reduced, literacy levels have gone up, life-styles have improved and on most social indicators there are good improvements. But, a lot of work remains to be done and for that we will have to further improve the economy (besides other things which will be discussed). Generation of enough power will be a very important component in developing the economy and while renewable sources should be preferred there remain technical and feasibility barriers to the current technology.
The risks associated with nuclear power are well-known. Nuclear accidents and their fall-outs are well-documented. It is not easy to argue against the risks and no such attempt is being made. On the contrary every risk issue needs to be brought to the fore and a thorough understanding of the same should be mandated. But, there are 435 functioning nuclear power plants in the world today, 20 in our own country. The technology has been around for 60 years and in years to come it will only get better. The technology needs to be given a chance and should not be dismissed outright. What is needed is not risk avoidance but risk management.
Any leader in the protest movement is termed ‘a messiah’ by the media and the public. Nuclear power plants are not being built for the risks they create but for the power they will generate and the positive multiplier effects of that initiative on society. The protesters and their leaders need to come out with viable alternatives.
If there are suitable alternatives with fewer risks then they should be pursued. If not, then we come to managing the risks associated with nuclear technology. Residents around the power plant will need to be re-located, safety and risk mitigating efforts will need to be tracked thoroughly, and continuous monitoring of radiation and other data will have to be initiated and very importantly in case of an accident- the process flow of the reaction will need to be properly prepared.
Civil society should be engaged in auditing and scrutinizing these parameters. The public needs to ensure that those being forced to move are properly compensated, that structures are in place to deal with any eventuality and most importantly that there is a functioning and prompt legal system to serve justice in case there is a need. By focusing on these civil society would be doing great service towards itself. The social infrastructure that would be built around these initiatives will long out last any nuclear power plant and will bring about many positive consequences on society.