Monday, September 10, 2012

Sometimes "compliance" just ain't enough...process matters

This week residents living near the contentious nuclear power plant in Kudankulam, India, organized another protest. This time the protestors opposed clearance given to initial fuel loading as another step towards operationalizing the plant.

Here is the problem: the Department of Atomic Energy (DAE) has published its findings regarding the safety of the plants, which the Madras High Court decided was adequate when it dismissed a petition filed by those opposed to the nuclear power plant. Further, the protestors were not given the permission to organize any more protests.

Yet, several villagers --reported to be between 1000 and 5000 in number--decided to organize a protest around the power plant. The police reportedly released tear gas to disperse the protestors, and at least one protestor was fatally shot.

What is the way forward?

The safety plan released by the DAE may well be sound, even though it is not clear for how long the spent fuel will be stored at the Kudankulam site or where it will be reprocessed. The Madras High Court's decision should perhaps deserve respect as the highest state court. The problem, however, is that sometimes formal compliance may not be sufficient.

At present, government officials continue to blame foreign NGOs for the protests. This, however, is fruitless. It does not solve the problem, that is, can those who have the most stake in the safety of the plant be convinced of its safety. What the Indian government needs to do now is restore faith in the safety process . After all, for residents much more is at stake than energy security or formal complaince with the laws. By persuading residents about the reliability of the safety plans, the Indian government can increase the legitimacy of its laws.

One way to achieve this is to engage in an extensive public hearing process. Further, the government should publish its findings, public comments, and provide its response to the public comments before finalizing the report. A process that engages stakeholders is critical and the money and time spent on such a transparent process may ultimately pay off.


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