Indian flag photographic collage

Protesting Nuclear Power

As I write and tweet about the ongoing happenings at Fukushima, many take me to be an anti-nuclear activist. With this logic, if I write and tweet about India, I’m probably anti-national too.

The bullshit here is that any questioning is opposition. We have lost touch with a key factor of growth – questioning to refine.

There is a dangerous tendency to obfuscate facts about nuclear power and promote convenient fictions designed to direct minds toward accepting nuclear power. When a country like Japan with its famed efficiency is reeling from the magnitude of cover ups and false approvals, it is natural to be worried about that possibility in India in the middle of a two year scam season. And very rightly, this concerns people.

Many have questioned my approval of the protests against nuclear plants at Koodankulam and Jaitapur. They think that those protests are against national interest and that we need nuclear power and the protests raise the same questions over and over even if they have been answered.

Funny that the problems in two different places are quite similar. Yet, the villagers are wrong and the government is right, because nuclear power is a matter of prestige. And rural people are the very opposite of prestige. Never mind that similar attitudes by the government about issues impacting urban people are soundly condemned.

The way I see it, if I didn’t have information I felt reassured about, I wouldn’t want a nuclear plant in my backyard either. The question isn’t so much about the validity of the questions raised by the protest as it is about the government’s inability to be convincing about its attention to the safety of those at potential risk.

The way I see it, these are valid concerns. Up and down the country, there are lives being lost to government disregard for the well being of those without a voice to large industry. Be it children working in coal mines, tribals getting the very earth stolen from under them or people unwittingly exposed to radiation dangers from nuclear reactors. The government has not shown any initiative to prevent harm or fix concerns. Why would people believe that their lives and livelihoods aren’t going to be destroyed?

Would you be okay with a new government initiative in your locality that could potentially kill you, but the government tells you it is safe?

It isn’t about whether questions have been answered. It is about if the questioners have felt heard. It is about if they feel that there are people monitoring and protecting against risks to their well being. This is not a subject they can defend themselves against on their own initiative, and unless this reassurance happens, how can they trust?

For all the “progressive minds” describe all doubts being cleared, this is a convenient fiction.

Also, it is astonishing how our standards change. People who make strong calls for transparency, accountability and engagement with citizen’s concerns are apparently fine with the same violations with someone else’s rights when they get in the way of a milestone they would like to see happening.

Manmohan Singh’s blunt statement about the investment made in the plant making it impossible to not put the plant to use is a shining example of this callous disregard. Well, these locals protested while the money was being invested too! Who told you to invest without clearing objections? Even if the investment makes it important that the project continue, it is important to see here what is being conveyed to people.

The people are being told that their concerns about their safety and livelihoods are not important and will not make any impact on decisions about what is happening in their neighborhood. These decisions are made and what they say doesn’t matter. Attempts to change people’s minds are about jingles on radio rather than engagement.

They say no negotiation happens when there is a refusal to listen or revise anything. Be it nuclear reactors or borders with China. The government’s highhandedness is disenfranchising the people, and the people who would normally defend such things, couldn’t care less when it comes to people they don’t feel a connection with about an objective they have decided is a good thing.

What would the same people say if the fish they buy in the market gave them cancer? It isn’t like our government does much monitoring, and radiation leaks have happened in India. It is not impossible.

I am not saying that will happen, but these are real fears, whether logical or not. Being straight with facts, educating people on enough basics for them to understand the calculated risk, providing detailed safety and contingency information, providing locals with tools to monitor for themselves and call for inspections, and such initiatives will do more to end or at least minimize resistance than blunt bottom lines dismissing the very people needing convinced.

The same people opposing could be converted into zealous and determined safeguards and first alarms in case of problems if the government chose to engage with them rather than overpower them.

It is missing the point to see the protests as deliberate sabotage of progress. Locals are protesting everything from pipelines to dams; troop postings to censorship and mining to nuclear reactors, because these things threaten their interests, and decision makers don’t care.

The problem isn’t protests. The problem is a government incapable of listening to citizens without them, and often dismiss even with protests. The problem is a government that doesn’t respect citizens.