Sunday, October 23, 2011

Kalam May Play Kudankulam Pacifier

Former president A P J Abdul Kalam
Former president A P J Abdul Kalam could play a role in resolving the standoff over the Kudankulam nuclear plant with the respected scientist's goodwill and credibility expected to bridge the trust deficit between the government and agitating fisherfolk.

The former president, a strong advocate of nuclear energy, might be well placed to ease tensions over the Russian-built Kudankulam plant as he is familiar with the fishing communities in the area where the reactors are located. His family is understood to have had business links with the fishermen.

Kalam has already said that he plans a survey of coastal nuclear installations and his intervention with the Christian fishing community that has opposed the plant could narrow differences and indentify areas of concern and solutions.

Although he has spoken in favour of the Kudankulam plant, which is now near completion, Kalam's interaction with local agitators can bring in a linguistic and regional connect that a team of technologists and scientists may not be able to establish. The church has backed the stir saying the area is vulnerable to quakes.

But apart from the environmental arguments, there is uncertainty about the social and economic changes the 10,000MW nuclear power plant may engender in the area. While the government says it means more jobs for locals, there is worry over whether traditional social patterns will be disrupted.

Kalam's personal credibility could bring the two sides together and help develop guarantees or assurances that the fishermen and their families find convincing. Safety and security of livelihood and worries over whether the plant could go the Fukushima way in the event of a natural calamity are troubling the community.

On its part, the government seems determined to negotiate its way out of the deadlock and is looking to engage a church convention in Trichy this week. The Centre is pulling out all stops to ensure the deadlock ends peacefully. It is even exploring if a team of scientists could interact with church leaders to explain that the power plant will be a benign presence in the Tirunelveli area.

After an apparent miscommunication between the Centre and state government over a letter written by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to chief minister J Jayalalithaa, the state is being kept in the loop at every step. Senior figures from the Department of Atomic Energy might meet Jayalalithaa soon to brief her on efforts to soothe local sentiments and the plant's safety features.


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