The fears of a nuclear meltdown in Japan, following the tsunami that snuffed out thousands of lives at work, at play and at home on Friday, have revived all the vestigeal fears about the long-term safety of nuclear energy. If this could happen in as technologically savvy and as punctilious a country as Japan, what about us, is the question winging around the world.
As blast after blast at the Fukushima reactor spreads the scare of long term radiation, this is a key inflection point for the Manmohan Singh regime, whose biggest achievement in the first term of the UPA was the signing of the civilian nuclear deal, which paved the way for nuclear exporters to smell business opportunities in a power-deficient country.
As it is, the opposition to the Jaitapur nuclear power plant (the first reactors to be built after the n-deal, by Areva of France) has been building up over the damage to the pristine Konkan belt in Maharashtra. The images coming out of Japan, on top of memories of Cehrnobyl, are scarcely likely to sway public opinion in favour of this “cheap, safe, efficient” power source.
Questions: Could what is happening in Japan spell finis to India’s nascent civilian nuclear power dreams as envisioned by the nuclear deal? Will Indian cities and villages accept nuclear power plants and other nuclear facilities on their soil given the abysmal infrastructure and compliance with safety standards? Or, will this too pass?