Feedback on an article on Kudankulam nuclear power reactors

Feedback on an article on Kudankulam nuclear power reactors

One can get some very useful information from the feedback and comments accompanying newspaper articles on topics related to nuclear power in leading dailies. The results of opinion polls could be easily influenced by the way the questions are framed. Opinions and comments by readers do not restrict or bias the readers. On line versions of the articles help to gather useful ideas about the readers’ perception on various nuclear power related topics. Because of the topical nature, such articles get enthusiastic coverage among the readers.

An analysis of the feedback received on my article titled “How safe Kudankulam nuclear power reactors are?” in The Hindu of November 10, 2011 is an instance in point. The online version of the article received 93 comments. I received about 30 messages on it by e-mail. This overwhelming response is probably due to the topical nature of the article. The controversies surrounding the project must be one of the factors.

The article asserted that several VVERs of 1000 MW are working safely now. There has been significant exchange of information between Indian specialists and the designers of the reactor. Indian engineers have already completed licensing training process in Russia. Besides describing the safety review process, the article explained the safety features of the reactor. They included the measures against tsunami, various physical barriers which prevent release of radioactivity to the environment. Reliable and fast shut down systems, arrangements for decay heat removal, core catcher etc are the other features of the reactor.

Over 50 of the 93 comments and most of the e-mail messages were positive and in favour of safe nuclear power

“The writer is part of the Nuclear Establishment in India, he has scientific credentials but his entire article is clearly from the Public Relations department of the Koodankulam plant”, one reader wrote.

“The article by the writer, coming close on the heels of green signal given by Dr. Kalam for Nuclear Power / Kudankulam, was very informative and authentic. Just because, the writer belongs to the nuclear establishment, we should not view it with pre-conceived notions, but try to analyse these issues objectively…” Another reader commented

“A DAE person giving a clean chit to a DAE run plant. What an irony? Who will believe it? I suggest that DAE should get neutral experts from foreign countries, especially people who are known for their integrity, who are not working for supplier companies and countries which have interest in nuclear plants in India. DAEs trust quotient is very low” was another negative comment

Mercifully there were other readers who balanced the negative views. Thus:

“.The above debate is interesting….we often say….one should listen to expert’s views on a given a subject! Yet, some of our friends above have objection, when two eminent scientists & authority speak in favour of Nuke Projects / Kudankulam. What’s their fault? They are all ex-officials of same dept. Well, when ex-cricketers Sunil Gavaskar or Kapil Dev speak on cricket with, we all respect their authority on the subject & clap their views. Right, after all they are experts in the field & we respect / listen to their views. Why on earth double standards then, when two ex – DAE experts speak with authority on Nuke/Kudankulam. One should s and listen to experts & not rabble rousers. It’s indeed shameful that, people are asked to make a choice ….Dr. Kalam or Uday Kumar? Parthsarathy or Pushparayan? Where’s the comparison? Let people of our country decide, if they want to go back to dark age or bright age!”

A few were critical about not mentioning issues of nuclear waste management. Another found an apparent flaw in my treatment of seismicity. Others referred to the virtues of wind power.

“This is happening in an area where people who protest know only Tamil.
Writing an article in English in The Hindu will not serve the purpose.
This has to be published in Tamil in the Tamil News Papers and also can be given to people as a free leaflet to everybody who lives around Koodankulam” a reader reacted.

It is a perfectly valid point. Science writing itself is a risky occupation. Very few dailies have at least a weekly section on Science & Technology. Lucidly  translated material in regional languages are essential for a successful out reach programme.

“If it is so safe, then Can KSParthasarathy move inside the kudankulam nuclear plant campus if provided a free apartment? Don’t advice for others sitting in a safe place” a reader suggested.

Since I have superannuated I cannot get an official residence. It seems that the reader does not know that there are residential premises just out side the exclusion zone of all nuclear power plants. Since I did not know his e-mail ID, I blogged that I shall be most grateful if I get a residence in the premises of Kudankulam reactors. I do not need it free, I shall pay rent. I know that the residential premises near nuclear power plants owned by the Department of Atomic Energy are aesthetically appealing!

Mid way, I responded thus:

“Response to my article was overwhelming. Details about the seismic study, spent fuel management, merits and demerits of different modes of power generation etc are too extensive to be covered in 1000 words! We will factor in lessons learnt from Fukushima in all areas. We have been handling radioactive wastes at nuclear power plants since 1969. Kudankulam plant has provision to store spent fuel safely at site. Spent fuel is not a waste; it contains plutonium, a valuable resource. We have developed vitrification process which involves adding high level waste remotely into melted glass to make it non-dispersible. We must keep up to date with every facet of nuclear technology. We must develop a pool of specialists in this technology nation-wide. Disbelieving scientists just because they are in Government service is regrettable. However, scientists must continue to dispel the apprehensions, if any, of the general public”.

The comments I received convinced me that the credibility of scientists is not very low as I initially thought. There were a few anti-nuclear activists; we cannot change their views. But there are many fence sitters waiting for a nudge based on scientific information.

I am convinced that if we aim an outreach programme towards them it will be immensely rewarding. Every one  must contribute regardless of the perceived trust deficit. This is contrary to the popular notion that we must encourage others such as those in the academic community to write on nuclear related topics. While this is a good idea, chances are that they will not be in a position to respond to different viewpoints. Readers of articles and audience attending lectures have access to lot of material; most of them not authentic. It is appropriate to assist such readers in their quest for accurate and reliable information.

The original article may be accessed at:

http://www.thehindu.com/sci-tech/science/how-safe-kudankulam-nuclear-power-reactors-are/article2612339.ece

 

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About ksparthasarathy

I am a former Secretary of the Atomic Energy Regulatory Board. I am a former Raja Ramanna Fellow in the Department of Atomic Energy. Free lance journalism is my hobby
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