There have been ongoing protests against nuclear power for a long time in Germany, a country where about 23% of total energy produced is in nuclear power plants. Earlier, a resolution to phase out all reactors by 2022 was passed during the chancellorship of Gerhard Schroder, but in late 2010 the schedule was delayed by 12 years by the Angela Merkel led government. This decision was met with strong public protests. After the Fukushima disaster of 2011, Germany is back to the scheduled shutdown of all 17 nuclear plants by 2022. Of these 8 have already been shut down. Although this can be seen as a people’s victory, under the wake of multiple political motivations and the Japan disaster, it is highly doubtful whether only protests were enough to cause such a change in decision.
Anti-Nuclear Movements have been going on since the 1940’s after the Hiroshima bombings. Organised movements against nuclear power as an energy alternative started in late the 1970s, especially post the 3 Mile Island accident in 1979. It gained further momentum after the Chernobyl disaster in 1986, as the world stood in shock and awe -the magnitude of the disaster in a small Ukrainian town shook up the anti-nuclear energy lobbies across the globe.
The opponents and proponents of nuclear energy may support their respective ideologies, but it is tough to prove either way around. The only time we are exposed to any real threat is when we see a disaster like Japan happening. Such things may even happen due to causes other than nuclear, for example – the Bhopal gas tragedy.
Role of Communication
In matters like these when a decision impacts a huge population or possibly even the world, the communication of the decision, at times, counts more than the decision itself. Most governments, especially of developing economies like India, see nuclear energy as a viable and cost-effective source of energy. Some may even say it is environmentally clean. If nuclear energy is as safe as the government claims, then there should be proper steps taken to communicate that to the people.
On the other hand, demonstrations or protests may delay a nuclear project or temporarily shut operations at a plant, but no long standing resolution can be met. Those opposing nuclear energy may have a noble cause but they surely don’t see the macroeconomics of it. If their will has to be upheld, despite the nation’s hunger for power, then the fight has to be fought on moral grounds. A consensus needs to be built towards becoming a visionary nation, which has the willpower to abandon nuclear energy despite being a developing nation.
Whether India decides to continue or abandon nuclear energy ambitions, the key is to educate the masses about the pros and cons of both, with a clear message, to avoid panic and giving in to the manipulations of various groups with vested interests. Cases of violent protests like the ones that happened at Jaitpur can be avoided through planning and a public interest advertisement and campaigns. An information-rich website or a 24X7 helpline can answer the queries of the masses. Open house sessions can be conducted to involve the people and media, and educate them about safety measures, disaster management and other such details that are either concealed on account of the information being classified, or released with such terminology that it becomes cryptic for common man. This opacity in actions and words provokes agitation from masses.