Monday, 29 July 2013

Kudankulam N-Power Plant: Fearing a necessary evil

With less than three weeks for the Kudankulam Nuclear Power Plant (KNPP) to start production, the protests from the people in and around the reactor is a clear sign that the government has failed to allay their fears of a catastrophe. With India’s energy needs growing by the day, there is no option but to tap into the available energy sources. This, however, should not be at the cost of great environmental damage and human life. Energy generation using nuclear power has always been contentious because of the great dangers it involves. Accidents at nuclear power plants, be it the 2011 Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant disaster or the Three Mile Island or Chernobyl or the Rawatbhata nuclear plant leak in 2012, have turned the public against this source of energy.

For India, to remain and progress on its economic trajectory, power generation is essential and with a dwindling supply of coal, coupled with the rising prices of oil imports, the government is forced to turn to other sources to meet the ever-growing energy needs. The reliance on alternative sources of cleaner energy have been a failure due to several reasons, like the lack of ideal conditions for tapping wind energy or the government’s failure to give solar power generation the required thrust through incentives and better technology. It is this energy vacuum that nuclear power fills. As noted by MS Swaminathan earlier this year, there was a greater need for better communication between the people and scientists, which to a very great extent will help in removing most of the fears surrounding nuclear power plants. Though prominent personalities in the field of atomic energy, like MR Srinivasan, former Atomic Energy Commission chairman, have been reiterating that KNPP is the ‘safest nuclear plant in the world’, the government has not been able to spread the message successfully.
The protests cannot be overlooked by any government because ensuring the peace and safety of the people is its duty. The allegations that corruption, linked to the Russian firm involved in the construction of KNPP, which is  has led to the procurement of substandard equipment is yet to be addressed to the satisfaction of the local communities that fear the safety of their lives. Through effective communication and by ensuring the highest of safety standards, the government and the people can have a win-win situation. The question is will the government wake up to such a need.

Monday, 1 July 2013

Snowden exposes Obama's hatred towards whistleblowers

For all its sermons on democracy and freedom the United States has been exposed so much so that the totalitarian and communist regimes that it has been in the forefront of blaming, pale in comparison to the magnitude of US’ highly classified eavesdropping. Edward Joseph Snowden, alarmed by the duplicity of the establishment, decided to share the data he had acquired while working as a technical contractor for the United States’ National Security Agency (NSA) and Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) on its mass surveillance programmes like PRISM and Tempora. After releasing the data Snowden went to Hong Kong and from there to Russia.
Snowden’s is not the first and will not be the last case in which a whistleblower has been on the run after exposing the grey areas in which a particular government works without the knowledge of the people of that country. WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange and Bradely Manning, who provided the vital information to Assange, are the most prominent recent examples that come to mind. No government is comfortable with a whistleblower. Washington’s rage is evident in that it has slapped charges on Snowden using the Espionage Act — an Act of World War I legacy — though prima facie his actions are not related to espionage or anti-American. What Snowden has done is to effectively pull the mask off the US administration, especially the Obama administrations claims of respecting civil liberties and the privacy of its citizens. His revelations about NSA’s snooping have confirmed what many people suspected. That Obama has been increasingly intolerant towards leaks and whistleblowing is evident in that Snowden is the seventh person to be indicted by his administration under the Espionage Act.

As of now Snowden’s next port of call is not clear. Speculation is rife that he will travel to Cuba or Ecuador or even the United States. The earlier two countries are top on the list because of their open disdain for the ‘Big Brother’, and by nature a ready willingness to embrace anything anti-US. The bets are also that the US will use its diplomatic muscle to get the whistleblower back home. So while William Hill, the British online gambling website, has opened betting on Snowden’s location on New Year’s Day 2014, a lingering question remains: Has the United States grown too intolerant that it is no longer safe for whistleblowers who expose government irregularities?