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Singh bats for nuclear power shunned by Bengal
Stress on safety, sights on Nobel
(From left) MK Narayanan, Milan Sanyal, Manmohan Singh, Mamata Banerjee and Srikumar Banerjee at the Saha Institute of Nuclear Physics in Calcutta on Sunday. Picture by Bishwarup Dutta

Calcutta, Aug. 21: Manmohan Singh today underlined the importance of “environmentally friendly” nuclear energy in the country’s development four days after the Bengal government officially scrapped a proposed nuclear power project in East Midnapore citing green concerns.

“The availability of safe and affordable energy is an important factor in enabling us to realise our aspirations for growth and development. I am convinced that nuclear energy will play an important role in our quest for a clean and environmentally friendly energy mix as a major locomotive to fuel our development process,” the Prime Minister said at the closing ceremony of the diamond jubilee celebrations of the Saha Institute of Nuclear Physics in Calcutta.

The occasion must have prompted Singh to speak on nuclear energy, a matter close to the Prime Minister’s heart, rather than any intention to contradict the Mamata Banerjee-led government.

Singh also addressed the matter of safety to avoid quake-triggered nuclear disasters, akin to the nuclear plant leak in Japan in March.

“We are in the process of expanding our civil nuclear energy programme. Even as we do so, we have to ensure that the use of nuclear energy in India meets the highest safety standards. This is a matter on which there can be no compromise. I would call upon the Saha Institute and other similar institutions to contribute to enhancing the safety of our nuclear reactors,” he said.

US consul-general Dean R Thompson, who last week said the Americans were willing to help the Bengal government on nuclear power

On Wednesday, Bengal power minister Manish Gupta told the Assembly that the government had decided to abandon the proposed nuclear plant in Haripur, East Midnapore.

On August 19, two days after Gupta’s announcement in the Assembly, the US consul-general said America was willing to offer assistance to the state to explore technologies to set up a nuclear power plant. Dean R. Thompson said “the consulate will remain open for approach,” but made it clear that it was “the prerogative of the state government whether to set up a plant”.

Singh, during a trip to Russia in 2009, had signed an agreement to set up five nuclear plants in India, including the Haripur project, that would have generated 6,000MW on completion.

The unavailability of the site will not cripple India’s nuclear power programme. The country has 20 operating reactors with an installed capacity of 4,780MW. Seven reactors are under construction.

Had the Haripur site been allowed for nuclear power generation, its plants would have produced 2,000MW till 2020, which would have been just 10 per cent of the production target of 20,000MW.

Today, when Singh spoke on nuclear energy, Mamata was on the dais along with governor M.K. Narayanan, Atomic Energy Commission chairman Srikumar Banerjee and Saha Institute director Milan Sanyal. The Prime Minister had staked the future of the UPA I government on the US civil nuclear deal vote.

It must have been a welcome break for the beleaguered Prime Minister, originally an academic, to come to a city far removed from Anna Hazare and his protesting hordes, to address a gathering of academics and with Narayanan who till 2010 was his national security adviser by his side.

“It is a sad commentary” that the number of patents filed by Indians was low compared to those from the developed and “even” some of the developing countries, Singh said. “There should be closer ties between academia and industry and a seamless transfer of knowledge should take place from the lab to the shop floor. Our government is enhancing this process at all levels,” he said.

Singh assured the scientific and technological community of his government’s “fullest support” in the years to come. “I, as Prime Minister, assure you (of the support). Our aim should be to produce more Nobel laureates,” he said.

Mamata, too, pledged her government’s support to the cause of science and called for a collective effort for development. “Politicisation has often forced a famine on scientific thought and development. Let us all put that behind us and work together for development,” she said in an apparent reference to the Left Front’s interference in academia during its 34-year rule.

Science, said Mamata, is at the root of development and progress, covering a wide range, from agriculture to industry. “The youth dedicated to the cause of development are the main hope for our future. Carry on doing what you do best and we will always be there with you,” she told the research scholars and young scientists at the Saha Institute auditorium in Salt Lake.

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