UPDATE 06 May 2013: The Supreme Court has rejected the stay petition, after hearing arguments and debating for months (the ruling was originally expected in January). Presumably the Russian story matter, below, was brought up too [edit: it wasn’t brought up in the hearings, but a petition was filed in April; I am not sure whether it was admitted but the court was certainly aware of this concern).. They have directed the AERB and NPCIL to ensure safety, but they did not need such directions: India’s nuclear safety record is among the best in the world. Will this bring the matter to rest? I’m not holding my breath…
ANOTHER UPDATE 06 May 2013: I also got an objection to the claim that Gopalakrishnan “put words into” M R Srinivasan’s mouth. Gopalakrishnan in fact quotes Srinivasan, as quoted by the TOI, leaving out a crucial clause. Srinivasan originally said: “We sought an additional safety mechanism well before the Fukushima disaster…” (my emphasis) but Gopalakrishnan left out the last five words in his quote, leaving the deliberate impression that this has something to do with the ZiO-Podolsk case. And I wonder why Gopalakrishnan, a former AERB chairman, couldn’t just ring up Srinivasan and get an original quote for his article.
UPDATE — after I wrote the following, the scientist that I mention mailed me the links to the Russian agency story. Google translate links: 1, 2. So there really was a story in the Russian agency, and some, at least, of the Indian media (as well as the scientist in question) may well have verified it, so I take back those remarks. But the lack of follow-up, in the Russian media itself and in international media, is puzzling. How important was this fraud to the safety of nuclear reactors, and is the investigation ongoing or dropped?
I have been puzzled by a spate of recent articles claiming that the procurement director of ZiO-Podolsk, nuclear supplier, was arrested for procuring substandard steel and pocketing the difference. Here, for example, is former AERB chairman A. Gopalakrishnan demanding that the safety of the Kudankulam plant be audited. A Google search for ZiO-Podolsk throws up dozens of articles on sites like dianuke and countercurrents, making the same claim.
All of these (including Gopalakrishnan’s opinion piece) refer ultimately to one article from February 2012, from the website of a Norwegian NGO called Bellona. The article claims that the news first appeared in Russia’s official news agency Rosbalt. But they provide no link (surely it must exist, and Google Translate is adequate for these tasks) [update - see update on top], and it has not appeared in any other international media. Some, like activist Nityanand Jayaraman in Tehelka, call it a “curious” “media silence” implying some sort of conspiracy. But if there were any truth in it, it would have been of front-page importance internationally, especially in a world still worrying about Fukushima.
[update -- I retract the insinuations in this paragraph and the following one, but retain the text here for the record; see update on top] The lack of any supporting evidence has not stopped Indian activists parroting this claim without verification, and many in the media lapping it up. But I was disappointed to receive a mail today from a scientist requesting that I sign a petition, based on this claim, that Kudankulam’s safety be reviewed. Scientists and journalists have this in common: it is their professional duty to verify claims before repeating them. In both cases, verification is done by a few reputable individuals and published in respected venues, and then the rest of the community accepts the claims until proven otherwise. How can a scientist accept a claim that only ever appeared in one NGO’s website, over a year ago, but has suddenly gone viral over the past three months?
Does anyone remember the hoax about alleged Nazi war criminal Johann Bach, that took in large parts of the Indian media? The ZiO-Podolsk story may not be a hoax, but it does demonstrate the media’s propensity to publish anything they find on the interwebs without the least effort to verify where it came from.
Gopalakrishnan’s article is disappointing in many other ways. He puts words into the mouths of various atomic energy officials, including former chairman M R Srinivasan, but never provides a link or reference, and peppers his article with weasel-words. He insinuates that problems with valves are behind the delay in operationalising Kudankulam, and that these problems are linked with the alleged ZiO-Podolsk scandal. But it is well-known that the Supreme Court’s ruling on a stay petition has been awaited for months (some reports say it will arrive tomorrow). Why look for conspiracies when there are obvious explanations? Indeed, isn’t it just a little dubious to first file a petition demanding a stay, and then say that there is something suspicious about the delay?
The anti-Kudankulam agitation reveals a lot about our country, most of it not complimentary.