Nothing is clear about India's nuclear establishment. A scheduled public hearing on the environment impact assessment of the ambitious prototype fast breeder reactor ( pfbr ) at Kalpakkam in Tamil Nadu was abruptly called off on June 15. This would have been India's first public hearing on any nuclear installations. Ostensibly the Kancheepuram district authority gave an administrative reason for the indefinite postponement.

The local communities and the Coastal Action Network ( can ), a non-governmental organisaton ( ngo ), have opposed the pfbr citing damages to their fragile coastal ecology and the grave health hazards from the project. The Rs 3,000-crore pfbr is India's most ambitious project reportedly has wide ramifications for India's nuclear weapons programme. The Indira Gandhi Centre for Atomic Research ( igcar ), the second-largest establishment of the department of atomic energy after the Bhabha Atomic Research Centre, is implementing the project.

Though unusual, the decision to have a public hearing on the environmental impact of the project was taken at the highest level of the department of atomic energy. But the whole process was completed in a hurry. "The decision was never communicated to the public, for which it was meant. The administration wanted to hijack it,' says Ossie Fernandes, convener of the can .

It is mandatory for the district authority to publish a notice in two leading daily newspapers on the hearing and at least a month time must be given. In this case it was never adopted. can has now appealed in Madras high court for a stay on the hearing. Though it refused to give a stay, the high court permitted can to contest the validity of the hearing. Now it seems to be the reason why the district authority called it off.

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