In October 2011, the Department of Atomic Energy (DAE) released raw data from a health study of the villages around Kalpakkam nuclear facilities. According to the DAE, the data showed no additional incidence of cancer near Kalpakkam, which is situated 60 kms from Chennai. In December, scientists from the People’s Movement Against Nuclear Energy released a report analysing the data, and showing that villages closer to Kalpakkam had 7 times the incidence of cancer than villages farther away. The analysis mirrored similar but smaller studies they had conducted in the past; only this time the data came from a DAE-funded study. In January 2012, the Expert Group of the Government of India responded why the study was not definitive proof of higher prevalence of cancer: that was a one-time survey, the sample size was too small, socio-economic factors had not been considered, and data validation might not have been perfect. The debate continues.
This paper analyses The Hindu’s coverage over the last 15 months - from January 1, 2011 to March 31, 2012.
BACKGROUND: KALPAKKAM SAFETY
There have been at least 6 major incidents at the Kalpakkam nuclear facilities – in 1988, 1991, 1999, 2001, 2002 and 2003. In these incidents, radioactive Heavy Water leaked and exposed workers to harmful radiations. These were reported in The Hindu, Frontline and Outlook magazine. A UNSCEAR study in 2005 concluded that the Kalpakkam facility had the highest releases of tritium in the world. There have been several reports of higher incidence of cancer and other diseases around the Kalpakkam nuclear facility. (For more, please read this note on Kalpakkam safety.)
Using The Hindu’s online search, all stories in the newspaper from January 1, 2011 to March 31, 2012 with the keyword Kalpakkam were identified. Duplicate stories were ignored. That gave a list of 157 unique stories.
Then, non-nuclear stories (including reports of burglaries and road accidents near Kalpakkam) were eliminated from the study. That left 131 stories during the 15-month period. 31 of these mentioned the Kalpakkam nuclear establishment, but the stories did not discuss nuclear energy (example: report of science camps sponsored by IGCAR). That left 100 stories discussing nuclear energy.
A close reading identified 71 stories where the safety of nuclear plants was mentioned. (Though 71 mentioned both nuclear safety and Kalpakkam, not all of them discussed the safety of Kalpakkam itself. Sometimes, a Kalpakkam official would be speaking of say, the safety of Koodankulam Nuclear Plant and not mention Kalpakkam safety.)
1. The Hindu underplays the safety concerns of Kalpakkam
Of the 71 stories, 37 asserted that the Kalpakkam nuclear facility is safe; only 4 mentioned there are questions about Kalpakkam safety.
The 37 stories that assert the safety of Kalpakkam quote scientists or politicians. Twice, those claims are made in the title itself: "Kalpakkam plant is safe: DAE official"  and "Kalpakkam reactor safe" . Elsewhere, stories quote officials stating "there are no ill-effects in the health of people and marine life around there (Kalpakkam)" . In another example, the DMK chief Karunanidhi "points out that the nuclear plant at Kalpakkam, near Chennai, had been functioning without posing any danger all these years" . That idea is repeated across the 37 stories.
The 4 stories that raise doubts about Kalpakkam’s safety do not quote scientists or scientific papers. Two of these discuss a court order directing the police to grant permission for a fast; they report that the fast was organized because "According to a study, in the last 10 years alone, there were 244 cases of cancer detected at Kalpakkam alone."   The other two cite demands to shut down Kalpakkam, without mentioning cancer or accidents.  
Note that only 2 stories mention the possibility of higher incidence of cancer near Kalpakkam.
2. The Hindu does not provide a balanced coverage
The 71 stories were analyzed on space given to a dissenting voice. Here’s the summary of that analysis:
The analysis shows how The Hindu’s coverage often limited itself to quoting one side. Given that the "Kalpakkam is safe" view was conveyed 9 times more than the opposite view, the lack of balance in these stories automatically favoured the "Kalpakkam is safe" view.
A story on November 19, 2011 is typical. It says, "V. Shanta, said the comprehensive follow-up studies conducted around the nuclear reactors at Kalpakkam had shown no increase in the incidence of cancer."  No mention is made here of studies contesting that claim; doctors and scientists from the opposing camp are not quoted
3. The Hindu has forgotten its own reportage
In April 1999 and August 2003, The Hindu wrote several pieces about major safety incidents that had occurred at Kalpakkam.  In February 2004, The Hindu again referred to these incidents in an article on security and censorship. 
Seven years later, The Hindu seems to have forgotten those major incidents. Stories nowadays quote officials claiming "nuclear power stations in the country were operating without any major incidents for the last 40 years"; no mention is made of even the major incidents that The Hindu themselves had reported.  Similarly, there are references to the "excellent track record of safety of Kalpakkam"  and "India’s excellent track record of safety"  citing Kalpakkam as an example. None of the 37 stories that talk about Kalpakkam safety mention the major incidents of the past.
This study suggests that The Hindu has of late been underplaying safety concerns about Kalpakkam nuclear facility.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Roshen Chandran is a researcher at the Visthar Academy of Justice and Peace Studies in Bangalore. (www.visthar.org ) He can be reached at: email@example.com
Ashok R Chandran, Rajiv Raman
1. Kalpakkam plant is safe: DAE official
2. Kalpakkam reactor safe
3. Former AEC chairman clarifies on Kudankulam plant's safety
4. Why is State government mum on anti-Kudankulam stir?: Karunanidhi
5. Police told to grant permission for fast
6. Police directed to file reply to plea
7. Ramadoss wants Kalpakkam power station shut by 2020
8. "Close nuclear reactors"
9. Kudankulam reactors safest: Central panel
10. Leak in Kalpakkam plant was due to `staff error'
11. Security and censorship
12. 80% of work on fast breeder reactor at Kalpakkam over
13. No question on nuclear plants should be taken lightly: Baldev Raj
14. "Fukushima no yardstick to oppose nuclear project"