An obsession with nuclear power makes many political elites secretive, ruthless and delusional, even as their cherished projects threaten millions of people with disaster. But the egregious examples I have in mind here aren't Iran, Pakistan and North Korea. They are Japan and India, two countries with democratic institutions.

Last week in the south Indian city of Pondicherry, I met a friend who had managed to penetrate the security lockdown around Kudankulam, the Russian-built nuclear power station in Tamil Nadu that began partial operations late last month despite strong protests from local villagers.

Kudankulum lies only a few miles away from a coastline that was ravaged by a tsunami in 2004. Opposition to the plant intensified after another intense earthquake and tsunami in March 2011 caused meltdowns at three nuclear reactors at the Fukushima nuclear plant in Japan.