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Nuclear plans get makeover

Stunned by Fukushima and hit by unprecedented anti-nuclear protests in Jaitapur, the government on Tuesday announced a series of dramatic reforms to the country’s nuclear review mechanism that are aimed at rebuilding public confidence in India’s ambitious nuclear programme.

delhi Updated: Apr 26, 2011 23:38 IST
Charu Sudan Kasturi

Stunned by Fukushima and hit by unprecedented anti-nuclear protests in Jaitapur, the government on Tuesday announced a series of dramatic reforms to the country’s nuclear review mechanism that are aimed at rebuilding public confidence in India’s ambitious nuclear programme.

Key reforms announced on Tuesday included demands repeatedly made by critics of the country’s nuclear establishment. The reforms were announced after the Prime Minister reviewed the nuclear programme and the crisis at Jaitapur.

Nuclear regulator
The government will introduce a bill in the next session of Parliament to create an independent and autonomous Nuclear Regulatory Authority of India that will subsume the current watchdog, the Atomic Energy Regulatory Board (AERB).

The AERB currently reports to the Atomic Energy Commission (AEC) which has the role of promoting nuclear energy. Critics have argued the AERB’s position creates a conflict of interest under which it cannot be expected to turn down proposals supported by the AEC.

Even government scientists like Indian Institute of Science Bangalore director P Balaram have raised concerns about this potential conflict of interest.

Reviews to go public
Reports of the review panels set up by the government after the Fukushima disaster, and reports on past reviews of the country’s nuclear reactors conducted after the Chernobyl and Three Mile Island accidents will be made public for the first time now.

The nuclear establishment has on several occasions faced charges of lack of transparency in its reviews.

External experts
The government will also invite the Operational Safety Review Team (OSART) of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) to conduct safety audits and reviews of the country’s civilian nuclear plants.

The only external experts who have so far reviewed the reactors for safety are from the World Association of Nuclear Operators (WANO) — a group of public and private nuclear operators the world over. The NPCIL is a member of WANO.