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Nuclear Liability Rules Disregard Lessons from Bhopal Disaster

Written By Krishna on Saturday, December 03, 2011 | 10:11 AM

On the occasion of 27th Anniversary of Bhopal Gas Tragedy, a panel discussion on Nuclear Safety Regulatory Authority Bill, 2011 & Civil Liability for the Nuclear Damage Rules, 2011 was organised by Coalition for Nuclear Disarmament (CNDP) wherein Union Government's
total disregard to the lessons of the biggest industrial disaster of the last century and callousness towards Parliament was criticized.

Parliament’s intent of Liability for Nuclear Damage Act, 2010 has been undermined through the notification of Civil Liability for Nuclear Damage Rules, 2011.These Rules have a resonance of the bad judgment of Justice A M Ahmadi in the matter of Bhopal’s industrial disaster.

On the occasion of the anniversary of Bhopal disaster, it is quite distressing that world leaders like Manmohan Singh and Barack Obama continue to disregard the path shown by at least four key women political leaders namely- Ms Micheline Calmy-Rey, President of Switzerland, Dr Angela Merkel, Chancellor of Germany, Ms Mamata Banerjee, Chief Minister of West Bengal, Dr. J. Jayalalitha, Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu- who have abandoned the nuclear energy path.
Singh and Obama have adopted an ostrich like approach in the face of inevitable and unpredictable disasters like Cheronbyl and Fukushima.

The Civil Liability for the Nuclear Damage Rules, 2011 insulates foreign nuclear suppliers in particular using Clause 9 of the Atomic Energy (Radiation Protection) Rules, 2004 which provides that the license for establishment or decommissioning of radiation installation
will be valid for five years effectively denying Right of Recourse to Indian operators of nuclear reactors under clause 24 of the 2011 Rules. The nuclear liability act has made the provision for suppliers of reactors liable for 80 years in case of any accident at a plant.

If these Rules are seen along with clause 18 of the Nuclear Liability Act of 2010 which deals with the “Extinction of right to claim” wherein “right to claim compensation for nuclear damage extinguishes” if such claim is not made within a period of “ten years, in case of damage to property” and within “twenty years, in the case of personal injury to any person”, it is clear that Parliament and the citizens have been taken for a ride.

Clause 24 of the 2011 Rules provides that “right to recourse shall be for the duration of initial license” or “product liability period” whichever is longer. Product liability period is defined as “the period for which the supplier has undertaken liability for patent or latent defects or sub-standard services under a contract”.

It is “inconsistent” as per clause 49 (1) read with Clause 17 (b) of the Liability for Nuclear Damage Act, 2010. This act of subordinate legislation is an act of contempt towards Parliament in order to pander to the demands of nuclear suppliers in general and US suppliers in particular.

Both the Liability Act and the Liability Rules refer to Atomic Energy Regulatory Board (AERB) even as Parliamentary Standing Committee on Science & Technology, Environment & Forests heard the Secretaries on The Nuclear Safety Regulatory Authority (NSRA) Bill, 2011 on
16/11/2011. NSRA is meant to replace AERB. The question is what made the central government act ahead of the enactment of NSRA Act in such tearing hurry except of the tremendous influence of foreign suppliers.

Earlier, in a Press Release, the Parliamentary Committee said, “Atomic Energy Regulatory Board-the present regulatory body was constituted in 1983 by a notification issued under the Atomic Energy Act, 1962. However, to further strengthen radiation and nuclear safety in the
country, it is felt expedient to establish a legal framework…to ensure that the use of atomic energy in all its applications is safe for the health of radiation workers, members of the public and the environment.”

It observed that “the Fukushima incident in Japan has led to worldwide concerns and apprehensions on safety issues relating to nuclear power.” The Parliamentary had noted in its report on Civil Liability on Nuclear Damage Bill that secretaries of 8 relevant ministries were
not consulted during the drafting the Bill. It had recommended that in future they should be consulted. The question is: Were these Secretaries consulted ahead of the notification of the 2011 Rules?.

ToxicsWatch Alliance (TWA) and Occupational Health India (OHI) have submitted its comments/views/suggestions in the subject matter of the Bill in a letter dated 16/11/2011 to the Parliamentary Committee.

In the post-Fukushima disaster world, the adoption of Civil Liability for Nuclear Damage Rules, 2011 is a declaration that nuclear energy is not safe. There is no other plausible reason for the enactment of these Rules by citing 2004 Rules framed under the Atomic Energy Act of
1962 to save foreign suppliers.

It was demanded that in pursuance of the clause 48 (3), 49 (1) and (2), the Rules must be placed before the upcoming winter session of Parliament that is scheduled to start from November 22 and conclude on December 21. As of now there will be 21 working days in the session
but in order to deal with the Bill which requires that the Parliament should be in session for a total of 30 days, this session should be extended on a priority basis to ensure “modification or annulment” of these Rules. But with the non-functioning of the Parliament it might become a fait accompli, the panelists urged the parliamentarians to reject the Rules.

The panelists were Admiral (Retd.) L. Ramdas, Achin Vanaik, N D Jayaprakash, Gopal Krishna and P K Sundaram.
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