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Industry divided over new nuclear liability rules

Sanjay Jog  |  Mumbai 

The nuclear industry is divided over the new notification on civil nuclear liability law. Some believe there has been a dilution of the law and violation of the spirit; others feel suppliers from abroad would still not be happy. The communist parties are expected to take up the issue in the ensuing winter session of Parliament.

“It is a correction to the defective law Parliament had passed last year,” a senior nuclear scientist said. On the other hand, a CPM leader, who did not want to be identified, attacked the government for violating the spirit of the law. He said they would not spare the government on this.

The state-run Nuclear Power Corporation (NPC), engaged in increasing power generation capacity to 63,000 Mw by 2032, said it would go a long way in addressing the concerns of the Indian nuclear industry. An NPC official, who did not want to be identified, told Business Standard: “The rules will give much needed relief to nuclear installation operators in India, as they will have a right to seek recourse compensation from suppliers for a limited period of time and not for the entire lifetime of a nuclear reactor. Further, the rules allow nuclear operators a right of recourse to claim damages from their suppliers in the event of a nuclear accident.”

A Gopalakrishnan, former chairman of the Atomic Energy Regulatory Board, said: “We have a prime minister who is personally against the provision for the right to recourse against the supplier (section-17b) and the right of citizens to take legal action under tort law (section 46), which were put into the Nuclear Liability Act against his wishes by the Opposition in Parliament. Now, the UPA government’s attempt is to see how in fact sections 17(b) and 46 can be indirectly invalidated through clever manipulation of rules, because amending the law is almost impossible.”

Adding: “Frankly, there is no connection between the “licencing period”, set by the nuclear regulator, the Atomic Energy Regulatory Board (AERB), and the “product liability period”, to be negotiated and put in the contract by the buyer (NPC). While the former is fixed at five years for safety reasons, the product liability period for a reactor has to be much longer. After all, these modern reactors have a safe design life of 60 years, according to the supplier.” He wanted to know why NPC could not insist on a product liability period high enough to be consistent with this design life.

Surinder Thakur, Fellow at the NPC, said: “It will go a long way in providing a compensation to the victims, in the unlikely event of a nuclear accident without proving the fault. With the notification of these rules, a civil nuclear liability Act generally consistent with the international civil nuclear liability regime comes into effect.”

Areva India chairman Arthur de Montalembert said: “We will study the new published rules for civil nuclear liability law.” Areva is currently engaged in talks with NPC for the supply of two evolutionary pressurised reactors of 1,650 Mw each for the proposed 9,900-Mw Jaitapur project.

“With the newly notified rules for nuclear liability, India should be able to address the predominant concerns of suppliers. This, coupled with the greater availability of uranium around the world, would mean more suppliers of uranium will start taking India seriously. But this is only the first step. With the ongoing opposition to mining across minerals, India will have to be import-dependent for a long time.” said Gokul Chaudhri, partner, BMR Advisors.

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First Published: Fri, November 18 2011. 00:58 IST