Lok Sabha today passed a bill that will allow state-run NPCIL to have collaboration with other PSUs in the nuclear field even as the government allayed the fears that it will facilitate FDI into the sector or allow participation of a private company in atomic power production.
The Atomic Energy Amendment Bill 2015 proposes to amend the 1962 Atomic Energy Act to change the definition of "government company" in the Act with a view to expand its scope by including such joint venture companies as may be formed between NPCIL and other PSUs, according to the statement of object and reasons.
At present, only two Public Sector Undertakings (PSUs) -- Nuclear Power Corporation of India Limited (NPCIL) and Bhartiya Nabhikiya Vidyut Nigam Limited (BHAVINI), which are under the administrative control of Department of Atomic Energy, operate nuclear power plants in the country.
Minister of State for PMO Jitendra Singh, who holds the portfolio of atomic energy, said Prime Minister Narendra Modi had given a lot of importance to atomic energy and whenever he has been on an overseas visit he has inked nuclear energy pacts with foreign countries.
"Now the stage has come that we plan how best to expand nuclear programme. We are among the frontline nations in nuclear programme. In days to come, nuclear energy is going to become the main source of energy," he said.
He said the Department of Atomic Energy (DAE) already has proposals from NALCO and Indian Oil Corporation (IOC) for a joint-venture and the amendment in the Act will enable to go ahead with them.
He sought to allay the fears of MPs who had raised questions regarding the safety of the nuclear power plants and said precautions have been taken to have all the operations "hazard free".
In response to questions on Civil Liability Nuclear Damage Act 2010 (CLND), the minister said there has been "absolutely no compromise" on the safety of the people and a National Nuclear Insurance Pool has been created to deal with any sort of exigency, which includes seeking property damage upto 10 years and perosnal damage up to Rs 20 years.
As Shiv Sena MP Vinayak Raut and INLD's Dushyant Chautala raised concerns of atomic power plant being built in "high sesimic zone" in Jaitapur in Maharashtra and Gorakhpur in Haryana, Singh said "proper care has been taken care before setting up the plant."
"Jaitapur does not fall in high sesmic zone and after examination, we have found it to be safe. Similar is the case with the Gorakhpur plant. In fact, it is a matter of pride that the region is getting a nuclear plant," the Minister said.
Replying to a query by Chautala whether 380 scientists from Department of Atomic Energy (DAE) have died due to cancer following radiation, the minister said, "Not a single scientist has died due to radiation."
Some members also said the nuclear liability law was in a way hindering India's quest for nuclear energy and also asked government to allow the private sector enter the field.
Saugata Roy (Trinamool Congress) said the government should ensure that the safety of the nuclear and atomic plants was always on top of its agenda. He also questioned the way spent fuel is dumped in the sea using lead containers.
He said the credit for India's nuclear power quest should go to the first Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru and acclaimed nuclear physicist Homi Jehangir Bhabha.
To this Singh said, "Yes it was only because 1954 (when the Government under Nehru created the Atomic Energy Establishment, Trombay (AEET) and was later rechristined as Homi Bhabha Research Centre was established) we can see 2015."
Roy said the country is not getting nuclear trade on the lines expected due to the liability law and asked the government to explain whether it was planning to amend it.
Tathagata Satpathy (BJD) said while the world is moving away from nuclear power, India is moving into it.
He said while in opposition, BJP had opposed the Indo-US nuclear deal but now in a "volte face" it is supporting it.
He said their much-chanted stance had little to do with their ideology but it is power "which changes things". Satpathy questioned the refusal of the government to part with safety data of nuclear reactors, claiming that such documents were available freely world-over but not in India.
He claimed that Areva company of France was selling "archaic" nuclear technology for a plant in Maharashtra but the regulators are not aware of it. The French nuclear regulator, Satpathy said, has already described that technology as "archaic".
The BJD member said by keeping the control of atomic power in the hands of its agencies, government has kept things under "shroud."
Jayadev Galla (TDP) said the government should allow private companies in nuclear projects as nuclear power was an important source of clean energy beyond solar and wind power.
Supporting the amendment bill, Konda Vishweshwar Reddy (TRS) said India should welcome foreign investment "but not foreign influence" in developing nuclear energy sector.
CPI(M) member M B Rajesh stressed that there should be no private or foreign investment in the nuclear energy sector. He also said that while developing the nuclear sector, government should remain aware of the global trend of reducing reliance on nuclear power by developed countries like the US, Japan and Germany.
P R Sundaram (AIADMK) welcomed the amendments and demanded that nuclear power generated from plants in Tamil Nadu should be made available to the state.