India Introduces Bill To Set Up New Nuclear Watchdog
Post-Fukushima, India has swung into action with the formation of a new autonomous nuclear safety body called the Nuclear Safety Regulatory Authority of India (NSRA).
AsianScientist (Sep. 11, 2011) – Post-Fukushima, India has swung into action with the formation of a new autonomous nuclear safety body called the Nuclear Safety Regulatory Authority of India (NSRA).
The NSRA will replace the existing the Atomic Energy Regulatory Board (AERB) and report directly to the Indian Parliament instead of the Atomic Energy Commission (AEC).
The Union Cabinet gave the green signal for its formation on August 30, 2011. After a debate in Parliament, the NSRA will formally come into existence later this year.
A copy of the bill introduced in Parliament on September 7, 2011 states that the role of the new organization would be to regulate “radiation safety or nuclear safety and achieving highest standards of such safety based on scientific approach, operating experience and best practices.”
The bill cites the Fukushima incident in Japan as a major concern that led to the Indian government forming the new nuclear regulatory safety organization. The Prime Minister of India will be the chairman of the council.
Wielding significant power, the NSRA will have the “power to access premises and places, vehicle, vessel or aircraft where radiation is present or used or proposed to be used.”
Further, it will be empowered to access documents, drawings, photographs, plans, and models. The punishment for flouting rules will be severe.
Indian nuclear scientists respond
The formation of this body has raised questions from the Indian nuclear fraternity who spoke to Asian Scientist Magazine on condition of anonymity.
First, is the move to set up the NSRA a knee-jerk reaction of the government post-Fukushima? Scientists point out that the AERB had maintained a good record since its formation on November 15, 1983, with no serious accidents of the magnitude of Chernobyl and Fukushima in any of its 20 nuclear plants.
Second, there is some confusion whether Indian nuclear establishments with a strategic role, such as the Bhabha Atomic Research Center in Mumbai, the heart of the country’s nuclear weapon program, will come under the jurisdiction of the new safety regulatory body.
The bill states that “for the purposes of national defense and security exempt any nuclear material, radioactive material, facilities, premises and activities from the jurisdiction of the authority.” But at the same time, the bill says that the Central government for the purposes of regulating the material (strategic) will establish one or more regulatory bodies and demarcate responsibilities.
Going by this, scientists state that there can be any number of nuclear safety regulatory organizations, leading to an overlap of functions and a clash of opinions.
While it emphasizes transparency, the NSRA however prohibits the disclosure of weapon-related sensitive information, like for example the reprocessing of spent fuel, enrichment of fissile material or heavy water production technologies. Hence, there is a danger of the new set up – NSRA and the council – becoming top heavy, defeating the very purpose of enhancing nuclear safety in India.
The council headed by the PM consists of the Union ministers in charge of environment and forest, external affairs, health, home affairs, science and technology, any other ministers to be later nominated by the Central government, the cabinet secretary, the chairman of the AEC, and eminent experts selected by the central government. However, scientists are surprised that though India’s nuclear program has a strategic function, the Defense Minister has not been represented in the council.
Finally, will the headquarters of NSRA be in Mumbai or in any other city? If the NSRA is shifted out of Mumbai to another center, it will involve a major transfer of men and material which according to some appears impractical.
Copyright: Asian Scientist Magazine.
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