People's Democracy

(Weekly Organ of the Communist Party of India (Marxist)


No. 32

August 08, 2010

CITU on the Civil Liability for

Nuclear Damage Bill, 2010


The following are the issues raised by the Centre for Indian Trade Unions (CITU) recently before the parliamentary standing committee on science and technology and environment and forests on the civil liability for nuclear damage bill, 2010.


LEGISLATIONS are made with specific objective to serve public interest. In the case of the present legislation, CITU questioned the very objective of this legislation as spelt out in “statement of objects and reasons” (page 15 of the bill). The same is flawed in perception and ambiguous in content, as explained below:


• The statement of objects and reasons accompanying the present bill starts with the following statement:


‘The nuclear industry in India is growing and as a result of the steps taken particularly in the recent period, it is expected to form an important part of the energy-mix of the country. While making the design, and during construction and operation of nuclear power plants, every care is taken to ensure safety of the plant, public and the environment. However, in the unlikely event of a nuclear incident or accident, there may be damage to individuals, property and environment on a large scale.’


Thus the scope of the bill is restricted to only nuclear power plants. This restriction is revealing if one goes through the statement of objects and reasons of the earlier Acts on Atomic Energy viz. Atomic Energy Act 1948 and Atomic Energy Act 1962. In the statement of objects and reasons of Atomic Energy Bill 1948, moved by the then prime minister, Shri Jawaharlal Nehru, it is stated:


The Atomic Energy Bill would give the government powers to control the development of atomic energy in India  and the  disposal  of  the  relevant  raw materials, so that these may be used for the advantage of the people as a whole. The Bill gives government powers for the control and development of atomic energy for purposes connected therewith, particularly control of plants designed or adopted for the production or use of atomic energy, the working or export of fissile substances such as uranium, thorium, plutonium, neptunium and substances like beryllium and their compounds.


• In the statement of objects and reasons for the Atomic Energy Bill 1962, Nehru broadened the scope further by stating:


At present control over the development of atomic energy and matters connected therewith is exercised under the Atomic Energy Act, 1948 (29 of 1948). Having regard to the developments in the field of atomic energy since the enactment of that legislation and with a view to the implementation of the future programme of expansion in this field, it has become necessary to revise that Act extensively. It is accordingly proposed to repeal the existing Act and to replace it by a comprehensive measure.


It is in the light of the above, that Department Atomic Energy, government of India today is responsible for the following functions as detailed under “Crisis Management” in the Annual report (2009-2010) of Department of Atomic Energy which states:


The Crisis Management Group (CMG) is a Standing Committee of senior officials of DAE who are responsible for coordinating the Department’s response to a radiation emergency in the public domain. Such an emergency could be due to events taking place within any nuclear facility, due to an accident involving the transport of nuclear material, due to events at other facilities handling radioactive materials such as hospitals or industries, or even due to any deliberate attempt to cause disruption in  public activities, by involving radioactive material. …………”


Obviously such comprehensive coverage of Crisis Management of “radiation emergency in public domain” is in place, keeping in view the liabilities, arising out any nuclear incident or accident. The response of DAE, including Atomic Energy Regulatory Board in recent case in April 2010 of radiation exposure in a scrap market in Delhi is an example of government's responsibility at present in radiation incidents.


CITU therefore questions the propriety of the present legislation which covers only nuclear power generation squeezing areas, presently covered under the “Crisis Management” of DAE.


• The part of the statement viz. “And as a result of steps taken particularly in the recent period, it is expected to form an important part of the energy mix”, is not factual representation of the historical background of nuclear power generation in the country. Our predecessors had always kept in view the rational use of nuclear power in the energy mix, since commissioning of first nuclear power plant in 1969. The DAE had prepared a nuclear profile in 1984 which envisaged 10,000 MW nuclear power by year 2000. As on 31 March 2000 our installed power generation capacity from all sources was 96,266 MW and 10,000 MW nuclear power would have meant 10 per cent of the energy mix. Today, even after the steps taken in the recent period, the energy mix targeted a decade back, is difficult to achieve. And civil nuclear liability was not in anyway an impeding factor in achieving the target. As a matter of fact Parliamentary Standing Committee on Energy in its 34th report placed in parliament in December 1995, after examining the subject titled “Nuclear Power Programme – An Evaluation”, had observed:


The Committee observe that if our indigenously developed technology is not implemented, the country will suffer a grave and near irreparable damage. The Committee emphasise that fossil fuels including coal are finite and for energy independence, it is essential to harness nuclear power. Also for strategic and technical reason, there is a need to develop a diversified energy resource base for electricity generation. By neglecting the field of nuclear power the government is guilty of having compromised the goal of energy independence for the country.


In para 2 of statement of objects and reasons it has been stated:


 “Therefore any incident or accident that happens in those installations and the liability issues arising therefore, are the responsibility of the central government.”


Presently, as per our perception the liability is unlimited, as our policy makers envisaged that the extent of damage to individuals, property and environment is also unquantifiable in the event of an accident. The statement of objects and reasons does not clarify as to why the government wants to cap its unlimited liability as at present. It does not also mention any apprehension to the present status of unlimited liability or accountability of government by other stake holders’ viz. the employees and people.


• It however mentions vaguely about trans-boundary liability. In case of Indian nuclear power plants, the bordering countries are Pakistan and Sri Lanka. Pakistan and Sri Lanka are not part of any international conventions mentioned in para 3 of the statement of objects and reasons. This bill therefore does not appear to serve the purpose to ensure trans-boundary liability, to the satisfaction of the bordering countries who are not part of so called “global regime” mentioned in line 2 of para 4 of the statement of objects and reasons.


• As for the last sentence in para 2 of the statement “there is also a need to address the issue of nuclear liability during the transport of nuclear material”, the chapter on Crisis Management in the Annual Report of DAE (page 180), specifically mentions above DAE’s responsibility for a radiation emergency in the public domain which includes the transport of nuclear material. Obviously when DAE takes the responsibility of safety in transport of nuclear material, it does not exclude the liability in not ensuring the same.


Para 5 of the statement says “Many countries which are engaged in nuclear power generation are having their own legislations”. We have also our own legislation i.e. Atomic Energy Act 1962. CITU therefore does not find any rationale in having a separate legislation as necessary amendment if necessary can be made in the present act unless the government of the day has some agenda, other than the objectives spelt out in statement of objects and reasons.


• While para 2 of the statement and objective clearly states that central government is responsible for liability issues arising from any incident or accident, para 6 points out that there is no provision in the Atomic Energy Act 1962 about the nuclear liability or compensation for nuclear damage due to nuclear accident or incident.


If more specific provision has to be made in Atomic Energy Act 1962, to take care of liability as it exists presently, the same can be incorporated through an amendment in the Atomic Energy Act 1962.


The concluding para 7 statement of objects and reasons says “It is therefore considered necessary to enact a legislation which provides for nuclear liability that might arise due to nuclear incident”. This contradicts second sentence of para 2 wherein it has been stated that central government is responsible for liability issues arising out of such incident or accident. Moreover “nuclear incident” in para 7 is actually a misnomer as it does not cover all radiation hazards but is only limited to nuclear power plant as stated in para 1 of the statement of objects and reasons.


Summarising the above, CITU notes that the objectives spelt out in the statement and reasons of the bill are contradictory, and more implicit than explicit. This does not address the need of the major stake holders viz. the workers engaged in nuclear industry and the people whose interest would be seriously jeopardised by capping of the coverage and liabilities as well as dilution of responsibility of the State as attempted in the present bill. As DAE organisations including Nuclear Power Corporation of India and Navikiya Vidyut Nigam Limited are under parliamentary control, the government’s liability, unlike a private company, is also coupled with its accountability to the parliament and hence to the people of this country.


Under the circumstances, if the liability component has to be strengthened further and specified in concrete terms, the same can be carried out through amendment in the existing Atomic Energy Act 1962 which mandates the nuclear power generation by the government and its PSUs.


The CITU therefore feels that “The Civil Liability for Nuclear Damage Bill 2010” is superfluous, and should be withdrawn as it gives a very wrong message as if India’s quest for nuclear energy and liability connected therewith, have started only in recent period as stated in the Bill, meaning obviously the US-India Nuclear agreement. This directly and indirectly implies that our earlier policy makers including visionaries like Nehru and Bhaba did not perceive the role of nuclear power in energy mix and the liabilities arising out of peaceful use of nuclear energy which is totally a wrong premise around which the present bill has been drafted.


On the contrary, CITU apprehends that the “necessity of joining an appropriate international liability regime”, as stated in para 7 of the statement of objects and reasons, actually indicates external pressure to change our tested domestic legislation to facilitate entry of foreign and Indian private sector companies in the nuclear power generation as well as to satisfy the 10000 MW reactor suppliers from USA, who have been quite vocal in demanding a limited liability to suit their commercial interest.


The CITU reiterates, with all humility but with firm conviction, that working class will firmly resist any dilution in government control on nuclear power generation as mandated in Atomic Energy Act 1962 or giving any scope to nuclear reactor supplier or operator to evade liability in the footsteps of M/s Union Carbide in the Bhopal gas disaster case.