PAC notes the absence of nuclear and radiation safety codes for more than 3 decades
The Chairman of the Public Accounts Committee tabled the Committee's report on the working of the Atomic Energy Regulatory Board (AERB) which regulates all nuclear and atomic energy and materials matters under the Atomic Energy Act in the Lok Sabha (attached). This report is now accessible at: http://18.104.22.168/lsscommittee/Public%20Accounts/15_Public_Accounts_90.pdf
Amongst other things the Committee has noted with shock the absence of nuclear and radiation safety codes for more than 3 decades. An extract of the Committee's observations is reproduced below:
"6. Formulation of Nuclear Radiation Safety Policy: The Committee note that even after nearly three decades of its existence, AERB is yet to formulate a nuclear and radiation safety policy for the Country in spite of a specific mandate in its Constitution Order of 1983. The Committee observe that the absence of such a policy at a macro-level can hamper micro-level planning of radiation safety in the Country. Intriguingly, though the need for hastening the process of development of safety documents viz. codes, standards, guides and manuals was stressed since the Meckoni Committee Report way back in 1987 and the Raja Ramanna Committee in 1997, AERB is yet to bring out 27 required codes and guides relating to nuclear and radiation safety."
Strangely despite civil society opposition to the retrograde amendments to the Right to Information Act (RTI Act) being proposed in the Nuclear safety and Regulatory Authority Bill (NSRA Bill) pending in Parliament since 2011, the Committee expressed satisfaction that the Bill meets the requirements of transparency - one of the four core elements of a nuclear safety regulatory law. Readers will remember our email alerts about the negative amendments that are intended to keep almost all information that will be provided by nuclear technology holders under the excuse of "information of commercial confidence". This Bill also seeks to insulate the nuclear safety regulatory authorities to be established for defence and national security purposes by placing them in Section 24 of the RTI Act even before they are created.
Even the Dept. of Personnel and Training had objected to the inclusion of the negative amendments to the RTI Act in the NSRA Bill. However the DoPT's opposition to the retrograde amendments have been conveniently brushed aside and the Committee has expressed satisfaction over the Dept. of Atomic Energy's claim that it is making efforts to amend other aspects of the NSRA Bill.
The Committee has bought hook, line and sinker the Dept. of Atomic Energy's contention that radiation will not have long term genetic impact on human beings because they are 'highly evolved creatures'. See paras 110 and 111 on pages 44-45 of the report. The Secretary of the Dept. also told the Committee that people exposed to a radiation below a certain degree have never developed cancer in their whole life time. The Committee has simply not examined these claims against reports of specialists available in the public domain that have conducted studies about the hazards of radiation on people's health. Nor is there any discussion on studies conducted whether the standards for tolerance to radiation developed abroad have been tested against the Indian population. There is simply no discussion in this report about the agitation going on in Kudankulam against the nuclear power plants which will be under the AERB's control.
Although the Committee recognised that the AERB had been slow in adopting international benchmarks and good practices in the areas of nuclear and radiation and operation, it failed to take note of the fact that the AERB, the Dept. of Atomic Energy and the Nuclear Power Plants have simply not disclosed all reports about radiation and safety and site analysis of nuclear power plants that are routinely done by their counterparts in other countries that depend upon nuclear energy. There is also simply no discussion of how the face of the nuclear energy sector would undergo a sea-change with the entry of private technology holders and suppliers into India.
All in all this report is a big let-down as it primarily looks at the difficulties with functional autonomy that the AERB is facing rather than contextualise the functioning of the AERB in the face of the changes planned in the nuclear safety regulatory authority law when it will be replaced by more than one regulatory authority in the near future.