New Delhi: Signalling its resolve to go ahead with a proposed $10 billion (Rs44,600 crore) nuclear plant, the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government on Tuesday announced it would set up an independent, statutory nuclear regulatory body.
The move, which comes at a time when the government is contemplating a greater role for the private sector as it pushes for higher reliance on nuclear power, would make the regulatory process transparent and the body accountable to Parliament.
It also conveys the UPA’s resolve to tackle the public agitation against the project.
“The government will introduce a Bill in the next session of Parliament to create an independent and autonomous Nuclear Regulatory Authority of India that will subsume the existing Atomic Energy Regulatory Board (AERB),” it said in a statement after a meeting headed by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh.
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Fears of a disaster after the nuclear accident in Fukushima in Japan had intensified protests against the proposed 9,900 megawatts nuclear plant in Jaitapur, Maharashtra, by farmers and fishermen in the villages near the proposed site, who were already against land acquisition for the project.
Pledging the government’s intent for tighter safety norms, minister for environment and forests Jairam Ramesh said: “Today, a very important decision has been taken that each reactor in Jaitapur...will have a stand-alone safety system, a dedicated operating and maintenance system... Fukushima saw the cascading of the failure of one reactor, and that is what caused much of the public concern on Jaitapur.”
Srikumar Banerjee, who heads the department of atomic energy, said the move was “significant” as the new regulator would be a statutory body and, hence, answerable to Parliament.
The Jaitapur plant, expected to be operational by 2019, would be the first nuclear plant after New Delhi signed a nuclear accord with Washington in 2008, ending what it refers to as a nuclear apartheid against India since its nuclear test in 1998.
The project consists of six reactors to be built in stages with Paris-based Areva SA.
Prithviraj Chavan, chief minister of Maharashtra, said his government was engaging with the “society” and political parties. A “substantial compensation package has been worked out by the government of Maharashtra and NPCIL (Nuclear Power Corp. of India Ltd), and will be announced soon,” he said.
M.P. Ram Mohan, an expert on nuclear law at the Energy Research Institute, said the government’s decision was a “positive” step and an independent body would bring about greater transparency in the workings of atomic energy regulators.
“If it’s a statutory body, there will be more questions, discussions as well as greater participation by social scientists in the way regulators clear nuclear projects,” he said. “It’s high time that such a body came about.”
Bloomberg contributed to this story.