In the days and weeks after the Fukushima nuclear accident, the nuclear power industry has received bad press. In India, activists have sprung into action questioning the very rationale of nuclear power generation. While that can be brushed aside, what cannot be denied is the need for an independent nuclear regulator.
The Japanese incident had its roots in an unprecedented natural event. But it exposed the weaknesses in Japan’s nuclear regulatory framework. The nuclear and industrial safety agency (Nisa) is not an independent agency: it’s a department of the ministry of economy, trade and industry (Meti). In terms of its profile, the Meti’s job is to push for nuclear power, while Nisa is tasked with safety. Administratively, there is a conflict of interest between the two.
In India, too, a similar situation prevails. The Atomic Energy Regulatory Board (AERB) is mandated with executing the nuclear safety requirements outlined in the Atomic Energy Act 1962. But in reality, AERB reports to the Atomic Energy Commission (AEC), whose chairman is also the secretary of the department of atomic energy (DAE), the entity that administers the Atomic Energy Act 1962. The administrative and policy levers lie with DAE, and AERB clearly lacks the independence necessary for its effective functioning. The issue is controversial with DAE officials claiming that AERB has “sufficient” autonomy while some former AERB functionaries have said otherwise.
It is time this controversy is sidestepped and AERB de-linked from AEC and DAE in every possible way. This is not to say that AEC and DAE are runaway and unaccountable bodies, but the slew of nuclear power plants being envisaged requires an altogether different level of monitoring. The message needs to be clear: nuclear power is respectable, but its safe generation requires a watchdog with teeth.
Until now, in spite of some safety related doubts, close coordination between different nuclear agencies in India ensured smooth functioning of the sector. But now with private firms—both foreign suppliers and domestic operators—a much higher level of regulatory efficiency is needed for safe nuclear power. This change—and not nuclear hyperventilation by anti-nuclear power activists—is the need of the times.
Is AERB a truly independent regulator? Tell us at firstname.lastname@example.org