Environment minister Jairam Ramesh on Tuesday said India may impose additional safeguards for its nuclear power projects in the wake of the damage caused to Japan’s atomic facilities by Friday’s earthquake and the tsunami it unleashed.
“I know Nuclear Power Corp. (of India Ltd, or NPCIL)” is reviewing safety systems and designs, he said in the Capital on Tuesday. “This is appropriately a subject to be dealt with by the Atomic Energy Regulatory Board and based on the technical review that NPCIL does, we will certainly be in touch with them and if additional safeguards are required as part of environmental clearance, we will look at it.”
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on Monday announced a review of all nuclear reactors in the country in view of the radiation leak in tsunami-devastated Japan. The exercise will look at the ability of nuclear reactors to withstand the impact of natural disasters such as tsunamis and earthquakes.
Voicing concern: Environment minister Jairam Ramesh. Pradeep Gaur/Mint
This comes at a time when the opposition parties have been demanding that the government reconsider the environmental clearance given to a proposed 10,000MW nuclear plant in Maharashtra. The clearance came with 35 conditions on 28 November.
“We are open to review safety practices and systems in current Indian nuclear plants and also those which will come in future,” Srikumar Banerjee, chairman of the Atomic Energy Commission and secretary of the department of atomic energy, said in Mumbai on Monday.
Japan is scrambling to avert a nuclear meltdown at the Fukushima nuclear plant complex after it was damaged in Friday’s earthquake and tsunami. This has raised fears in India, which has 20 nuclear power plants, mostly located along the coast.
“We should go beyond the immediate crisis which has hit the nuclear industry and recognize that the nuclear option is one which we can’t foreclose,” said Ramesh.
In a separate development, the road ahead for trials of genetically modified (GM) crops has become difficult, with the ministry of environment and forests not in favour of conducting such tests without the permission of the state government. The field trials of Bt (Bacillus thuringiensis) maize by Monsanto Holdings Pvt. Ltd have been held up due to the opposition of Bihar chief minister (CM) Nitish Kumar. The Centre is divided on the issue.
“In the case of Bt maize, the CM of Bihar spoke to me twice. He was completely opposed to the Bt maize trials being done without consultation of the states, a position with which I am in total agreement with,” Ramesh said. “That is why I immediately asked the GEAC (genetic engineering approval committee) to cancel the field trials of Bt maize in Bihar and also make sure that the trials (take place) only after we get the permission from the state government.”
GEAC is India’s biotech regulator.
In another development, a group of ministers headed by finance minister Pranab Mukherjee will meet on 25 March to discuss the impasse over coal mining in the country. On 17 February, the cabinet ministers had failed to achieve a compromise between preserving forest cover and allowing mining in coal fields. Ramesh was then asked to find a solution before the meeting.
In June, the environment and coal ministries announced the concept of “go” and “no go” areas for coal mining to protect India’s best forests, but this raised concerns that such a policy would impede efforts to meet the growing demand for fuel in an energy-deficient economy.