31 December 2011

Expert Team of the PMANE's letter to Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu

December 30, 2011

The Expert Team
The People’s Movement Against Nuclear Energy
Idinthakarai 627 104
Tirunelveli District

The Honorable Chief Minister
Government of Tamil Nadu
Chennai 600 009

Your Excellency:

Greetings! We, the Expert Team of the People’s Movement Against Nuclear Energy (PMANE) has met today at Kanyakurmari and confirms the worst fears of the people that the Nuclear Power Corporation of India (NPCIL) has compromised on safety and failed to perform statutory due diligence. Citing the responses on the matter of siting and the issue of fresh water supply – both critical components in determining safety of the plant – we confirm that NPCIL has compromised on both these aspects.

May we bring your kind attention to the following issues please:

1.      The Koodankulam site is not only prone to small-volume volcanic eruptions, but also to mega-tsunamis with heights exceeding 100 feet, arising out of the presence of two large “slumps” in the seabed of Gulf of Mannar less than 100 km from the plant. A 1982 study in a noted journal documents the presence of two slumps -- the East Comorin slump and the Colombo slump -- in the vicinity of the Koodankulam site. The second report by the Central Govt Expert Group has accepted the presence of the slumps and the possibility of a Near Field Tsunami occurring out of a landslide. This is in opposition to their earlier position and also to the position of AERB that Near field Tsunamis are not possible in India. However, their contention is on the height of the Tsunami waves. While welcoming their change in accepting the possibility of Near Field Tsunami, the PMANE Expert Team wishes to state that after the 1982 study, a tsunami did occur in December 2006 and it may have changed the structures of the Slumps. Hence merely answering the question from the 1982 text is not sufficient.

2.      PMANE’s Expert Team is alarmed that NPCIL has allowed the siting of the plant in an area characterised by sub-volcanic intrusions – an indication of volcanism in the vicinity of the plant. The presence of sub-volcanic intrusions of the kind found in the KKNPP site is precisely the reason why the United States Government abandoned the Yucca Mountain site as a possible waste storage site owing to concerns about the structural integrity. In addition to this, small volume volcanic eruptions have occurred in the KKNPP site’s vicinity from the year 1998.

3.      Studies by ONGC, the Geological Survey of India and numerous other terrestrial and marine geologists confirm the presence of basaltic intrusions into the crust and the Gulf of Mannar seabed. Their findings tell us that the Gulf of Mannar sea bed has been thinned because of this. Its thickness is a mere 1,000 to 5,000 metres instead of average 40,000 metres for continental crust.

4.      Scientists from various national institutes have published as late as 2010 that the crustal thickness of Koodankulam site is much thinner than the Gulf of Mannar Crust because of similar sub-volcanic intrusions. Ground Magnetic Surveys conducted by them have suggested that the Crustal thickness is a mere 150 to 200 metres at Koodankulam site.

5.      The entire Koodankulam region is known for its lime stone formations. Lime stone formations are known to the formation of Sink holes and underground caves. Events that occurred on November 26, 2011 at Pannaiyarkulam, in 2008 at Radhapuram (both located 10 kms from the KKNPP site), and in 1998 at Maruthankulam (25kms from the KKNPP site) have suggested that this is a “KARST” Region. AERB’s safety laws clearly state that if a Karst region is suspected a detailed study has to be conducted. Such a study has not been attempted by the NPCIL.

6.      During the 2004 tsunami the withdrawal of the sea was around 4-5 Kms from the shore. Every year after this tsunami, the some places of the coast of Tamil Nadu have faced the issue of sea water withdrawal at least 3 times a year. Tsunami hazard manual released by the USNRC in March 2009 states that if sea water withdrawal is an issue at the site then the chances of the reactor going in for a dry intake should be studied thoroughly. Dry intake can cause damage to the turbines and reactors. Each minute a reactor needs 5,000 cubic-metres of sea water. Hence a detailed volcanic hazard study, tsunami hazard study and a study about the “Karst” Terrain is a must.

7.      Another crucial failure of the NPCIL is the fact that the plant has been assured supply of freshwater for merely 36 hours and 25 minutes. The dependence on a single source, namely, the desalination plants, further reduces the reliability of this water source because desalination plants rely on the sea and electricity. Both can be disrupted by disturbances in electricity supply and cyclones and extreme weather events in the sea along with Jelly fish intrusions. In such a situation, reactors will have to be closed down immediately and they may have just enough water for maintaining the safety systems for only 10 days. The reserve of potable water for the KKNPP Township is sufficient only for 2 days. The seawater intake pipeline of the Minjur desalination plant in Thiruvallur district was uprooted during the Cyclone Nisha in 2008. Repairing the pipeline required engineers from the Netherlands and it took more than 45 days to mend the pipeline.

8.      Department of Atomic energy (DAE) funded study by Dr. Manjula Datta has found that the morbidity burden in the proximity villages of Kalpakkam is 400% higher than in distant villages. The diseases include Cancer, mental retardation, thyroid problems, infertility, lumps, stroke, cataract, TB, ulcer and diabetes. Another study conducted by Dr. V. Pugazhendhi et. al. showed that auto immune thyroid disease among women living in upto 40 kms from the Kalpakkam site was significantly higher than those living 500 kms away. In another study conducted by the same doctor in 2003 among the Kalpakkam employees and family members had shown that the death rate due to Multiple Myloma (a bone marrow cancer) is statistically significant. Studies based on data supplied by the NPCIL shows that the prevalence of cancer among workers and wives of the BARC and the TAPS is significantly higher than that found in MAPS. The first 2 reactors became critical during the 1960’s and the 1970’s whereas the MAPS came critical during 1984-85. Yet another study shows significant deviation in sex-ratio of children born to employees of the BARC and the TAPS which is indicative of genetic mutations.

9.       The United States and Japan have compensatory laws for employees as well as people living around the plants (such as energy employees’ occupational illness compensation program act) even when the reactors function normally without any leaks or accidents. This clearly shows that Low level Radiation from the reactors is a health hazard.

10.   The airports in European Union have banned the usage of X-rays due to the hazards of low level radiation and there is no safe dose in radiation.

11.  The decommissioning cost of the KKNPP reactors must be taken into account and that cost is at least a few times higher than the commissioning cost. In Fukushima it has been estimated that it will cost 75,000 crores and 30 years to decommission the failed nuclear plants. When we take this into account, all the nuclear plants become unviable and un-economical.

12.   The issue of spent-fuel disposal is an unsolved issue both in terms of technology and economics and spent-fuel will remain highly radioactive for thousands of years.

13.   Only enhancing energy efficiency and developing alternatives will give a sustainable energy solution. Effective energy efficiency measures alone can free up enough electricity to meet all our current needs.

Given this situation, we would like to request Your Excellency to bring up the above issues with the Central Government and the Department of Atomic Energy and persist with your concern for the wellbeing of the people of Tamil Nadu. We would like to request you to accelerate electricity generation from renewable energy sources such as the solar, wind and bio-mass which are available in plenty in Tamil Nadu. We would also like to request you to implement appropriate policies and action for grid connected renewable energy generation and distribution. Tamil Nadu has got great potential for solar energy (25-30 MW per sq. Km.) as we have 300 cloud-free days in a year. We can surely establish Tamil Nadu as a pioneer in renewable energy in India and such a fete can coincide nicely with the “International Year of Sustainable Energy for All.”

We would very much like to request Your Excellency to grant us an opportunity to meet with you and explain our reservations to the implementation of the KKNPP project in detail.


1. Mr. M. G. Devasahayam, I.A.S., Convener of PMANE Expert Team

2. Dr. R. S. Lal Mohan,

3. Dr. V. T. Padmanabhan

4. Dr. R. Ramesh

5. Dr. V. Pugazhendi

6. Mr. Soumiya Dutta

7. Adv. T. Lajapathi Rai

8. Prof. P. Sivakumar

9. Mr. G. Sundarrajan, Coordinator of PMANE Expert Team

26 December 2011

Dear Mr. Prime Minister.... -Koodankulam Children

The “Koodankulam Children”
Tirunelveli District
Tamil Nadu
Email: koodankulam@yahoo.com
The Honorable Prime Minister of India
New Delhi 110 001
Your Excellency:
Greetings! We, hundreds of thousands of “Koodankulam Children” who will be the worst victims of a natural or human error or manmade disaster at the Koodankulam Nuclear Power Project (KKNPP), would like to appeal to you to scrap the KKNPP project immediately.
We, the future leaders of India, are so sad to see that our present leaders such as yourself put the interests of multinational corporations and foreign governments ahead of the needs and wants of our own country’s citizens, especially children like us. Your government’s signing a secret Inter-Governmental Agreement (IGA) with Russia on liability exemption for Russian government and companies is just one example.
Our community leaders and anti-nuclear activists are asking your government, the Department of Atomic Energy, and the KKNPP some serious questions about the daily routine emissions from the KKNPP plants; amount and management of radioactive nuclear wastes; the cost and impact of decommissioning the plants; their fresh water needs and supply; the impact on our health and wellbeing; the damage to our seas and sea food; and many other important issues. But you, your ministers, your bureaucrats, and your Expert Group are all simply parroting the same meaningless statement that “Koodankulam is safe.” Why don’t you all answer our leaders’ questions squarely and fairly?

The KKNPP projects are imposed on our communities without our or our parents’ approval or authorization. No basic information has been shared with them; no public hearing has been conducted; and their opinions are never entertained or respected. Is this any way to teach us, the children of India, transparency, accountability, popular participation and most importantly, democracy? When our parents ask important questions, they are being accused that they work for foreign governments, receive foreign money and wage war on the Indian state.
May we point out the fact that your government’s energy policy will deprive us all of our health, well-being, clean air, safe water, radiation-free sea food and so forth. Your generation has no moral legitimacy to pollute our natural resources and poison our future in order to get electricity for 30 to 40 years.
Your recent announcement in Russia that the first Koodankulam reactor will be operational “in a couple of weeks” has insulted us, the Tamil children from the Koodankulam area. We are afraid that your government has been indifferent to the needs and aspirations of the Tamil people. Please consider us as Indian citizens and give us due respect and consideration.
May we request you to offer all possible help and cooperation to our Honorable Chief Minister to protect the fishing rights and security of Indian fishermen, to overcome the present financial crisis in Tamil Nadu, and to revive the power utilities in our state as explained in the Honorable Chief Minister’s Memorandum presented to you on December 25, 2011?
Thanking you in anticipation,
The “Koodankulam Children”
from Koothenkuzhi, Idinthakarai, Vairavikinaru, Koodankulam,
Chettikulam, Perumanal and Koottapuli.

21 December 2011

Is Koodankulam nuclear plant necessary or not?

There are two different schools of thought;one group is for it and another is against it. Each group puts across various questions and arguments for and against it. It is vital that we, the public should understand the facts about it.

Lets us look at the important queries raised in this issue:

Why is nuclear plant necessary? 
Why is nuclear plant not necessary?
Electricity generated from nuclear power is very important to meet our power shortages
We can resort to economic usage of electricity; can make use of other safe resources for electricity generation
Is a clean and hygienic source; can make sure its safety though scientific means
Nuclear plants by birth are risky. Radiation emitted from such plants can affect generation after generation, it is destructible and a paralyzing one. No solutions for this.
Power generation from nuclear energy is cheaper compared to other sources
Costs incurred towards period of generation, maintenance of plant, post-generation safety aspects and disposal of nuclear wastes is very high compared to the cost of power generation
Accidents are inevitable in all kinds of situations. We do not avoid travelling by trains just because accidents do happen
There is no safe nuclear plant. Effects of nuclear plant accidents, unlike ordinary accidents do not stop with the place of accident. Serious after-effects will be carried for generations
Arguments about the location of Koodankulam nuclear plant are unnecessary
The location of Koodankulam plant is prone to tsunami and earthquake. It is a place of smaller volcanic eruptions and landslides. It is not possible to protect the nuclear plant from natural disasters
All safety aspects and precautions are in place. Fear prevailing among people with regard to its safety is unnecessary
Opinion polls were not conducted to understand the environmental damages caused by nuclear plants
Arrangements are in place to handle high-risk situations
High Risk Management Monitoring Committee, headed by Prime Minister has stated that it cannot be ensured that Koodankulam will remain safe from tsunami or earthquake
We cannot witness growth when fear overpowers us
It is quite logical to be cautious of those that creates fear and to take necessary preventive action
Scientist cum former President Abdul Kalam has stated that Koodankulam is safe and nuclear energy is a must for our country’s growth
M B Parameswaran, a research scholar in nuclear research has said that it is an intelligent decision to look for alternatives to power from nuclear sources. It is not surprising to see an expert like Abdul Kalam who was involved in nuclear bomb blast, welcoming it. He has proved his loyalty recently by meeting up with officials of nuclear plant and not the protesters
Nuclear energy is the future of world’s growth and development; science will solve its complications in due course of time
Even the developed countries who had utilized nuclear energy for years have decided to close down their nuclear plants phase by phase
There is no chance of danger occurring as in Fukushima
Tremors have been recently witnessed  even in areas not actually prone to tremors (Eg: Tharapuram)
No need to worry about nuclear wastes generated from Koodankulam plant. These wastes will not go out of the plant. They, in particular will not get mixed up with sea water. So, people residing around the plant need not be worried about consequences arising out of nuclear wastes
There are no reports about management of nuclear wastes. It was earlier stated that the wastes will be taken away by Russia. Whether it is going to be buried within the Koodankulam plant or under the sea, there is no information with regard to the damage it could cause to the environment. They are not disclosed in the name of country’s secrets
Developed countries like America manage nuclear wastes well. Their experiences could guide us
True. Nuclear wastes of America were buried in Yucca valley since 2002. Realizing the effect it could cause, the American government banned human habitation around 100 miles of the area for 10 lakh years. It was dropped in 2011. Nuclear wastes of America are being dumped in areas inhabited by blacks and natives and undisclosed African and Asian countries
Water from Pechipparai water reservoir will not be used as a coolant for the nuclear plant. Source of life for fishermen will not be affected in any manner
32 lakh litres of water would be required to cool a nuclear plant for a day. It is said that purified sea water will be used for this purpose. In case the purification is temporarily halted for technological reasons or in case of natural fury, stored water would last for one and a half days only. This could be rectified only with the technical experts of Israel. Is this possible? In case the nuclear plants are not cooled, there are chances of them bursting. No formal explanations are in place for alternative arrangements in such situations. Areas surrounding the nuclear plant have already been declared as high safety zone and in turn has affected the lives of fishermen living around the plant
Kalam has proposed developmental programmes for people in Koodankulam, worth about Rs 200 crores. This would address the problems of source of life for the locals
Such programmes have been put forward as a bribe to tone down the protests staged by Koodankulam people. Not even 1% of it has been implemented in Kalpakkam. Why?
For the sake of development, we have to withstand certain losses
Causing damage to the future generations and their source of life for the present day ‘growth’ is in no way justified
Legal limits are brought in to compensate for losses. Arrangements have been made to compensate for losses up to Rs 2500 crores
Compensation for losses incurred in Bhopal gas leak has not reached the affected people even after 25 years. Maximum limits proposed legally are favourable for the businessmen of world’s nuclear plant, not for affected people
Those who oppose nuclear plants are the enemies of country’s growth
Protesters of nuclear plants are national patriots. People’s welfare is country’s welfare.
Koodankulam nuclear plant will address the issue of power shortage for Tamil Nadu
Out of total electricity generation in Tamil Nadu,power generated from nuclear power is less than 1%. Even if the power generation from  nuclear sources is completely stopped, there is no huge electricity loss
Koodankulam nuclear plant is a growth opportunity for Tamil Nadu. We should not lose it.
Why is the nuclear plant that was rejected by people of Karnataka and Kerala is forced upon the people of Tamil Nadu? Should we fall prey to their plan of militarizing Tamil Nadu and changing it in to a murder field?
France is 75% reliant on electricity generated from nuclear power. 20% of America’s electricity is being generated from  nuclear power
Post nuclear blast in a 3-mile island in America in the year 1979 and Chernobyl blast in Russia in 1986, new nuclear plants have not been established in those countries. Why? What is the reason behind Germany refusing to take nuclear wastes generated in France?
The Koodankulam nuclear plant was started in the year 1988 – now, what is the reason behind some of them in the area protesting against it after so many years?
Even since 1988, protests have been staged against Koodankulam nuclear plant. Construction activities were halted in lieu of changes in Soviet Union and changes evidenced in approach of America. Post Fukushima disaster, these protests have gained momentum
Even though nuclear weapons are dangerous, they are required for self-defence. Without nuclear energy technology, there is no room for nuclear weapons
Each nuclear plant is a hidden bomb. Nuclear war would wipe out the entire human race. There is a danger of nuclear plants turning into nuclear bombs in the hands of enemies.
Who is responsible for the losses estimated at Rs 11,000 crores that was spent towards constructing this plant? Even if the  expected 7000 megawatt electricity generation is not there, it would be beneficial  to generate at least 2000 megawatts of power
Thought needs to be given if this plant can be used for electricity generation other than from nuclear power or for some other purpose. Those who implemented this project without taking into consideration the dangers of nuclear plant or the approval of locals must be punished. This is not a huge amount compared to the one lost in Rs.1.7 lakh crore scam
This is related to country’ growth. Those who are against it are opposed to country’s growth
Yes. The question is what kind of growth, pattern of growth that we wish to see? Manufacturing to meet domestic demands or export demands? Extended growth or short-term inflation?
Where does the money come from the protesters of Koodankulam nuclear plant? With aid flowing in from  abroad, these protests are staged  by Christian groups and NGOs
This is a problem of the people- a problem of the farmers and fishermen. Majority of the fishermen are Christians. That is why they stand by the protesters and Christian groups. Yet, this is not the protest conducted by Christians alone. Right, aren’t the protesting Christians Indian citizens? Don’t they need protection?
Protest demonstration for Koodankulam nuclear plant is against Indo-Russian welfare. American plot is behind it.
Tarapur nuclear plant has been established with assistance from America. A massive nuclear plant is to be established at Jaitapur with expertise from France. Protesters of nuclear plant are also against this. Opposition to nuclear plant is related to people welfare
Its decision is finally related to Science, scientists and experts
Science that ignores/rejects people’s welfare is not at all Science. The truth dies down when scientific experts  become selfish and  puppets of power
Some anti-national forces are trying to divert this project that is necessary for the country and its people
This is finally relevant to democracy, in particular, it relates to the livelihood rights of people in the lower most strata of society. It is all about their choosing their path to development. It is about true rights of people. Its moral lies in not forcing anything on them that is not acceptable
It is imperative that ignorance among people is wiped out and the plant launched  for the development  of the country
Yes. The protesters of nuclear plant are ready for an open discussion about its scientific, political and legal fundamentals. Are the supporters ready for this?

 -Pon. Chandran

The Nuclear Safety Question

Hearing a recent PIL against India’s current nuclear policy and the need for an independent nuclear regulator, the Supreme Court wanted to know about a few examples of an independent regulatory mechanism. Top nuclear expert A Gopalakrishnan presents the French , the Canadian, and the U.S.models

Nuclear safety regulator: The US model

The Indian government intends to replace the Atomic Energy Regulatory Board with a newly proposed Nuclear Safety Regulatory Authority to strengthen the administration of nuclear safety. The NSRA Bill, 2011, was introduced on September 7 and is currently before the Parliamentary Committee on Science & Technology. In the meantime, while hearing a public interest litigation on nuclear issues on December 5, Chief Justice SH Kapadia is reported to have said, ‘Have a public debate. Come out with a concrete solution till Parliament considers the (NSRA) Bill and suggest a regulatory model or a framework and then we can consider.’ (The Hindu, December 5) Adjourning the case for a month, the court told the petitioners they could suggest some regulatory models independent of the government, adopted in countries like the US, France, the UK and Canada, which it would then ‘recommend’ to the government. (Indian Express, December 6) For an informed debate to be conducted, one needs to first place before the Indian public certain salient aspects of the nuclear regulatory structures in some advanced countries that rely heavily on nuclear power.

This article is the first in a series that I intend to publish to initiate a public understanding and debate of the kind the Hon’ble Chief Justice of India suggested on foreign nuclear regulatory frameworks. In preparing this article , I must acknowledge that I have directly used substantial portions of existing factual reports from the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development document (2008) on ‘Nuclear Legislation in OECD Countries: United States’, as well as from the website of the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission. This had to be done to keep the contents totally factual in every detail, without inadvertent distortions coming in while paraphrasing them in my own language.

The US Nuclear Regulatory Commission
 Formation and Responsibilities:

In the US, until 1974, the Atomic Energy Commission served as the umbrella agency charged with responsibility for all civilian and military projects on atomic energy. That year, the AEC was abolished and the regulatory responsibilities of the erstwhile AEC were assumed by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission.
The NRC’s primary responsibilities include ensuring that the use of nuclear materials and facilities is consistent with the protection of public health and safety, the common defence and security of the US and protecting the environment. The NRC acts through setting standards and rule making, technical reviews and studies, issuance of licences, permits and authorisations, inspection and investigations, evaluating operating experience and undertaking confirmatory research. NRC maintains an active inspection and enforcement program, and it investigates violations and initiates enforcement proceedings. The NRC can seek judicial remedies like injunctions and can assess fines and penalties. The violation of some NRC regulations can also result in criminal prosecution. Lastly, the NRC is authorised to investigate the causes of major nuclear incidents and accidents and report their findings to the US Congress. 

NRC Organisational Structure:

The NRC was created under the Energy Reorganisation Act, 1974, as an organisation that exercises considerable independence in nuclear regulatory matters. NRC has five commissioners, of whom no more than three may be members of the same political party. The US president, with the Senate’s advice and consent, appoints the commissioners, who must be US citizens. Each commissioner serves for five years and, during that time, may not engage in any other business or vocation. The president appoints one of the NRC’s commissioners as chairperson, who acts as the principal executive officer and the official spokesman of the commission. The president may remove a commissioner only for neglect of duty, inefficiency or malfeasance in office, and the Senate has to ratify this action.

In contrast to the above, the Indian Nuclear Safety Regulatory Authority Bill proposes that the chairperson and members of the NSRA shall be finalised by a Council of Nuclear Safety, under the prime minister’s chairmanship, and they are appointed by the government for an initial three-year period. Furthermore, the chairperson and NSRA members can be removed from office by the government, even for trivial reasons. As per the Bill, there is no requirement to inform the Parliament or get approval for their appointment or removal.

The NRC chairperson is responsible for preparing policy planning and guidance for commission consideration, and for conducting the administrative, organisational, budgetary, and certain personnel functions of the NRC. Each commissioner has equal authority and responsibility in decision-making. For the NRC to act, a majority of members present must concur, with a minimum of three commissioners needed for a quorum. A few senior officials and offices also report either directly to the chairperson or to the commission. 

The NRC Office of New Reactors is one such office which is of special relevance to India in today’s context, with the Government of India embarking on importing first-of-a kind foreign nuclear reactors, without involving the AERB to even cursorily examine the safety of such reactors

NRC Office of New Reactors:

The NRO was formed in 2006, to take the responsibility to ensure the safety of any new nuclear reactor facility, of US or foreign design, even before a licence application is entertained to build the first of its kind on US soil. For such reactor installations, the NRO is responsible for pre-evaluations and regulatory activities in the areas of sitting, licensing and oversight to protect public health, safety and the environment. One of the first steps in this NRC evaluation is a ‘design certification’ for approval of a standard nuclear power plant design of that type, independent of a specific site approval application or an application to construct or operate a plant. The design certification application to the NRC from the reactor manufacturer will have to include details similar to what is normally expected in a final safety analysis report for an established reactor type. The application to the NRC from the manufacturer must also include a detailed probabilistic risk analysis and an evaluation of design alternatives to mitigate the impact of severe accidents.

AREVA, the French developer of the European Pressurised Reactor, has been wanting to sell four of their EPRs to US utilities for some time now, but they are still waiting for the NRC to complete a design certification of the EPR for building it in the US, even though Finland, France and China are in different stages of constructing EPRs. The NRC is not expected to finish their certification before end-2012, and only thereafter can the licensing procedure for building an EPR at a specific US site can start.

In stark contrast to the above, our prime minister has in 2007-08 itself taken a unilateral political decision to buy six EPRs for the Jaitapur site, purely as a quid pro quo for the French government’s help in facilitating the India-US nuclear deal. The Atomic Energy Regulatory Board was never informed or consulted, and no safety evaluation was done by them or the Department of Atomic Energy. The PM and his government have shown scant regard for public safety in taking this decision.

NRC Advisory Committee on Reactor Safeguards:

The ACRS is NRC’s only statutory advisory committee, constituted under the 1972 US Federal Advisory Committee Act. It is mandatory under the FACA that the membership of any federal advisory committee is fairly balanced in terms of the points of view represented and the functions to be performed by that committee. The Act further requires that the Rules under which the ACRS or any such committee is formed ‘contain appropriate provisions to assure that the advice and recommendations of the committee will not be inappropriately influenced by the appointing authority or by any special interest, but will instead be the result of the advisory committee’s independent judgment.’ The ACRS, accordingly constituted, has a maximum of 15 members with expertise in scientific and engineering disciplines, and it provides advice on potential hazards of proposed or existing reactor facilities, the adequacy of proposed safety standards and such other matters that the NRC may request. It is important to note that most of the ACRS deliberations are totally open to the public and any member of the public may request an opportunity to make an oral statement during the committee meeting. I don’t think I will live long enough to see something like this happening in India.

Unfortunately, in India we do not have a legislation similar to the US Federal Advisory Committee Act. Therefore, our government gets away by forming totally biased committees and commissions in very crucial areas involving public safety. The Atomic Energy Commission of India is a classic example, manned by few designated senior secretaries of the central government who are under instructions from the Prime Minister’s Office to support his views, and a set of pliable and unethical nuclear scientists who are more than willing to raise their hand in support , in return for a Padma Vibhushan, a continuing pay cheque well beyond their normal retirement age, or the award of a well-paying Bhabha Professorship or a Ramanna Fellowship which is within the powers of the DAE to grant. Thus, we have the AEC going along with illogical and often unsafe decisions like the import of untested foreign reactors from France and the US, without even squirming about not evaluating their absolute need or safety. Similarly, we have almost all AERB Advisory Committees stacked with vast majority of Ex-DAE personnel, who all jointly skew their opinion mostly in the DAE’s favour.

NRC’s Transparent Functioning:

The US Nuclear Regulatory Commission, as part of its value system and principles of good regulation, believes that public involvement in, and information about, NRC activities are the cornerstones of strong and fair safety regulation. Consistent with that belief, the NRC provides ample opportunities for the public to participate meaningfully in NRC’s decision-making process. NRC strongly considers that nuclear safety regulation is the public’s business, and it must be transacted publicly and candidly.

Commission meetings are usually held with the NRC staff and/or outside parties to discuss issues for action. Members of the public are welcome to attend and observe these public Commission meetings held at the NRC headquarters. Unofficial transcripts are produced for each public meeting and are made available on the NRC website for public viewing, two days after each meeting. There are vast numbers of current NRC records like action memoranda, commission voting record on each issue, meeting slides, transcripts, etc uploaded on the NRC website, which the public can access. There are several public hearings in a year, dates of which are announced in advance, and the public are welcome to attend them.

One can go on describing many more of NRC’s transparency and public outreach activities, for which procedures and rules are well laid out and announced. In contrast, the AERB in India keeps all its documents, meeting records, etc confidential by citing the Official Secrets Act. AERB hardly ever organises a press conference or conducts a public hearing. Let us not forget that the Americans too have a stringent Official Secrets Act, and the NRC interactions and openness described above take place despite that. The NRC does not see openness in safety regulation as conflicting with the US secrecy laws in any way. In India, we have indeed a very long way to go in this regard.

At the December 5 hearing of the PIL against the current nuclear policy or the lack of it and the need for an ‘independent’ nuclear regulator, the Supreme Court bench is reported to have remarked, ‘We want to know what mechanism for independent regulation there is’, ‘please show us one or two examples of an independent regulatory mechanism’, and ‘what is the nature of independence you are seeking? Please produce before us the model.’ (LiveMint.com) .

Through this article containing some of the highlights of the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission’s operational philosophy and procedures, I hope I have provided some insight into a nuclear regulatory organisation that is truly independent from the government. One can argue that India cannot have a regulator like the US NRC overnight, by passing a new law, but certainly we must strive to reach that level of independence at least in a decade from now. That will be impossible unless we now put in place an NSRA Act that will enable the system to move steadily and systematically towards meeting that objective.

The success of French nuclear safety regulation

The French nuclear safety regulatory practice is one of the best in the Western world. A distinguishing feature of the French regulation is the legislative emphasis in the associated Act under which transparency and public communication are institutionalised through structured clauses, rules and procedures specifically created for this purpose.

France has 58 nuclear reactors, situated in 19 sites, generating almost 80% of the country’s total electricity production. Their nuclear power program, started in 1970, has a remarkable safety record and their regulatory agency enjoys wide public acceptance in the country and in Europe, mainly because it is lauded as truly independent and transparent. This article highlights just a few salient aspects of this success story, which provide a stark contrast to their parallels in India.

In preparing this article, I must acknowledge that I have directly used substantial portions from existing documents, including a 2011 report from the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development titled ‘Nuclear Legislation in OECD Countries : France’, as well as from the publications of the French government, the French Nuclear Safety Authority, and the International Atomic Energy Agency. This was done to keep the contents totally factual in every detail, without inadvertent distortions coming in while paraphrasing them in my own language.

TSN Act (2006) and the Nuclear Safety Authority (ASN)
Independence of the ASN:

The first nuclear regulatory authority in France was created in 1973 as a department of the industry ministry. In 1991, it became a division of the same ministry, but became increasingly answerable to the environment ministry as well. In 2002, through a presidential decree, the Directorate General for Nuclear Safety & Radiation Protection was created, reporting to both the industry and environment ministries and with responsibilities for both nuclear and radiation safety. Then, on June 13, 2006, the French parliament adopted, and the president promulgated, the Act on Transparency and Security in the Nuclear Field (TSN Act, 2006).
Under this act the Nuclear Safety Authority was established as an independent entity, not answerable to the government’s ministers but as part of the French state, answering to the French parliament. This ensures the ASN’s effective independence from any governmental structure charged with the promotion of nuclear energy.

The ASN board has five members appointed by decree on account of their competence in the field of nuclear safety and radiation protection. Three members, including the chairman, are appointed by the president of the republic. Two others are appointed respectively by the president of the National Assembly and the president of the senate. The tenure of the members is for six years.

The effective independence of the nuclear regulatory body continues to represent a significant challenge for countries like India. The mere act of administratively separating the regulator totally from agencies that promote the setting up and operation of nuclear facilities is only part of the solution. What is important is that regulators have to be able to work without pressure from the promoters of nuclear energy. The effective independence of a regulatory body needs to be both de facto and de jure. The regulator should not be subject to political or corporate influence, pressure or indirect threats. Unfortunately, the Nuclear Safety Regulatory Authority Bill, 2011, currently in Parliament, violates this dictum in many ways.

Outside Technical Support to the ASN

In some countries like the US, regulatory bodies are rather large and self-sufficient in technical staff. In France, however, the ASN is a relatively compact organisation and they need the help of Technical Support Organisations to carry out the comprehensive and wide-ranging technical evaluations that are required in the course of its work. ASN primarily seeks this support from the Institute for Radiation Protection and Nuclear Safety, which is a state-owned establishment working under the joint authority of the ministers of defence, environment, industry, research and health. The IRSN employs about 1650 persons, 1000 of whom are graduates. They provide their research and consultancy services not just to the ASN, but also to other governmental organisations and industry, including even ASN’s licensees like EDF & AREVA. These services span areas like nuclear safety, radiation protection, security of nuclear installations, and security of radioactive and fissile materials during transport against malicious acts, etc.

Under these circumstances, various steps have been taken to ensure that there is no potential conflict of interest in IRSN providing technical support to both ASN and the nuclear industry at the same time. To meet this objective, a detailed memorandum of understanding has been signed between the ASN & IRSN, which represents a code of conduct governing their relationship, under which the IRSN has agreed not to take up any technical support activity for any ASN Licensee, other than purely generic research assignments. IRSN has also set up ‘firewalls’ within their organisation, so that their employees who support the regulatory technical tasks from ASN are never employed at any time to assist in a support job for nuclear industry or other parts of government . Recently, about 400 of the IRSN staff were working full time for ASN on regulatory tasks and 50 ASN staff were seconded to IRSN to participate in related research tasks.

In India also, the nuclear regulator (AERB) does not have the comprehensive scientific and technological capabilities or in-depth experience required to carry out much of the safety analyses and evaluations needed. Therefore, almost 95% of the members in AERB’s review and advisory committees are drawn from among retired employees of the Department of Atomic Energy, either from one of their research institutes like the Bhabha Atomic Research Center or a power generation company like the Nuclear Power Corporation of India Ltd. Having worked for 30 to 40 years in the Department of Atomic Energy (DAE) organisations before retiring, and continually enjoying all the retirement benefits from the DAE, including family medical support in their old age, the loyalty of most such review committee members is likely to be with the DAE and rarely can one expect impartial regulatory reviews from them. And yet , there are very few non-DAE national experts in nuclear engineering within the country, because the DAE has been systematically discouraging the higher institutes of engineering in India from starting and expanding post-graduate programs in nuclear engineering. While we wait to get this done over the next decade or more, we must insist that AERB elicits the help of ex-DAE personnel under a strict contract of service and code of ethics which minimise the chances of conflict of interest, somewhat akin to the formal understanding under which the French ASN and the IRSN co-operate.

French Council for Nuclear Policy (CPN)

France established the Council for Nuclear Policy in April 2008, to lay down the broad courses of action concerning nuclear policy and to ensure their implementation in the area of exports and international co-operation, industrial and energy policy, and policies for research, security, safety and environmental protection. Chaired by the French president, the council has 12 members: the prime minister, the ministers of energy, economy, industry, external trade, research and finance, as well as the ministers for foreign affairs and defence, the army chief of staff, the secretary general for defence & national security, and the head of the Atomic Energy Commission. If the chairperson desires, the CPN may also hear submissions from qualified eminent persons and top industrialists in the nuclear sector.

Among other matters, the French CPN is able to discuss overall nuclear power policy within the context of the country’s overall energy policy and electricity requirements. The council is powerful enough and has all the concerned senior politicians and their advisers as members, and they are able to take major overall decisions on nuclear power, and concurrently review the safety implications of those decisions. The current Nuclear Safety Regulatory Authority Bill, however, suggests the formation of a Council of Nuclear Safety, ostensibly to show emphasis on safety, but in reality for serving the narrow interest of creating a NSRA Board to the government’s liking and to keep a strict control over it. While the country has no agreed overall nuclear power policy or a rational and justifiable reactor import strategy, this anxiety to create a Council of Nuclear Safety does not make sense. Like the French, what India needs is a cabinet-level Council for Nuclear Policy. As in France, this council can indeed oversee nuclear safety as well, without in any way exerting direct administrative control over the NSRA.

ASN’s Public Outreach and Transparency

A detailed Title- III of the French TSN Act 2006 is on ‘Information of the Public as Regards Nuclear Safety’. Under that, Article 18 says ‘The State is responsible for informing the public about the procedures and results of the surveillance of nuclear safety and protection.’ Article 19-I states ‘Any person is entitled to obtain from the licensee of a basic nuclear installation — the information held — on the risks related to ionising radiations that can result from this activity and on the safety and radiation protection measures taken to prevent or reduce these risks or exposure —.’ And, Article 19-II states, ‘Pursuant to this Article, disputes relative to refusals to communicate information are brought before the administrative court in accordance with the procedures set forth —.’

What is unique about the French nuclear law is that it spells out in detail the instruments & procedures through which this openness is to be fully implemented. It does not leave any wriggle room for the nuclear operator or for the government to evade this responsibility. Thus, Article 22 is a step-by-step legislative recipe to form Local Information Committees (LICs) in the neighbourhood of each and every nuclear facility site, with wide-ranging membership of officials of local self government, local members of parliament and state assemblies, local economic & commercial interest groups, local trade union representatives, local medical doctors and environmentalists, etc.

Each committee will have to be formed by the equivalent of our district magistrate or his senior representative, while the ASN representative, the representatives of the facility licensee and the state services involved shall attend in advisory capacity. In pursuit of its mission, the LIC can have assistance of consultancy services, to get epidemiological studies done or to have any measurements or analysis of the environment made. All LIC expenditures will be met by the state or territorial authorities of the region. All relevant safety-related information sought by the LIC will have to be provided, within a stipulated time, by the nuclear facility management.

Article- 23 of the Act has created at the national level a High Committee for Transparency and Information on Nuclear Security, as an autonomous body. This committee may be called upon to examine any matter relating to information concerned with nuclear safety and its control, by the ministries responsible for nuclear safety, the chairpersons of parliamentary committees, chairpersons of any LIC, or the operators of major nuclear installations. The opinions and the Annual Report of the High Committee are made public. Persons responsible for and promoting nuclear activities, the Nuclear Safety Authority and other government departments have to furnish all information and answers sought by this Committee.

Lessons from Canada on nuclear safety

About 15% of Canada’s electricity comes from nuclear power, with 18 operating power reactors in three provinces providing over 12,600 MWe of power capacity. Besides these, there are eight research reactors, two at the Chalk River Laboratories of the Atomic Energy Canada Limited, a public sector corporation owned by the Canadian government, and the remaining six in various universities. All these reactors are owned by the government.

Since May 2000, Canada’s Nuclear Safety and Control Act (hereinafter called the ‘Act’) has been in force as the applicable nuclear safety regulatory legislation. This comprehensive law replaced the erstwhile Atomic Energy Control Act, first adopted in 1946, as the means by which the Canadian nuclear industry is regulated. The Act establishes the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission (hereinafter called ‘CNSC’), replacing the erstwhile Atomic Energy Control Board (AECB) as the regulatory body, clearly distinguishing the regulatory role of the CNSC from that of AECL, which is a federal R&D and marketing organisation.

In writing this article, I must acknowledge that I have directly used substantial portions from existing documents, including a 2009 report from the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development titled ‘Nuclear Legislation in OECD Countries: Canada’, as well as direct quotes from the publications and websites of the IAEA, CNSC and AECB. This was done to keep the contents totally factual in every detail, without inadvertent distortions coming in while paraphrasing them in my own language.

Structure and Independence of CNSC 

The CNSC is an independent federal government agency, and consists of two components: a commission tribunal and a staff organisation. The Commission tribunal has the responsibility 1. to establish regulatory policies on matters relating to health, safety, security and environment, 2. make legally binding regulations, and 3. make decisions based on laws and regulations. The staff organisation has technical experts in various disciplines of nuclear safety and control. Both components of CNSC report to the president and chief executive officer of the CNSC. The CNSC, in turn, reports to the Canadian Parliament, through the minister of natural resources in the Cabinet.

Section 8(2) of the Act states that the commission ‘is for all purposes an agent of Her Majesty the Queen and may exercise its powers only as an agent of Her Majesty. The commission consists of not more than seven permanent members to be appointed by the governor ‘in Council’ (hereinafter meaning the governor, on the advice of Cabinet), and he designates one of the permanent members as president & CEO of the CNSC. Section 10(5) of the Act states that each permanent member holds office during good behavior for a term not exceeding five years and may be removed at any time by the governor, on the advice of the Cabinet, for cause.

Section 19 of the Act allows the governor in council may, by order, issue to the commission directives of general application on broad policy matters with respect to the objectives of the CNSC and these orders are binding on the commission. A copy of all such orders shall be published in the Canadian gazette and laid before both houses of Parliament. Interestingly, though the CNSC reports ultimately to the Parliament, the cabinet and the governor do not seem to require the prior approval of parliament to appoint or dismiss the president and members of the CNSC or for giving binding directives from time to time, though post-facto all such actions have to be laid before both Houses of Parliament. The IAEA, in reviewing the CNSC structure on request, has remarked that though the separation of nuclear regulatory and promotional functions in Canada appear to exist, both these aspects are represented by the common ministry through which the CNSC reports to the Parliament. Overall, the independence from the government enjoyed by the US NRC and the French ASN is somewhat more effective & complete than in the case of Canada.

Transparency and Public Interactions of CNSC 

Section 9(b) of the Act requires the CNSC to disseminate objective scientific, technical and regulatory information to the public concerning the activities of the commission and their effects on the environment and on the health and safety of the persons. As a federal institution, the CNSC follows the principles of the government of Canada’s policy on communication to openly inform the public. Furthermore, the Access to Information Act sets forth the principle that every person in Canada has a right, upon request, to be given access to records under the control of CNSC, unless it is restricted.

The CNSC communicates actively with many external stakeholders, including individuals, community groups, public interest groups, NGOs, professional & scientific associations, etc. In Canada , there is a well-established Canadian Association of Nuclear Host Communities, which is a not-for-profit association that has been set up to provide a forum through which communities who have nuclear-related operations and facilities within or in close proximity to their municipal boundaries can discuss issues and concerns of mutual interest. The CANHC maintains a website (http://www.canhc.ca/) and conducts annual national meetings. The CNSC maintains open lines of communication with CANHC and the CNSC president and senior officials interact with them from time to time. Besides, CNSC’s website (www.nuclearsafety.gc.ca) is one of the most comprehensive and informative nuclear regulatory websites I have come across. It has uploaded Annual Reports of the AECB and CNSC from 1946 till today, historical information, news bulletins, all environmental assessment reports, etc. On most of these, the CNSC solicits comments from the public via e-mail and responds with more information or documents as needed.

CNSC Actions Following the Fukushima Incident

Following the Fukushima Daichi nuclear incident in Japan as a result of a major earthquake and tsunami, all nations having nuclear reactors took their own steps to re-examine the safety preparedness of each one’s nuclear installations. In India too, the NPCIL and the AERB have carried out safety audits and have released reports, but the public has no knowledge as to how the audits were carried out and what the follow-up steps and their time schedules are going to be. It will be a study in contrast to see how the Canadian nuclear regulator handled the same situation with total openness.

From March 11, when the nuclear incident occurred in Japan, CNSC started posting detailed progress reports on the event, along with factual comparisons of the Canadian CANDU reactors and the Fukushima BWRs, to alleviate any public concerns about the likelihood of similar incidents happening in their reactors.
CNSC also posted the daily radiation dose rates measured in various cities and towns to display that the incident in Japan has not affected Canadians health-wise. The unabridged minutes of the Commission meetings, where Fukushima problem was among topics discussed, are available on the website, as usual.
On April 20, CNSC uploaded the memo through which a Task Force on Fukushima Impact was formed, along with its terms of reference. In between, on June 23, they uploaded the 2010 Annual CNSC Staff Report on the Safety Performance of Canadian Nuclear Plants, and requested the public to send in their comments and questions.

On August 9, the CNSC Board constituted an External Advisory Review Committee to examine CNSC’s own responses and actions related to this incident, to evaluate whether these are indeed adequate and comprehensive. This committee consisted of independent & distinguished experts in energy, innovation, engineering, governance and safety, selected from outside the nuclear and government sector. On October 28, CNSC posted on their website the full report of the Post-Fukushima Task Force. In releasing the report, they also announced that CNSC has voluntarily decided to invite International Atomic Energy Agency experts to carry out an Integrated Regulatory Review Service mission in Canada, to carry out a second independent appraisal to assess whether the CNSC actions taken and intended to be taken in view of the Fukushima incident are indeed adequate according to the best of international standards and expertise. The Task Force Report released in October will be presented to the Commission at a public meeting scheduled for February 15, 2012, to finalise the Action Plans to be followed by all nuclear power plants. Comments from the public on this report have been solicited through the website in early November itself and responses were to be sent in before December 1. The CNSC staff will take all such comments also into account before the meeting on February 15, 2012. Lastly, the CNSC has already announced that they will be submitting, on their own accord, a detailed report on the lessons learned from the Fukushima nuclear incident to the Convention on Nuclear Safety in Vienna, at their meeting in August 2012.

The above two paragraphs amply bring home the transparency and competence with which one of the world’s best nuclear safety regulators protect the interests of the people of their country. The step-by-step intimation to the public of CNSC’s actions and their outcome in the nuclear safety area, on a real-time basis, brings confidence and comfort to the people and enhances the prestige of Canada in the comity of nations. 

-A Gopalakrishnan  
(The author is a former chairman, Atomic Energy Regulatory Board, Government of India)

Courtesy: Daily News & Analysis