Apex court directs NGOs to approach PM on n-plants

November 14th, 2011 - 8:49 pm ICT by IANS  

New Delhi, Nov 14 (IANS) The Supreme Court Monday asked two NGOs to approach the prime minister or the Department of Atomic Energy (DAE) for setting up an independent regulator for ascertaining the safety and cost effectiveness of upcoming nuclear power plants.

The apex court bench of Chief Justice S.H. Kapadia and Justice Swatanter Kumar told this to counsel Prashant Bhushan, appearing for Common Cause and Centre for Public Interest Litigation.

He had sought the court’s direction to the central government to put in place an independent regulatory authority to ascertain the safety and cost viability of the proposed nuclear plants in the wake of the India-US nuclear deal.

Chief Justice Kapadia, however, made it clear that if the petitioners had anything to say about individual nuclear power plants, they could approach the high courts of the states where the project were being set up.

The judges said that nuclear power plants were built over the years and every project was an improvement over the other. “We can’t pass an order on all the nuclear plants.”

The court adjourned the matter till Friday after Bhushan said that former chairman of Atomic Energy Regulatory Board A. Gopalakrishnan had written several letters to the prime minister on the safety of nuclear plants.

“Have you gone to the Department of Atomic Energy and asked them that there are requirements which must be addressed and have not been done,” the court asked as Bhushan pressed for an independent regulatory body.

The court said that it was not against the issues raised in the petitioner by the NGOs. It said it wanted the petitioner to follow the procedure by first bringing it to the notice of the concerned authorities.

Bhushan said that the regulatory mechanism, which the prime minister has said was being put in place through a statutory provision, was far from being independent of the DAE or the Atomic Energy Commission (AEC).

When Bhushan told the court that there had to be a regulatory authority that was independent of decision-makers in the DAE or the AEC, the court asked him “if there is a statutory provision for (setting up of an independent regulatory authority)”.

“There is an International Convention on Nuclear Energy which says that the regulatory board has to be independent of the decision-makers (in the government),” Bhushan said, adding that the safety of the nuclear power plants was linked to the right to life and right to safety.

He said since the setting up of nuclear power plants in the country, three safety reviews took place in 1979, 1986 and 1995.

He said the reviews, pointed to “95 very serious safety aspects that need to be addressed urgently. Even the results of that safety review have not been addressed”.

Bhushan told the court that American, British and even the French regulatory authorities expressed serious safety concerns over the European pressurised reactor technology being used in Maharashtra’s Jaitapur nuclear power plant by the French company.

He told the court that the US had not set up a nuclear power plant since 1979 and none of the European countries had set up any plant ever since the Chernobyl accident in Ukraine in 1986.

After the Fukushima disaster in Japan earlier this year, Germany, Italy and Switzerland have announced a complete curb on further use of nuclear energy, he said.

As Bhushan referred to some expert opinions against nuclear power, Chief Justice Kapadia told him that there were “conflicting views on the issue”.

“We will ask question on the need (demand) of the electricity. What is being generated. What would be needed 10 years from now and can thermal power meet that need,” the judges said.

The court said this when Bhushan said that Rs.two lakh crore would be spent on Jaitapur nuclear power plant for generating 20,000 MW of power, whereas the same could be generated by investing Rs.50,000 crore on thermal power.

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