Nuclear Safety Regulatory Authority Bill

Background:

The Nuclear Safety Regulatory Authority Bill is a first step towards granting functional autonomy to the country’s nuclear regulator by dissolving Atomic Energy Regulatory Board (AERB) which is been questioned for long. The issue gained further importance in the wake of the Fukushima nuclear disaster in Japan. This became more prominence as a threat with hunger for nuclear power on one side and government and nations concerns to tackle events like Fukushima in an Indian scenario.

Post Fukushima disaster, nuclear task force of Japan submitted a report to IAEA which clearly suggests for more independent autonomous regulator and single decision making body in such situations for countries. Further, it also makes it clear that leaving such disaster alone to nuclear technologists may induce less actualizing effort.

Current regulator AERB has been under scanner from long of academia and government. It is alleged that given the absence of expertise regarding nuclear matters outside the DAE system, the AERB has to rely on the scientists and engineers of DAE institutions to serve on its evaluation committees.

It has also been perceived that the existing setup in AERB cannot take independent objective decisions in regard to standards and safety as it is an adjunct body of the Nuclear Energy establishments. Almost 95% of the members in AERB’s review and Advisory Committees are drawn from among retired employees of the DAE, etc.

As an outcome of both Fukushima and such concerns of AERB, Bill was introduced in September 2011 in pursuance of a statement by Prime Minister of India following the mishap at Fukushima assuring the Nuclear Regulatory Authority would be made autonomous and thus more accountable to public in regard to safety and public health concern arising out of nuclear installations.

Scope:

The functions of the NRSA shall be confined only to ensure the radiation safety and nuclear safety during activities relating to production, storage, disposal, transport, transfer by sale or otherwise, etc., and in no case shall extend to functions or any matter which the Central Government is required to discharge under the Atomic Energy Act.

Thus, the NRSA is to keep itself aloof from the siting and designing aspects of the nuclear installations and the nuclear mining. It would remain dependent on Central Government for obtaining information on almost all the sectors.

The role of the NSRA in nuclear emergencies also remains peripheral limited to the extent of apprising National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA) regarding the measures NDMA should be taking in such situations. There is no specific mandate in the Bill to conduct certain public hearings when it is considering application from the parties in regard to their proposed radiation and nuclear related matters.

Objective:

The Bill provides for the dissolution of AERB and establishes the Council of Nuclear Safety (Council) and the Nuclear Safety Regulatory Authority (NSRA).

The Council shall consist of the Prime Minister as its Chairperson and six Cabinet Ministers, Cabinet Secretary, Chairman of the Atomic Energy Commission, and eminent experts nominated by the central government. It will oversee NSRA’s policies on nuclear safety. The NSRA shall consist of a Chairperson, two whole-time members and a maximum of four part-time members.

The NSRA is empowered to take measures to ensure that the use of nuclear energy is safe for workers, public and the environment. It may undertake to:

  • devise and implement policies for nuclear safety
  • advise the central government on nuclear safety and preparedness in emergencies
  • regulate grant of approvals for production, storage, transport and use of nuclear material
  • notify in the official gazette nuclear incidents under the Civil Liability for Nuclear Damage act.

The Bill bars the jurisdiction of civil courts in respect of matters the Authority is empowered to determine.

The bill also urges to punish the guilty for divulging, stealing or misuse of any information related to its functioning supervision and control.

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