Fri Mar 18 2011, 22:05 hrs
NPCIL’s strategy is to have their favourite consultants generate seismicity data that suits them, with no independent verification or seismic design methodologies
The Japanese are the world’s best experts in earthquake-resistant designs and they have a superb disaster management organisation throughout their nation, and an often-rehearsed working process to handle such emergencies. In contrast, in India we are most disorganised and unprepared for the handling of emergencies of any kind, of even much less severity than the Japanese earthquake. The Department of Atomic Energy’s Disaster Preparedness oversight is mostly on paper and the drills they conduct once in a while are half-hearted, incomplete efforts compared to world standards.
In the case of earthquake engineering, the Nuclear Power Corporation of India’s (NPCIL’s) strategy is to have their favourite consultants generate the kind of seismicity data that suits the NPCIL and there is practically no independent verification of their data or seismic design methodologies. A captive Atomic Energy Regulatory Board (AERB) with its chairman reporting to the secretary, Department of Atomic Energy (DAE) makes the overall nuclear safety management in India a farce and worthless.
There needs to be a total reorganisation of the AERB’s reporting structure, making it totally independent of the DAE secretary, and the AERB should be strengthened by recruiting reputed and ethical senior specialists into that organisation. Today, the AERB merely serves as a lap dog of the DAE and the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO), and their operations are not transparent to the public.
Ever since the UPA government has taken over in 2004, the collusion between the PMO, the DAE, NPCIL and the various corporate houses in India and abroad has substantially increased. This closeness was deliberately engineered by the PMO, initially, to facilitate the Indo-US nuclear deal. But the continuity and growth of these hand-in-glove operations between the corporate business houses interested in selling foreign nuclear reactors to India and the concerned government agencies like the DAE, NPCIL, AERB and PMO, which should be exercising diligent and independent technical and financial oversight on behalf of the public, is indeed distorting and damaging the independence of government decisions. This is certainly fast leading the country towards large economic losses and a sharp increase in the potential for hazardous reactor accidents in India. This trend must be immediately arrested, if necessary by Parliament’s intervention.
The decision of the government to import nuclear reactors is all the more perplexing in the context that India has already designed and built 18 PHWRs on its own over the last four decades and has perfected them through extensive years of operation. India can certainly continue to expand its nuclear power programme, if need be by now setting up 700 MWe PHWRs of our own design and 1000 MWe ones thereafter. In view of the vast nuclear devastation we are observing in Japan, I, therefore, strongly urge the government not to proceed with the import of nuclear reactors from France, US or Russia. We do not require such import of reactors.
—The author is a former chairman of the Atomic Energy Regulatory Board of the government