By Anjali Devangan:
The lull after the Bhopal Gas tragedy 26 years ago was succeeded by a recent outrage over insufficient government action that might seem satisfactory by the victims and others related. The oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico is another such accident. Needless to say, accidents can cause massive irreversible damage to human lives and to the environment. This makes it imperative for the governments to set up liability bills in order to compensate the victims.
The depletion of coal reserves across the world, along with the contribution of combustion of coal to global warming is a growing concern for energy production sector. Uranium with its energy density a lot higher than coal is being hailed as the fuel of tomorrow.
India already uses its nuclear energy for power generation with 19 nuclear power plants and currently holds nuclear deals with several countries — France, United States, United Kingdom, Canada and many more. One of the greatest suppliers of nuclear fuel to India is Russia, with whom India signed a $700 million deal last February 2009.
A greater use of nuclear power in the country increases the risk of nuclear based accidents putting a number of human lives in danger. Also that the magnitude of nuclear accidents is not confined within national boundaries complicates matters.
This drove the government of India to introduce the Nuclear Liability Bill in March, 2010 which provides that the maximum amount of liability for each nuclear incident will be about Rs 2000 crore and each nuclear accident will be Rs 500 crore for the nuclear operator, and further charges would be borne by the Central Government. Dr Manmohan Singh described the measure as a completion of journey to end apartheid against India in the field of atomic power.
The opposition to the Bill came for many reasons.
First, that only the nuclear operators would be responsible for accidents places no restraints about safety or compensation on the elements that want to enter the nuclear market in India. Secondly, the liability limit in India trivializes value of human lives in India as opposed to other developed countries.
The bill further doesn’t account for any absolute liability for the nuclear operator. Any damage caused to a person on account of his own negligence, or caused to the nuclear installation site is not accounted for by the bill. The bill also states that the operator shall not be liable if the nuclear damage has been caused by a natural disaster. This might give an opportunity for the operator to escape responsibility.
There were also suggestions for the operators to be able to hold the suppliers responsible for damage as well, because if the supplies are flawed in design, then no amount of caution by the operators can save a nuclear accident.
The Bharatiya Janata Party has agreed to back the bill after the government trebled the compensation liability of the operator and extended the liability to cover private suppliers.
To conclude, I am satisfied with the introduction of the Nuclear Liability Bill as it is extremely important to set up policies that would hold different stakeholders responsible to protect the value of Indian lives. We don’t want another Bhopal Gas Tragedy trial where the final punishments still seem to be nowhere in sight after 26 years, do we?