Nuclear liability Bill set to be introduced in Winter Session

Written by Sanjay Jog | Mumbai | Updated: Oct 25 2009, 04:31am hrs
The UPA government is all set to introduce a Civil Nuclear Liability Bill in the ensuing Winter Session of the Parliament from November 19.

The department of atomic energy (DAE) will move the Bill in both Houses of Parliament. Once it is passed, India will be in a position to join the international convention on civil liability for nuclear damage, said Nuclear Power Corporation of India (NPCIL) chairman and managing director SK Jain. The government is expected to move the Bill in Parliament and after it is passed, India will join the international convention, Jain told FE.

India has signed bilateral nuclear power agreements with countries like the US , France , Russia and Kazakhstan . However, the Centre in the Economic Survey for 2008-09 has admitted that efforts of foreign companies to enter the Indian market did not succeed in the absence of a civil nuclear liability legislation and amendment of the Atomic Energy Act.

Industry sources said this is quite crucial as India , which has launched a massive nuclear capacity addition of 65 GWe by 2032, need to first create civil nuclear liability regime within India as this paves for India joining the international convention.

Most foreign companies, which are keen to explore opportunities for the supply of nuclear reactors and other equipments in the proposed addition, have already made a strong pitch for India joining the international convention on civil liability. Areva, GE, Westinghouse, and Rosatom Corp have been talking to NPCIL as well as various private sector companies such as Tata Power, Reliance Power & GMR. Liability is channelled exclusively to the operators of the nuclear installations and liability of the operator is absolute (the operator is held liable irrespective of fault).

The Bill proposes to cap the level of compensation at $450 million in the event of an accident at a nuclear facility. Further, the responsibility for paying this compensation will rest on the operator (likely to be the Nuclear Power Corporation) and not the supplier or foreign companies building and installing reactors in India. The Bill will allow regulatory checks by authorities and prevent a repeat of the Bhopal-like disaster.

The Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry (Ficci) in its recent report on civil nuclear energy has called for a definite Civil Nuclear Liability (CNL) framework to foster confidence and security in prospective participants in the Indian nuclear sector. The report also said there should be a single-point liability for the operator for the nuclear installation and liability of non-operators should be transferred to the operator.

The prescribed liability for the plant must be benchmarked to the risk magnitude of the installation. Moreover, capping of liabilities according to internationally adhered benchmarks may be adopted with the government prescribing the threshold limit. On top of it, there should be a clear and precise definition of nuclear incident and nuclear installation.