Nuclear technology transfer – Intellectual property issues

By, Vaibhav Saxena*

India’s nuclear power expansion programme banks heavily on imported technologies which have developed at high cost and risk over a long period. Not unreasonably therefore, the nuclear technology developers would expect compensation for transfer of their technologies. When the technology is transferred in whatever form (sale, JVs, localiastion or full ownership transfer) the technology provider will want to ensure that its competitive advantage, as the developer of the technology is protected. If current trends in the nuclear industry are any indication, host countries the world over are placing an increasing priority on both localisation and technology transfer.

Intellectual property (IP) has an international dimension, and technology providers want to make sure that the host country acknowledges and enforces the technology provider’s IP rights. They genuinely want to have confidence that the other party to the transaction will honour and respect their IP rights including the licences granted in respect of the technology. A patent is granted only to the inventor or the owner of the invention and the principle behind patent protection is that in return for disclosing his invention, the inventor is given limited exclusivity for it and thus provided an exclusive right to make, use and sell the invention within the jurisdiction of that patent.  Nuclear capabilities and activities have created a shrinking world necessitating wide-ranging international co-operation. As a backward step though the World Trade Organisation (WTO) – Trade Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) Agreement gives freedom to each country to frame its patent and other IP related laws and confirms that the patent laws are ‘territorial’. Patent laws are therefore, national in scope and eventually IP rights may need to be enforced through the national courts.

According to sub-section (1) of section 20 of the Atomic Energy Act, 1962, no patents shall be granted for inventions which in the opinion of the Central Government are useful for or relate to the production, control, use or disposal of atomic energy or the prospecting, mining, extraction, production, physical and chemical treatment, fabrication, enrichment, canning or use of any prescribed substance or radioactive substance or the ensuring of safety in atomic energy operations. As a corollary to this, section 4 of the Patents Act, 1970 provides that “No patent shall be granted in respect of an invention relating to atomic energy falling within sub-section (1) of section 20 of the Atomic Energy Act, 1962”.

As a consequence,  inventions useful for or relating to the production, control, use or disposal of atomic energy or the prospecting, mining, extraction, production, physical and chemical treatment, fabrication, enrichment, canning or use of any prescribed substance or radioactive substance or the ensuring of safety in atomic energy operations can not be patented in India and in the absence of patent protection their inventors have to protect their rights through a confidentiality clause in the contract or a separate confidentiality agreement so that in case of breach, the supplier can have a right of recompense. Such remedy however, will be enforceable against the buyer and not against the government or the regulatory authority to whom information of proprietary nature is communicated by the buyer in compliance with the legal and regulatory requirements as in the absence of the privity of contract the government and regulatory authorities can not be held liable for the breach of confidentiality. Obviously intellectual property rights are available in rem while contracts normally bind the parties concerned. Yet it can be argued that the buyer may still be liable if it failed to inform the government or the regulatory authority of the proprietary nature of third party intellectual property related information submitted to them in compliance with the applicable local laws.

Though carefully drafted confidentiality agreements have a significant role in protecting intellectual property, such an agreement can, at best secure compensation for breach of contract between two parties and can hardly be a substitute for clearly delineated express laws which have binding force and are enforceable through deterrent penal provisions that can introduce order in the IP regime. Therefore, true international cooperation for protection of IP is absolutely essential which can only prosper in an atmosphere of mutual trust and equality by digging at currently prevalent fragmentary ‘territorial’ approach reflected in the WTO-TRIPS international IPR regime and the out-fashioned national laws like sub-section (1) of section 20 of the Atomic Energy Act, 1962 and Section 4 of the Patents Act, 1970. This is of great relevance in the context of highly-specialised technological endeavours such as the nuclear sector and deserves treatment of a forewarning that the host government might find it difficult to attract project participants and to achieve the desired levels of localisation and technology transfer to the extent to which the host country shows lack of respect for IP rights. New approaches to IP protection are therefore, the need of the hour.

* Advocate and a Member of the Nuclear Law Association, India and the International Nuclear Law Association. He  recently interned at the Nuclear and Treaty Law Section, Office of Legal Affairs, International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) at Vienna. Author is alone responsible for the contents of the write-up.
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Call for Papers: Third Annual Meeting of the Nuclear Law Association

“Nuclear Energy and Indian Society: Public Engagement, Risk Assessment and Legal Frameworks”

01 March 2014, India Habitat Centre, New Delhi


The Nuclear Law Association (NLA) is organising its 3rd Annual Meeting with the specific aim to deliberate on public engagement, consultation and acceptance of nuclear energy projects. The meeting further aims to seek a better understanding of the necessary legal framework for a safe nuclear energy program in India.

Call for Papers

Papers are invited from lawyers, academics, social scientists and the student community. A critical and comparative analysis of process, policy and law is encouraged. The papers must be submitted under any of the identified themes.

The following should be strictly adhered to and submitted in a single Word document:

  • An abstract of not more than 150 words.
  • The abstract should contain the research issues and a description of how the author proposes to address the issues. All in a paragraph format
  • A complete profile of the author. (2-3 lines)


  • Abstract deadline: 1 January 2014
  • Selection notification: 15 January 2014

Publication Partner

A special issue of Journal of Risk Research, Taylor and Francis will publish the invited and selected papers.  A total of 5 papers will be selected for publication. Two out of these five papers will also be offered a presentation slot at the third annual meeting of NLA.


  • Public engagement, consultation and acceptance
  • Nuclear energy safety and public discourse
  • Case studies from India on public engagement (comparative studies can be included but must include an India component)
  • Land acquisition and EIA in India
  • Safety regulations and its enforcement
  • Nuclear regulatory institutions
  • Siting, consent and project execution
  • Nuclear liability and compensation


Abstract submission and queries related to paper

Dr R Rajesh Babu, Associate Professor, Indian Institute of Management, Kolkata


For general enquires and participation

Els Reynaers Kini, Partner, M V Kini & Co, and, General Secretary, Nuclear Law Association


Don’t waver now on nuclear liability

Published in the Hindu, 20 September 2013*

Mohit Abraham & M.P. Ram Mohan**

 India’s Civil Liability for Nuclear Damages Act, 2010 (the Act), was a watershed moment in international nuclear liability jurisprudence because of the unique way in which it dealt with supplier liability. Up until this enactment, all liability in relation to a nuclear power plant was channelled exclusively to the operator. The only two situations in which a operator could claim a subsequent right of recourse against a supplier under international liability law as well as under domestic law of other countries were i) where the nuclear incident arose out of an act or omission by the supplier with an intent to cause damage (which is covered under Section 17(c) of the Act); and ii) a contractual right of recourse (which is covered under Section 17(a) of the Act).

The Act however, also introduced a novel concept of supplier liability in Section 17(b) by which the operator would have the ability to reclaim any compensation it may pay, from a supplier, if the product supplied has patent or latent defects or the service provided is substandard.

Section 17(b)

This expanded concept of supplier liability is vehemently resisted by major supplier countries including the United States, Russia and France, on the ground that these provisions are not consistent with international norms pertaining to nuclear liability. Parliament, however, deemed it fit to deviate from these international norms owing to India’s history with industrial accidents, particularly the Bhopal gas tragedy, and felt that this additional requirement contained in Section 17(b) was necessary in the Indian context.

Recent news reports (19 September 2013, The Hindu ) now indicate that the Attorney General has provided a legal opinion to the government opining that Section 17(a) provides for a right of recourse if such right is expressly provided for in a contract in writing and the operator is therefore free to choose not to incorporate such a provision in its contract with the supplier. It is understood that the opinion goes on to confirm that the operator can either incorporate a clause in the contract to cover the right of recourse under Section 17 or can waive such a right. It is also understood that the Attorney General gave this opinion from a strictly legal point of view and not policy.

An important point to note here is that a plain reading of Section 17 seems to suggest that Section 17(a), (b) and (c) are distinctive and separate. Merely because a contractual right of recourse in terms of Section 17(a) has been used or not used by an operator in his contract with a supplier, would have no bearing on Sections 17(b) and (c). This argument is strengthened, as it would be unthinkable for the government to waive a right of recourse in situations covered under Section 17(c) that deals with causing of nuclear damage with an intent to cause such damage. In other words, hypothetically, can the operator take a stand that it would waive its right of recourse against a supplier who causes nuclear damage intentionally? The answer would obviously be no. Therefore, if the exclusion cannot be made for sub-clause (c), exclusion for sub-clause (b) is also not possible and Section 17(a) cannot be the basis for reading such a right of waiver.

Another point to note is that in India, the nuclear operators, viz. the Nuclear Power Corporation of India Limited (NPCIL) and the Bhartiya Nabhikiya Vidyut Nigam Limited (BHAVINI), are wholly government owned. Therefore, the entire responsibility of setting up and running a nuclear power plant rests with these entities. Consequently, under nuclear liability laws, in the event of a nuclear accident, compensation that may be payable would have to be borne by these entities. Since these entities are government entities, the funding is also entirely by the government and, therefore, ultimately by the taxpayers of India. In this backdrop, can the Indian operator contractually agree with a supplier to waive its right of recourse under Section 17(b) of the Act to recover such compensation from a supplier who may have provided a component with “patent or latent defects”?


A preliminary analysis suggests that it would be difficult to legally sustain such a blanket waiver. The law in relation to waiver of a statutory right is well settled. The Supreme Court of India has held that a statutory right in favour of a party can be waived by such party as long as no public interest or public policy is adversely affected (see for e.g. Krishna Bahadur v. Purna Theatres (2004)). If NPCIL were to waive its right to claim subsequent compensation against a supplier who has provided a product with a “patent or latent defect” or has provided “substandard service,” it would mean that the compensation is ultimately being footed by the taxpayer despite the fact that there is a law which enables NPCIL to seek such compensation from a negligent supplier. This would squarely be against public interest and appears to be legally unsustainable.

If Parliament, in its wisdom, has decided to introduce an expanded concept of supplier liability in the Act, it can also be argued that this forms part of the public policy of India — a consideration, which it is understood, is expressly excluded from the Attorney General’s legal opinion. Further, Section 23 of the Indian Contract Act, 1872 also provides that the consideration or objects of a contract would be unlawful if it would defeat the provisions of a law or is opposed to public policy. While a strong case can be made out that such waiver would defeat the provision of the Act, it can also be argued that it would be against the public policy of India. The Supreme Court in Rattan Chand Hira Chand v. Askar Nawaz Jung (1991) held that a contract which has a tendency to injure public interests or public welfare is one against public policy and what constitutes an injury to public interests or welfare would depend upon the times in which the issue arises. It is therefore important to remember that the ultimate interpretation of these provisions and contractual arrangements is going to be by an Indian court in the backdrop of a nuclear incident. In such a backdrop, it is more likely for an Indian court to adopt an interpretation that rejects an attempt at circumventing the provision of the Act by providing a waiver of a right of recourse, as this would be against public interest.

Parliament has framed a law that has an expansive concept of supplier liability and all entities, foreign or Indian, are subject to this law. If there were problems in the implementation of the law, then the right course would be for Parliament to amend such laws. The Act, as it stands, has various ambiguities in relation to the scope of supplier liability. These ambiguities are undoubtedly a hurdle for foreign suppliers and ought to be clarified or removed.

Some of these hurdles can be avoided by providing for contractual provisions by which the Indian operator provides timely feedback to the supplier in relation to the functioning of a particular component or perhaps even certifying after a period of time of usage of the component, that the component does not suffer from a “patent or latent defect”. This kind of an approach by the operator may be more helpful for the supplier community rather than an approach in which the Indian operator says it is giving a blanket waiver of its statutory right of recourse.

The Act does have its flaws but it has raised some key challenges to international liability principles that historically insulated the supplier from liability in practically all situations. It should be borne in mind that these provisions will be interpreted by an Indian court in the context of a nuclear incident. Any watering down of the law by the operator offering waivers of statutory provisions would only increase the ambiguities, and is in no one’s interests, including those of the foreign suppliers.

**(Mohit Abraham is a Partner with PXV Law Partners and M.P. Ram Mohan is Fellow, The Energy and Resources Institute (TERI). Both are on the governing board of the Nuclear Law Association of India. Views expressed are personal)


Winter Course on Nuclear Law, New Delhi

Winter Course on Nuclear Law

Jointly organised by

Nuclear Law Association India & National Law University, Delhi

Monday 18 – Friday 22 November, 2013

Participation form


The objective of the NLAI-NLU Winter Course is to:

  1. provide the participants with a basic understanding of nuclear science and technology,
  2. understand the special nature of India’s nuclear energy history and international engagement,
  3. expose the participants to the functioning of a nuclear power plant,
  4. comprehensively equip students to appreciate and critically examine international law relating to civil nuclear energy law, and
  5. study India’s nuclear law, regulatory process and judicial decisions.

Participants (max. 30):
- Lawyers, law teachers and researchers
- Company executives
- Regulators
- Legal advisers and counsels
- PhD students and 4th and 5th year law students

Certificate: Certificate will be given to all the participants.
Venue: The Program will be held at National Law University, Delhi.



Stephen G. Burns, Head of Legal Affairs of the Nuclear Energy Agency of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, Paris.

SK Chande, former Vice-Chairman Atomic Energy Regulatory Board (AERB)

Dr. Ravi B Grover, Director, Homi Bhabha National Institute (HBNI) and Homi Bhabha Chair Professor, Department of Atomic Energy.

Prof P C Kesavan, Distinguished Fellow, MS Swaminathan Research Foundation

Dr. Jitendra Kumar, Legal Adviser, Department of Atomic Energy, Government of India and Expert Member, International Expert Group on Nuclear Liability (INLEX), IAEA.

Dr M P Ram Mohan, Fellow, The Energy and Resources Institute (TERI), New Delhi & Chairman, Nuclear Law Association.

Odette Jankowitsch-Prevor, independent expert on nuclear and international law, and former Senior Legal Officer, International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).

Patrick Reyners, former Head of Legal Affairs at OECD-NEA, Paris and Visiting faculty at Dundee, Montpellier, Tokyo and Abu Dhabi universities.

Y. Ramulu, Deputy General Manager, General Insurance Corporation of India (India’s nuclear insurer)

Ambassador Sheel Kant Sharma, served as Ambassador of India in Vienna and Permanent Representative to UN offices including the IAEA and as Governor on its Board of Governors; and is a former Secretary-General of SAARC.

Wolfram Tonhauser, Senior Legal Officer, IAEA (to be confirmed)

Laura Rockwood, Section Head, Non-Proliferation and Policy Making, Office of Legal Affairs, IAEA

Fees for 5-day course

1. Rs. 15,000 per person, including lodging.
2. Rs. 12,000 per person, excluding lodging.
3. Rs. 12,000 per person, if 2 people join of a same organization.
4. Rs. 7,500 for NLAI members, without lodging.
5. Rs. 5,000 for students (PhD, LL.M. and 4th/ 5th year LL.B), without lodging.

Accommodation is provided on request and will be charged extra for categories 4 and 5.
The fee includes transport charge for the Narora Nuclear Power visit and course material.
The above rates are applicable for participants who confirm their enrollment before Friday 25th October, 2013. A 15% increase in all mentioned rates will apply after this date.

Payment details:
1. Cheque/DD should be in favour of:
“Registrar, National Law University Delhi” – payable at New Delhi

2. Address to send the cheque / DD to:
National Law University Delhi Campus,
Sector 14 Dwarka, Delhi

3. With accompanying letter/ note that it is to participate in the:
“Nuclear law course”

Course Schedule


Day 1 (Monday 18 Nov):

Introduction & Nuclear Science, Technology and International regulation
Nuclear energy development : Science to technology (a historical perspective + nuclear energy fuel cycle + current NPPs / next gen + economics of nuclear)
India’s nuclear energy program and governance structure
Introduction to nuclear law & nuclear-law related treaties and the role of the IAEA
NPT & IAEA Safeguards
Nuclear trade control & the US-India Agreement, 2008, NSG negotiations and India specific IAEA safeguards agreement

Day 2 (Tuesday 19 Nov):

Radiation Protection & Nuclear Security
Radiation protection – Basic understanding of the philosophy of radiation protection and the international system of standards.
History/policies/concepts – Convention on the physical protection of nuclear material, 1980
Nuclear security: International Instruments + 2005 Amendment
Illicit trafficking and nuclear terrorism – (UN Convention on the Suppression of Acts of Nuclear Terrorism, 2005)
Case study – group work

Day 3 (Wednesday 20):

Study visit to Narora Nuclear Power Plant, Uttar Pradesh

Day 4 (Thursday 21 Nov):

Nuclear safety & regulatory systems and structures– international & India
History / policies / concepts of nuclear safety and safety culture
(IAEA) Code of Conduct on the Safety and Security of Radioactive Sources
Nuclear safety conventions: Convention on Nuclear Safety; Convention on the safety of radioactive waste management and on the safety of and spent fuel management
Convention on Early Notification of a Nuclear Accident, 1986; Convention on Assistance in the Case of a Nuclear Accident or Radiological Emergency, 1987
Nuclear regulatory structures and regimes – purpose and reason, its guidelines on effective and efficient regulatory approaches – comparative regulatory regimes
Best practices in regulation, consent process, comparative studies from other countries, public consultation and involvement
India’s current regulatory structure and proposed under the Nuclear Safety Regulatory Authority Bill, 2011
Case study – group work

Day 5 (Friday 22 Nov):

Nuclear liability – International & India
International nuclear liability principles + Vienna, Paris and CSC regimes and developments post-Fukushima
Selected country liability regimes, such as the Price Anderson Act, Austrian Liability Act, etc.
The Civil Liability for Nuclear Damage Act, 2010 and related Rules
Nuclear insurance – international insurance pools & domestic developments
International law of nuclear transport
Case study

Conclusion – dinner event


Kudankulam: a settled issue

K.S. Parthasarathy *

The Mint 16 June 2013 **

Criticizing nuclear power as an inherently dangerous energy source is now a fashion in the world. Such criticism is especially pernicious and misplaced in an energy starved country like India.

One way of holding nuclear energy as an unsafe option is to claim that nuclear regulation in India is weak and the regulatory authority, the Atomic Energy Regulatory Board (AERB), is not independent and is marred with conflicts of interest due to its organizational structure. Nothing could be further from the truth.


In a recent article (Kudankulam: the unsettled queries, Mint, 5 June), M.V. Ramana has tried to attempt to divert readers’ attention from the far-reaching, landmark judgement of the Supreme Court on setting up of the Kudankulam nuclear power plant. Based on the existing legal framework, the court decided the unsettled (or settled) queries on matters related to nuclear power in India.

It has been asserted that the apex court ventured beyond its brief and commented on areas that were outside its provenance. This is not true. The unease of Ramana and his fellow activists is understandable. The court only gave judicial sanctity to the necessity of setting up nuclear power plants in India as it is the national policy implemented by the government, which is empowered to do so by the Atomic Energy Act 1962.

The views of anti-nuclear activists are often inconsistent. For example, Ramana does not see anything wrong in the Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) inappropriately commenting on how AERB should be structured even when the Parliament is considering a Bill to address the issues effectively.

The fact is that AERB enjoys de facto autonomy. It has shut down operating nuclear power plants, reduced the power of some plants and stopped construction of projects on several occasions when it felt that safety was compromised.

This writer once counted 50 such instances. For example, the Nuclear Power Corp. of India Ltd (NPCIL) was forced to comply with some of the restrictions prescribed by AERB, a step that led to the loss of millions of rupees in revenue for the former. Had AERB been a toothless body that it often is claimed to be, it could never have ensured such steps. AERB was never found wanting whenever the need arose. In the heat of activism, these inconvenient facts are often ignored.

The apex court did not find any frailty in the legal framework. The assiduously maintained perception of nuclear critics that AERB is not independent did not sway the court. The court determined that for setting up the project, the project proponent took all safety requirements on site and off site and followed the code of practices laid down by AERB, based on nationally and internationally recognized safety methods.

The court relied on the unanimous opinion of expert committees that there will not be any deleterious effects due to radiation from the operation of Kudankulam plant, and that adequate safety measures have already been taken.

Another point of contention among anti-nuclear activists is that there is little nuclear expertise outside the department of atomic energy (DAE) to constitute an independent Nuclear Safety Regulatory Authority. This would indeed be an issue if AERB was a toothless body. But, as argued above, this is not the case. AERB has over 220 highly qualified and competently trained officers, over 50 of them with more than 15 years of experience in nuclear and radiation technology.

The court endorsed the stand of AERB and its committee that given the robust safety features of Kudankulam reactors, which belong to generation-III plus category, the recommendations of AERB expert committee are only for safety enhancement as a matter of abundant caution.

AERB has also been faulted for permitting loading of fuel even though the recommendations of its committee had not been fully implemented at Kudankulam.

After the fire incident at the Narora nuclear power in Uttar Pradesh in March 1993, it was felt that roots of the turbine blades of the pressurized heavy water reactors must be inspected. Based on a technical review, AERB allowed Nuclear Power Corp. to shut down the reactors sequentially for inspection and not simultaneously. AERB applied its engineering judgement on the issue and that did not compromise safety in any manner. From this perspective, the happenings at Kudankulam are not unusual or even suspect.

NPCIL got a shot in its arm when the Supreme Court declared that the corporation, while setting up the power plant at Kudankulam, had satisfied environmental principles such as sustainable development, corporate social responsibility, inter- and intragenerational equity and so on to further the implementation of the policy to develop, control and use atomic energy for the welfare of citizens and for the economic growth of the country.

This should rest the fear that establishing a nuclear power plant at Kudankulam will make inroads into the right to livelihood guaranteed under Article 21 of the Constitution. If anything, establishing such a plant will only protect the right to life under this article by achieving larger public interest. The court has said this very clearly.

The court did what was best for the country. If national policies, decided by elected representatives and executed by legally responsible agencies, are challenged on the grounds of perception by small groups, however well-intentioned they may think they are, we will not progress in any field. Ramana advises us passionately, persistently and persuasively. That is to be admired. But we need not accept his advice in national interest. For the moment, Kudankulam is a settled issue.

*K.S. Parthasarathy is a former secretary of the Atomic Energy Regulatory Board.


Kudankulam: the unsettled queries

M V Ramana * Mint, 05 June 2013**

On 6 May, the Supreme Court dismissed a plea seeking to halt the commissioning of the Kudankulam nuclear reactors in Tamil Nadu till the implementation of key additional safety measures recommended after the catastrophic Fukushima accident of 2011. The court’s argument was that the project is “part of the national policy” and it “is not for courts to determine whether a particular policy or a particular decision taken in fulfilment of a policy, is fair”. Regardless of one’s opinion about that assertion, what is disturbing about the judgement is that it ventured well beyond its brief and commented on areas that were outside its provenance.

The first set of comments relate to the idea that nuclear power is “an important element in India’s energy mix” and that the risks involved are justified by the benefits. For a source that constitutes 2.3% of India’s electricity generation capacity to be described as important is, of course, questionable. More to the point, this endorsement of nuclear power is at odds with the larger argument about courts not taking a stance on policies. If the apex court cannot weigh in on a policy decision, it’s in an even worse position to decide on India’s energy mix or if the expenditure so far justifies people having “to put up” with “minor inconveniences”, “minor radiological detriments” and “minor environmental detriments”.


In a second set of comments based on various documents and safety codes laid out by the Atomic Energy Regulatory Board (AERB), the court “notice(d) that adequate and effective protection measures are in place”. The problem here is that the court’s confidence in the effectiveness of protection measures does not comport well with the actual performance of AERB, in particular its lack of independence and its inability, and perhaps its unwillingness, to force the Nuclear Power Corp. of India Ltd (NPCIL) to undertake stringent safety measures. The government’s efforts at constituting the Nuclear Safety Regulatory Authority (NSRA), to “preserve the functional independence of the regulatory board”, is indicative of the problems with the setup.

The most pertinent illustration of AERB’s weaknesses is its actions on Kudankulam. Even though AERB committee set up following Fukushima “to review the safety of Indian NPPs (nuclear power plants) against external events of natural origin” came out with some sensible safety recommendations, when push came to shove, AERB permitted loading of fuel even though these recommendations had not been fully implemented in Kudankulam. None other than a former chairperson of AERB, A. Gopalakrishnan, has termed this decision “a total volte-face…and contrary to the spirit and recommendations of AERB post-Fukushima safety evaluation committee”. By endorsing NPCIL and AERB’s decisions, albeit with conditions, the apex court’s judgement might further entrench the lacunae in NPCIL’s safety culture (see the description in my recent book The Power of Promise: Examining Nuclear Energy in India).

Inexplicably, the court’s decision makes no mention of a devastating report from last year by the Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) of India, the body mandated to “promote accountability, transparency and good governance”, on the subordinate legal status of AERB and its multiple failings to ensure safety of nuclear installations in the country. CAG observed that AERB had no effective independence from the department of atomic energy (DAE). Of the 3,200 recommendations by AERB’s safety review committee for operating plants, DAE and related organizations had not complied with 375, with 137 recommendations from 2004 or earlier.

The reliance on just the nuclear establishment’s testimony demonstrates myopia regarding a very basic matter—the lack of trust regarding AERB. The situation for any regulatory agency is like that of Pompeia, Julius Caesar’s wife, of whom, Caesar is supposed to have said, “Caesar’s wife must be above suspicion”. Public suspicion about AERB and its lack of independence is justifiably high. At least until the regulatory structure is completely overhauled, the court’s call for “safety standards in which public can have full confidence” cannot be fulfilled.

The chances of such a major overhaul are, unfortunately, slim. The proposed fix—replacing AERB with a new NSRA—won’t work. As currently envisioned, many of the key processes involving NSRA’s appointment, policy setting and budgetary allocation will continue to be controlled, in effect, by the Atomic Energy Commission. As CAG observed last year, the “fact that the chairman, AEC and the secretary, DAE are one and the same…negates the very essence of institutional separation of regulatory and non-regulatory functions”. Further, there is little nuclear expertise outside the DAE parivar to constitute an independent NSRA. Developing such expertise requires a decade or two of deliberate effort, which is so far missing.

For the reasons mentioned above and many more, the court’s decision cannot settle the contentious dispute over Kudankulam, or the larger questions about the expansion of nuclear energy in the country. That is still a matter for democratic debate. And all the familiar problems with nuclear energy—including high costs, susceptibility to catastrophic accidents, and the unsolved problem of dealing with radioactive waste—should play a role in that debate.

* M.V. Ramana is with the Program on Science and Global Security at the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs, Princeton University



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