The nuclear suppliers’ liability has been limited to 5 years. Why are the people then asked to risk their lives and livelihoods for hundreds of years?

P K Sundaram

Courtesy: THE HINDU

 

Indian government has come out with Civil Liability for the Nuclear Damage Rules, 2011 to implement the Civil Liability for Nuclear Damage Act passed by the Indian parliament last year. These rules further reduce the nuclear suppliers’ liability by stipulating a “product liability period”, after which the corporates supplying nuclear equipments can not be hold liable in case of any nuclear accident. In principle, the duration of liability period is left open to be decided by the suppliers themselves. Going a step even further, in place of giving a minimum liability period (which should be at least up to the life of the reactors, i.e. around 60 years), the government has indicated a maximum period of 5 years, linking it to the Section 9 of Atomic Energy (Radiation protection) Rules of 2004.

Undermining the Indian Parliament

Last year, the UPA government’s Nuclear Liability bill’s initial draft attracted serious criticism from the civil society, media and the independent experts.  Rounds of objections, protests and consultations pressurized the government to increase the maximum liability cap to 1500 crore rupees from 500 crores. The government also had to reluctantly include nuclear operator’s ‘right of recourse’ against nuclear suppliers.

Immediately after passage of the liability law, the international nuclear corporates as well as the Indian suppliers started a tirade against the liability regime and demanded a total indemnification from suppliers liability. The Indian government, to allay the concerns of suppliers, signed the Convention on Supplementary Compensation (CSC) in the same week. But there was still an ambiguity regarding supermacy of the national law vis-a-vis the international obligations in the event of an actual nuclear accident. The foreign suppliers, particularly the US, kept pushing India to modify its nuclear liability regime and tailor it to comply entirely with the CSC which indemnifies the suppliers totally. Very recently, the US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton asked India to get its Nuclear Liability Act vetted by the IAEA to ensure compliance with the CSC. With the inordinate delay in the formulation of the Rules, and the pressures from corporate lobbies in open media gaze, the apprehension that the suppliers’ liability might be reduced in these rules was already being voiced by concerned experts and citizen.

International dictates

The media reports have openly called the formulation of Liability Rules as a move to please the US President Barak Obama whom the Indian Prime-Minister is meeting this week.  Apart from the US, the other foreign suppliers such as France and Russia have also been asking for exemption from suppliers’ liability. Amid ongoing protests by the local communities, the former chief of Atomic Energy Commission (AEC) clarified that both the No.1 and No. 2 reactors in Koodankulam would be out of the purview of the Nuclear Liability Act.

While limiting the liability period for 5 years renders suppliers liability leaves the suppliers almost scot-free, the citizen’s right to file tort claims under Section 47 of the Liability Act is already fraught with complications as it provides only for individual claims by victims, not a collective damage claim. GE-Hitachi and Toshiba-Westinghouse, the US-based suppliers, have expressed displeasure in the past over this provision.

Rising voices of Opposition

While Greenpeace India has said: “The government has undone the efforts put in by thousands of individuals and organisations that fought for a stringent Liability Act. The lessons learnt from Bhopal tragedy have clearly not made any difference to the government. For them foreign interest is paramount and much above wellbeing of its peoples.” Both main opposition groups in the parliament – the BJP and the Left have criticized the dilution of Liability Act. The CPIM (M) has demanded that parliament review the rules and adopt steps to ensure that the spirit and content of the law is not diluted in any way.

Very recently, in their response to Dr. Kalam’s article assuring safety of Koodankulam nuclear power project, eminent physicists Suvrat Raju and M V Ramana wrote:

“There is a very simple indirect test by means of which even a non-expert can evaluate the question of nuclear safety. If there was really a “0% chance” of an accident, why would nuclear vendors work so hard to indemnify themselves? Atomstroyeksport, the vendor of the Kudankulam plant is protected by a special intergovernmental agreement, which would prevent victims from suing it in the event of an accident. Companies like Westinghouse are holding back on reactor sales to India, since the new liability law includes some very mild liability for suppliers. When nuclear companies are unwilling to stake their financial health on these claims of “100% safety,” how can the government ask local residents to risk their lives?”

We must now ask Dr. Kalam to speak up again and assure the nuclear suppliers this time that they should feel “100% safe” about committing liability.  We also must demand an answer from the AEC chief who has put this number as “one in infinity” !

 

Liability regimes around the world

(Courtesy: Rediff.com)

The United States of America, which pioneered the concept of nuclear liability, has shied away from being a party to any international nuclear liability convention; yet it has had the world’s first comprehensive nuclear liability law since 1957 — the Price Anderson Act which is central to addressing the question of liability for any nuclear accident.

It currently provides $10 billion as cover without cost to the public or government and without fault needing to be proven. It covers power reactors, research reactors, and all other nuclear facilities.

In the United Kingdom, the Energy Act 1983 brought legislation into line with earlier revisions to the Paris/Brussels Conventions and set a new limit of liability for particular installations.

In 1994 this limit was increased to £140 million for each major installation, so that the operator would be liable for claims up to this amount and needed to insure accordingly.

Beyond £140 million, the current Paris/Brussels system applies, with government contribution of SDR 300 million (€360 million).

Germany has unlimited operator liability and requires €2.5 billion security which must be provided by the operator for each plant. This security is partly covered by insurance, up to €256 million.

France requires financial security of € 91 million per plant.

Switzerland (which has signed but not yet ratified the international conventions) requires operators to insure to €600 million. It is proposed to increase this to €1.1 billion and ratify the Paris and Brussels conventions.

Finland has ratified the 2004 Joint Protocol relating to the Paris and Vienna conventions and in anticipation of this coming into force has a Nuclear Liability Act, 1972 amended in 2005 which requires operators to take at least € 700 million insurance cover.

Sweden has also ratified the 2004 Joint Protocol relating to Paris and Vienna conventions. The country’s Nuclear Liability Act requires operators to be insured for at least SEK 3300 million (EUR 345 million), beyond which the state will cover up to SEK 6 billion per incident.

The Czech Republic is moving towards ratifying the amendment to the Vienna Convention and in 2009 increased the mandatory minimum insurance cover required for each reactor to CZK 8 billion (€ 296 million).

In Canada the Nuclear Liability and Compensation Act, 1976 is also in line with international conventions and establishes the licensee’s absolute and exclusive liability for third party damage.

The limit of C$75 million per power plant set in 1976 as the insurance cover required for individual licensees was increased to $650 million in the act’s 2008 revision, though this has not yet been passed.

Japan is not party to any international liability convention but its laws namely the Law on Compensation for Nuclear Damage and Law on

Contract for Liability Insurance for Nuclear Damage, confirm to the international conventions and are revised about every ten years.

Plant operator liability is exclusive and absolute, and power plant operators must provide a financial security amount of 60 billion yen ($ 600 million). From 2010, this doubles to 120 billion yen ($ 1.2 billion). Beyond that, the government provides coverage, and liability is unlimited.

Russia is party to the Vienna convention since 2005 and has a domestic nuclear insurance pool comprising 23 insurance companies covering liability of some $350 million.

Ukraine is a party to the Vienna convention since 1996 and also became signatory Joint Protocol and the CSC; and domestic liability law of 1995 has accordingly been revised. Operator liability is capped at 150 million SDRs (€180 million).

China is not party to any international liability convention but is an active member of the international insurance pooling system and its 1986 interim domestic law on nuclear liability corresponds with international conventions.