Despite a behemoth of bureaucracy called the National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA), the nuclear facilities in India are a disaster in waiting. Eminent experts Dr. EAS Sarma and Prof. T. Shivaji Rao tell us why:

The Department of Atomic Energy (DAE) and the National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA) are both headed by the Prime Minister. NDMA is a statutory authority set up under the Disaster Management Act of 2005. DAE and NDMA are expected to put in place an internally consistent, credible and operable plan of emergency preparedness for each nuclear power project in the country, in coordination with the local authorities.

nuclear industry cartoonSuch a plan should take into account the capabilities of the local administration. The public should be fully involved in being aware of the plan and the modalities of its implementation. If a Fukushima-like accident takes place, NPCIL and the State administration should be able to evacuate people as per the plan within hours.

NDMA recognises that, if such an accident is triggered either by a natural event, or by a terrorist attack or sabotage, or by a human or mechanical lapse, it will be a serious disaster that will be beyond the coping capability of the State authorities.

At Kudankulam, the mock drill intended to establish the feasibility of emergency evacuation of people in case of an accident, which is a prerequisite for grant of permission to operate the reactors to prove nuclear safety, was conducted for a short period of half a day for a very minor accident, that too at one village 7km from the plant site, although the regulations required that a full fledged mock drill should be conducted for a maximum credible accident covering an area with a radius of 30km around the project site. Such an exercise must last for at least three days as per the international standards because even the Chernobyl and Fukushima accidents continued emissions for about ten days during the explosions. Thus Kudankulam mock drill failed to comply with this and therefore cannot be assumed to have proven the feasibility of the emergency plan for the safety of the people. The court order on Kudankulam pointed to the need for such a full-fledged mock drill up to 30km. Japan evacuated people upto 40km.distance from Fukushima accident site.

The clean-up and the compensation costs for Fukushima have so far come to Rs. 4 lakhs which is several times more than the cost of the reactors. To the best of our understanding, neither the Centre nor the State is financially prepared to meet such a large contingent liability in the event of a major disaster.

There are internal inconsistencies in the plans of NDMA and NPCIL. Neither seems to be aware of the latter’s plan as no mention has been made of this. Similarly, the averments filed on behalf of Tamil Nadu government before the courts has no clarity w.r.t. the financial and the logistic requirements of a full-fledged mock drill. The fact that neither NPCIL nor NDMA has cared to update their respective emergency preparedness plans post-Fukushima give the impression that neither of them has accorded due importance to safety.

Recently, the Prime Minister had assured the nation that he would not allow anything being done, that will compromise the safety of the people living around nuclear power plants. In view of this, we earnestly appeal to him to get the above apprehensions examined independently and take necessary action to remove the inconsistencies and cover the gaps so as to ensure public safety.

Former Secretary to Government of India

Prof T. Shivaji Rao
Director, Centre for Environmental Studies
Gitam University