We are reproducing here an open letter that has been sent by the former Union Power Secretary Dr. EAS Sarma to the senior officials of the Department of Atomic Energy and the Atomic Energy Regulatory Board after the revelation of regular disposal of contaminated waste water into the Ocean from the Mumbai-based Bhabha Atomic Research. Centre(BARC)
14-40-4/1 Gokhale Road
Email: [email protected]
Shri S S Bajaj
Atomic Energy Regulatory Bord (AERB)
Dear Shri Bajaj,
Subject:- Release of radioactive water into the sea from the BARC facilities- Call for a transparent enquiry
I enclose a copy of a report that appeaed today in the Indian Express on some BARC facilities releasing water into the sea with more than the permissible limits of radioactivity. Apparently, this report was based on a complaint lodged by a whistle blower scientist within BARC for which he has been subject to harassment. The complaint is far too serious to be ignored and brushed aside, as it has far reaching implications for the health of the people, as once radioactive isotopes enter the food chain, their long-term implications can be severe.
The Whistle Blowers Protection Act, 2011 mandates the authorities to provide complete protection to the whistle blower. I hope that AERB takes this complaint into consideration and conducts an impartial investigation so that, if the facts reported turn out to be true, it may take the necessary punitive action against the culprits, initiate corrective steps to contain and neutralise the contamination and tighten the its own safety norms, monitoring and enforcement systems.
I am surprised that such reports of radioactive contamination of the environment should come to public knowledge through the media, not a safety regulator like AERB. I do not find even a whisper of this complaint and the action taken at AERB’s website!
AERB is well aware of the public concerns about its own functional autonomy as it continues to be a body subordinate to the DAE which operates the BARC facilities and the power plants of the Nuclear Power Corporation (NPCIL). Till such time that a new law is introduced to impart independence to AERB, the public expects AERB to demonstrate its professional role by monitoring the operations of BARC and NPCIL from the safety point of view, conducting transparent investigations and taking the public into confidence.
The public perception is that DAE has often used the veil of secrecy under the Atomic Energy Act to keep matters of public importance from the public eye. Such a perception draws its strength from the way NPCIL has far to often hidden the occurrence of accidents at its power plants and the public had come to know of the same through investigative journalism and news reports based on it. What was the role played by AERB in such cases?
Under the Right to Information Act, all matters of public importance need to be placed in the public domain. AERB, as a statutory regulator cannot ignore its obligation under the Act.
I may remind you that the website of the Prime Minister’s Office prominently refers to the need for transparency in the functioning of all public authorities and AERB should make every effort to uphold the spirit underlying it.
Against this background, I request you to
- Take immediate note of the whistle blower’s complaint and conduct an impartial, transparent investigation in order to take corrective steps if necessary and tighten its own internal systems of monitoring and enforcement of public safety norms.
- Direct DAE to provide full protection to the whistle blower in this case so that he may not be subject to any harassment whatsoever
I hope that AERB will act firmly in such a manner that it will evoke public confidence in its role as an independent regulator.
E A S Sarma
Former Secretary to GOI