AEC calls Kudankulam shut-downs serious, but institutionalised nuclear complacency continues: Dr. EAS Sarma

India’s nuclear establishment has finally woken up to the reality of the alarming number of “routine” shut-downs and outages, with the country’s Atomic Energy Commission making a public statement about it. However, while the institutionalised complacency in the form of a non-independent and non-transparent regulator continues, the actual operator company, the NPCIL, remains in denial of the problems plaguing the reactors since their commissioning. India’s former Union Power Secretary, Dr. E A S Sarma, has written an open letter to the AEC, the AERB and the NPCIL which we are publishing below with his permission. – Kumar Sundaram, Editor,


Shri Kamlesh Nilakanth Vyas
Chairman, Atomic Energy Commission(AEC)

Shri G Nageswars Rao
Atomic Energy Regulatory Board(AERB)

Shri S K Sharma
Nuclear Power Corporation of India Limited (NPCIL)

Dear S/Shri Vyas, Nageswara Rao and Sharma,

I refer to a news report dated 22-4-2019 that Chairman, AEC has confirmed the frequent occurrence of shut-downs at Kudankulam Units 1&2. This is a matter of serious public concern.

The above factual position got revealed by an NGO filing an RTI application, whereas NPCIL ought to have disclosed the information to the public on its own.

I have tried to find out whether there is any mention of this either at the website of NPCIL or at the website of AERB. Both these websites are bland, without any indication of the number and the duration of the shut-downs and AERB’s response on it. Both websites give the impression that Kudankulam is doing well!

Post-Fukushima, there has been a worldwide concern about the safety of nuclear power plants. There has been a clamour for empowering the national regulatory authorities so as to tighten control over the safety of the nuclear facilities. There was a half-hearted attempt on the part of DAE to introduce a Bill to set up a Nuclear Safety Regulatory Authority (NSRA) in 2011 on which the concerned Parliamentary Standing Committee had suggested several improvements. That Bill has not seen the light of the day. DAE’s continuing silence in that respect has sent a negative message that it has no intention to loosen its regulatory grip on AERB which is expected to “regulate” the nuclear facilities in the country. The least that DAE could have done is to enhance the safety oversight and take the public into greater confidence. I am afraid that DAE has not responded on either of these requirements.

In this connection, I enclose an article that appeared in my name in DiaNuke sometime ago on how AERB compares with its counterparts elsewhere. I am yet to elicit any response on this from any one of you.

Coming to the Kudankulam shut-downs, I have enclosed here some documents downloaded from the Swiss nuclear regulator’s website. It shows how the Swiss nuclear operators are compelled to disclose detailed information of the events taking place at their plants. It also shows how transparent the Swiss nuclear regulator has been on the operational aspects of the Swiss nuclear power plants, how concerned it is about the manufacturing flaws noticed in the equipment supplied and set up by some European reactor suppliers and how detailed its responses have been. There is a special mention of manufacturing shortcomings noticed in the case of the equipment supplied by Areva, the same company from whom NPCIL will import reactors for its Jaitapur project.

Should not DAE and AERB similarly enhance the transparency of NPCIL’s operations and provide more details to the public?

Though Madras High Court had directed NPCIL to conduct mock drills (see the DiaNuke article) at Kudankulam, NPCIL has not cared to comply with that direction.

I get the impression that DAE/ AERB/ NPCIL feel that they owe no answer to the public at large! In a democratic system like ours, it is not an appropriate way to respond.

Considering that DAE functions under the direct oversight of the Prime Minister, this is all the more disturbing.


Yours sincerely,

E A S Sarma
Former Secretary to GOI



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