Unclear Liability Laws, An Invitation to Disaster

Anamika Badal

“We should never reconsider the rules of the game once the game has begun. And we should hold the rules till the game is over,” says Russia.

Oh yes? What game and who decides what is the end? Death and devastation perhaps?

While it is welcome that the Indian government has finally made its stand clear on the applicability of the nuclear liability law at Koodankulam, it opens up many important questions. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh last month publicly asked the question on the applicability of Civil Liability for Nuclear Damage (CLND) Act for the proposed Koodankulam reactors 3 and 4 to be built by Russia.

Prior to the passage of this Act, India did not have clear laws relating to the liability of nuclear suppliers/operators in case of an accident. The Act sought to provide some relief to those living near these reactors and who would certainly face serious and long term consequences in case of a nuclear accident.

The Act was passed in 2010 but is now sought to be diluted by the government and favors the suppliers of nuclear reactors. The foreign suppliers will now seek insurance for their projects which will push up their costs – money that will mean lesser profits for them, or face crippling financial losses in case of an accident.

The Government of India passed gazette Rules in 2011 which clearly benefit (foreign) suppliers. The LokSabha Standing Committee on Subordinate Legislation too,came down strongly against attempts by the governmentto dilute the law. Former Attorney General of India, Soli Sorabjee,too has expressed his view that the current laws of the land should take precedence.

In case the CLND Act applies only to reactors 3 and 4, the question is ‘what happens in case of a multiple reactor failure?’

Last year at Fukushima, Japan there was asimilar situation, when multiple reactorsmet with accidentssimultaneously.The area around the plant had to be evacuated and still remains out of bounds.

In case such an incident occurs at Koodankulam where multiple reactors have simultaneous accidents, which law will prevail?

This would lead to long and unnecessary delays in getting relief or compensation for those affected. The matter would certainly be highly litigated and will deny prompt or adequate help.

India has already seen the world’s worst industrial disaster occurring in Bhopal. The time and effort spent in litigation there is well known.

All this can be avoided if ALL the reactors at Koodankulam come under the purview of the CLND Act. Moreover, it is important to note that since this project has not yet been commissioned, the whole project should be brought under the purview of the CLND Act.

While Russia – which is setting up the Koodankulam project – is against including the new reactors liable CLND, it is extremely important that the government of India maintain its laws so as to afford safety of its citizens and its environment.

Selective application of different laws to the same project will certainly result in confusion, litigations and misery for people who would already have suffered damages in case of a nuclear accident.






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