Why is India bent on bailing out the French nuclear industry at the cost of its own citizens’ lives?

Editor’s Note: Even as the French nuclear regulator ASN has put the nuclear power company EDF on a safety watch after repeated warning in recent years about vulnerabilities in the EPR design, the Modi government in India continues to push for the purchase of 6 EPRs for setting up in Jaitapur. We are publishing this open letter written by the former Union Power Secretary Dr. EAS Sarma to the Secretary of the Department of Atomic Energy, Government of India in this context. The letter deserves wider circulation.


E A S Sarma
14-40-4/1 Gokhale Road
Visakhapatnam 530002


Shri Kamlesh Nilkanth Vyas
Secretary, Dept of Atomic Energy (DEA) &
Chairman, Atomic Energy Commission (AEC)
Govt of India

Dear Shri Vyas,

I have written numerous letters to your Department cautioning on the safety concerns arising in the case of EPR reactors to be supplied by EDF/ Areva for the proposed Jaitapur nuclear power project in Maharashtra. A copy of my last letter dated 8-7-2019 addressed to the Prime Minister, who heads DEA, and copies of my earlier letters are forwarded here for your reference. I find that DEA has not cared to respond to any of my letters nor it appears that the officers of DEA have cared to brief the Prime Minister on the safety concerns that plague EDF/ Areva.

During his recent visit to France, the Prime Minister signed a joint agreement with his French counterpart on August 22, 2019. From a reading of that agreement, it appears that there was no discussion whatsoever between the two leaders on the safety aspects of the EPR reactors being manufactured by EDF. The agreement also failed to refer to any possible exchange of information between the nuclear regulators of the two countries on the subject.

I have enclosed copies of the technical notices issued by ASN(here, here, and here), the French nuclear regulator to EDF on the numerous faults and deviations in the manufacture of EPR reactors supplied for the Flamanville nuclear power project in Finland. Extracted below is a para that highlights the multiple failures on the part of EDF.

“In the case of Flamanville 3, failures occurred at various steps in the production of these welds: in the specification of the requirements for the subcontractor in charge of producing the welds, during qualification of the weld procedures, in the choice of filler materials and during the acceptance tests, during production of the control assemblies and during the non-destructive inspections. These failures led to deviations not only from the break preclusion requirements, but also from the manufacturing code used by yourselves”

The problems faced by EDF in the manufacture of the reactors seem to be of a generic nature that could extend to the EPR reactors being supplied to China and other countries including India.

In the Indian context, the concern about safety has two dimensions.

First, there are doubts about the capability of EDF/ Areva to ensure the highest safety standards in the case of their EPR reactors which are proposed to be supplied for Jaitapur.

Second, the Indian nuclear regulator, Atomic Energy Regulatory Board (AERB) is not administratively independent of DAE whose facilities it is expected to regulate. As I had mentioned in my numerous letters in the past, immediately following the occurrence of the ghastly Fukushima accident in Japan in 2011, DAE, in the heat of the moment, introduced a draft legislation in the Parliament to set up an independent regulatory authority to replace AERB. The Bill was discussed threadbare by the concerned Parliamentary Standing Committee who suggested a number of important changes in the Bill to strengthen the hands of the new regulator. However, DAE had never come back to the Parliament with an improved version of the Bill for its enactment. Neither the then UPA govt not its successor NDA govt had cared to get the Bill enacted, leading to a serious gap in regulation.

Compounding this is the fact that the UPA govt had enacted a law that caps the liability devolving on the reactor supplier in the event of a serious accident at any of the projects for which reactors would be imported. This has introduced an element of moral hazard that incentivises the reactor manufacturer to cut corners in the design of the reactors.

The combined impact of these circumstances should persuade any sensible government to think twice before going ahead with the setting up of new nuclear power projects such as those being proposed at Jaitapur in Maharashtra, Kovvada in AP and so on.

On behalf of the civil society, I request you, as the Secretary to the DAE, to place this letter before the Prime Minister and apprise him of the civil society’s apprehensions. However strategic may be the facilities relating to nuclear power generation, the core requirement of ensuring the safety of the people and consulting the civil society cannot be compromised.


Yours sincerely,


E A S Sarma
Former Secretary to GOi



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