Nuclear Liability Bill

Nuclear Liability Bill

The Civil Liability for Nuclear Damage Bill 2010 or Nuclear Liability Bill is a highly debated and controversial bill which was passed by both houses of Indian parliament. The Bill aims to provide a civil liability for nuclear damage and prompt compensation to the victims of a nuclear incident through a nofault liability to the operator, appointment of Claims Commissioner, establishment of Nuclear Damage Claims Commission and for matters connected therewith or incidental thereto.[1]

This is one of the last steps needed to activate the 2008 Indo-U.S. civilian nuclear agreement as the United state nuclear reactor manufacturing companies will require the liability bill to get insurance in their home state. After this bill becomes an act, India will become a member of the international convention on liability in the civil nuclear arena.

The government has encountered fierce opposition when trying to push this bill through parliament on several occasions. This is because it contains several controversial clauses that the opposition parties claim to be 'unconstitutional'.[2] The opposition believes the bill is being pushed through due to US pressure though this is denied by the government.

The bill effectively caps the maximum amount of liability in case of each nuclear accident at INR1,500 crore (US$304.2 million) to be paid by the operator of the nuclear plant.

The bill will require amendments in the Atomic Energy Act 1962 allowing private investment in the Indian nuclear power program. The issue of an accident is sensitive in India, where a gas leak in a Union Carbide factory in Bhopal city killed about 3,800 people in 1984 in one of the world's worst industrial disasters.

Contents

Necessity of the Nuclear Liability Bill

India has an ambitious goal to increase 5-fold the amount of electricity produced from nuclear power plants to 20,000 MWe by 2020. This will be further increased to 63,000 MWe by 2032.[3] In this way, India will produce 25 percent of its electricity from nuclear power plants by 2050. India's present production of electricity through nuclear power is 4780 MWe. To increase the share of nuclear power, foreign companies would need to be involved in the manufacture and supply of nuclear reactors.

Although there is no international obligation for such a bill, in order to attract the US companies involved in nuclear commerce such as General Electric and Westinghouse, it is necessary to introduce a liability bill which would help these private companies in getting insurance cover in their home state. Thus, the bill will help in the realization of the Indo-U.S. Nuclear deal.[citation needed]

Another motive for the bill is to legally and financially bind the operator and the government to provide relief to the affected population in the case of a nuclear accident.[citation needed] In consideration of the long-term costs related to clean-up and shut-down activities if a nuclear accident were to occur, prominent members of the civil society in India have called on the Government and political parties to hold nuclear suppliers responsible and liable for nuclear accidents.

Advances in nuclear technology have significantly reduced the probability of a nuclear catastrophe and is considered an environment friendly and sustainable source of energy. However, it is still necessary to keep in mind the negative aspects of the nuclear energy and measures must be taken for its peaceful use. However the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster have created once again a debate in India (and the world over) over the destructive nature of nuclear energy.[4]

A major point of debate is the amount of financial assistance to be provided under such circumstances as it is considered insufficient and unsatisfactory. Other than this, the bill contain certain clauses which if implemented will let free the manufacturer and supplier legally and to a large extent financially as well.

Criticism

Clause 7

The clause 7 defines the share of financial liability for each of the culpable groups. It states that the operator will have to pay Rs. 500 crore and the remaining amount will be paid by the Indian government. If written into the contract, the operator can claim the liabilities from the manufacturer and supplier. But the maximum amount payable by the foreign companies will be limited to a meagre sum of Rs. 1500 crore .

This is considered as a moot point as the operator will be the Nuclear Power Corporation of India Ltd. (NPCIL) which itself is a government owned facility. In other words, the government may have to foot the entire bill thereby exonerating the manufacturer/supplier.

Clause 17

This clause deals with the legal binding of the culpable groups in case of a nuclear accident. It allows only the operator (NPCIL) to sue the manufacturers and suppliers. Victims will not be able to sue anyone. In reality, no one will be considered legally liable because the recourse taken by the operator will yield onlyINR1,500 crore (US$304.2 million).

Clause 18

Clause 18 of the nuclear liability bill limits the time to make a claim within 10 years. This is considered to be too short as there may be long term damage due to a nuclear accident.

Clause 35

Clause 35 extends the legal binding that the responsible groups may have to face. The operator or the responsible persons in case of a nuclear accident will undergo the trial under Nuclear Damage Claims Commissions and no civil court is given the authority. The country will be divided into zones with each zone having a Claims Commissioner. This is in contrast to the US counterpart – the Price Anderson Act, in which lawsuits and criminal proceedings proceed under the US courts.

See also

Nuclear power in India

Indo-U.S. civilian nuclear agreement

External links

References


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