On Sunday, it was suspected that a radioactive leak had taken place, however, later the government issued a statement denying such reports and said the emission was ‘within permissible’ limits‘.
In 2016 alone, the AERB had raided two medical diagnostic centres in Nashik in Maharashtra and in Jammu, fearing that they were using nuclear material without safeguards. In another incident, in March 2016, Unit-I of KASP nuclear power reactor in Gujarat had to be shut down following a leakage in its coolant system. Currently, India has 21 functional reactors, six under construction and 35 are proposed, including the 12 to be developed with Russia.
Former union minister and Congress leader Shashi Tharoor, who had raised the issue of putting the legislation on the backburner, said the communication received by the government as late as last July, suggested to him that a fresh Bill was under examination and being processed.
A demand for a robust and autonomous body to oversee security issues related to civil nuclear establishments had emerged in 2011 after the Fukushima nuclear accident in Japan. Nuclear analyst at the Observer Research Foundation (ORF) Aniruddh Mohan quoted a March 2015 report of the Integrated Regulatory Review Service (IRRS), a peer review service of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), lamenting at the lack of institutional independence of India’s civil nuclear regulator, the AERB. The report urged: “The Government should embed the AERB’s regulatory independence in law, separated from other entities having responsibilities or interests that could unduly influence its decision-making.” The draft report also recommended that India’s AERB should, “Promulgate a national policy and strategy for safety, and a radioactive waste management strategy as a statement of the Government’s intent.”
According to the provision of the Bill, as approved by an Inter-Ministerial Group, the NSRA will be answerable directly to the Parliament, through the PMO. The proposed system will also seek to establish a Council of Nuclear Safety (CNS), headed by the prime minister, to oversee and review policies on nuclear safety, say officials, requesting anonymity. Investigators who probed the Fukushima nuclear accident had concluded that the disaster was man-made and the problem was rooted in Japan’s nuclear safety regulatory body.
To avoid a similar incident in India, the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government had tabled the Nuclear Safety Regulatory Authority Bill in Parliament in to create NSRA. But the Bill was then sent to a standing committee which suggested changes, and with the change in government in 2014, the Bill lapsed.
According to a National Progress Report submitted at the Nuclear Security Summit early this year, India is setting up a facility for the production of medical grade Mo-99 by the uranium fission route using LEU targets for use in hospitals, to avoid the recurrence of incidents like the one at the Delhi Airport on Sunday.
Government officials here said for the purpose of safety, a network of 23 Emergency Response Centres have been created. Along with this, a dedicated cyber security architecture has been deployed, with sophisticated products and services like Secure Network Access System (SNAS) to add to the safety of nuclear plants and to avoid material falling into the wrong hands.
A suspected radioactive leak reported on Sunday—in the cargo area of Delhi’s international airport Terminal 3, from a shipment—has once again lent voice to the clamour to adopt legislation to put in place a nuclear safety regulator. A bill in this regard was introduced in the Lok Sabha in 2011, but has since lapsed with its dissolution.
Even though an inter-Ministerial group last year gave its nod to introduce the Nuclear Safety Regulatory Authority (NSRA) Bill in order to set up a Nuclear Safety Regulatory Authority to replace the existing Atomic Energy Regulatory Board (AERB); the bill seems to have gone into hibernation. This is despite the government, during the last two parliament sessions, hurriedly adopting amendments to other bills relating to the commercial use of nuclear energy. The proposed legislation will provide a statutory basis to nuclear safety regulation and strengthen nuclear and radiation safety regulations in the country.