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Issue 27
, 2010
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Wake up to the Civil Liability Nuclear Damage Bill 2010

Source: Toxics Alert, Date: , 2010

Here comes the civil liability nuclear damage bill 2010 to ‘provide for civil liability for nuclear damage, appointment of Claims Commissioner, establishment of Nuclear Damage Claims Commission and for matters connected therewith or incidental thereto, for enactment by the Parliament in the same year.’

The prime motive of the bill is to bind the operator and the government both legally and financially so that both are liable in case of a nuclear accident. The bill as it may seem is soon to become an ACT. Thanks to the efforts from the civil society that the Bill which seeks to compensate victims of a nuclear liability went through a process of consultation to review environment and health ministries on long term liability in the event of a nuclear accident.

When the punitive side of a nuclear programme is looked at, it is important to summarise as to why does India need such a bill.

India has an ambitious and indigenous nuclear power programme to achieve the goal of 20,000 MWe electricity produced through nuclear energy by 2020 which will be further increased to 60,000 MWe by 2032. In this way, India will produce 25 percent of its electricity from nuclear power plants by 2050. Presently, India is producing 3981 MWe of electricity through nuclear power. The share of nuclear power can be increased with the involvement of foreign private involvement in manufacturing and supply of nuclear reactors.

To reap the benefits of Indo-U.S. Civilian Nuclear Deal of nuclear commerce and attract the U.S. companies involved in nuclear commerce like General Electric and Westinghouse, it was 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.

After the enactment of the Nuclear Liability Bill, India will join the international convention on liability in the civil nuclear arena. The nuclear trade will thus benefit India with the participating countries in the nuclear arena. The bill shall necessitate suitable amendments in the Atomic Energy Act 1962 which will pave way for private investment in the Indian nuclear power programme.

Salient features of the Bill

  • The Civil Liability for Nuclear Damage Bill, 2010 fixes liability for nuclear damage and specifies procedures for compensating victims.
  • The Bill fixes no-fault liability on operators and gives them a right of recourse against certain persons. It caps the liability of the operator at Rs 500 crore. For damage exceeding this amount, and up to 300 million SDR, the central government will be liable.
  • All operators (except the central government) need to take insurance or provide financial security to cover their liability.
  • For facilities owned by the government, the entire liability up to 300 million SDR will be borne by the government.
  • The Bill specifies who can claim compensation and the authorities who will assess and award compensation for nuclear damage.
  • Those not complying with the provisions of the Bill can be penalised

However, there comes a debate on the viability of the Bill on grounds of financial assistance and legal relief. Also, if the bill is left for implementation as it is there is a possibility of the manufacturers and suppliers of nuclear paraphernalia to go Scott free.

Hence, the draft leaves out these important points:

  • The liability cap on the operator (a) may be inadequate to compensate victims in the event of a major nuclear disaster; (b) may block India’s access to an international pool of funds; (c) is low compared to some other countries.
  • The cap on the operator’s liability is not required if all plants are owned by the government. It is not clear if the government intends to allow private operators to operate nuclear power plants.
  • The government will notify the extent of environmental damage and consequent economic loss. This might create a conflict of interest in cases where the government is also the party liable to pay compensation.
  • The right of recourse against the supplier provided in the Bill is not compliant with international agreements India may wish to sign.
  • The time limit of ten years for claiming compensation may be inadequate for those suffering from nuclear damage.
  • Though the Bill allows operators and suppliers to be liable under other laws, it is not clear which other laws will be applicable. Different interpretations by courts may constrict or unduly expand the scope of such a provision.

Therefore, it can be hoped that the draft is reviewed in keeping with all the aspects of liability it incorporates.