Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Nuclear Liability Bill Takes Another Bizarre Turn

The UPA keeps trying to sneak major changes into the Nuclear Liability Bill.  
Do they think we are stupid? Or do they just want the US to give them extra marks for their efforts to protect negligent nuclear suppliers?

There is no other way to say this: the UPA's effort to protect foreign companies and governments from any liability in the case of a nuclear accident has taken a bizarre turn over the past few days.  If it weren't so serious, it would be funny.  Late last week, it looked like the BJP was ready to sign off on an improved, but still deeply flawed Nuclear Liability Bill.  Then someone in the government tried to sneak in the word "and" between two clauses of the Bill, and that one word would have made it almost impossible to use the Bill to hold nuclear suppliers accountable for negligence in the case of a nuclear accident.  Luckily, The Hindu caught the change and the BJP withdrew support for the amended Bill until things could be sorted out. The government made conciliatory noises.

But when the final version was released, the government had again tried to slip in a small, but very important, word: intent. According to a report in The Hindu:

'The amended version of the bill says the suppliers of any defective equipment involved in an accident can be sued by the Indian operator of a nuclear facility only if the supply in question was made “with the intent to cause nuclear damage."'

This, dear friends, is truly bizarre! "Intent to cause nuclear damage" amounts to an act of terrorism, if not all out war!  If the government is relying on a "liability bill" to respond to this kind of act, perhaps a closer look at the UPA's foreign policy is in order! And even if you were going to use the court system in a case like this, why would you want to provide liability limits in cases of nuclear terrorism?  I just wonder, does the UPA think we are all stupid?   

After a careful reading of the tea leaves floating in my cup this morning, I think the UPA will have to back down again.  They will do so having sent a strong message to the US nuclear industry and government: "We really tried to give you complete protection, but we couldn't quite manage it."  However, there is bad news in my tea leaves also: the version of the Bill that the BJP is ready to support is also deeply flawed, in part because it severely limits the amount of liability in cases of nuclear accidents.  No, it's not a free pass, but it does highly subsidize the nuclear industry by putting strict limits on liability.  This kind of thing may make nuclear power marginally cheaper, but it will also encourage cost-cutting and risk taking.

For a more thorough analysis, you can read ToxicWatch's press statement on the Bill.  Here's an excerpt from it:
British Petroleum (BP) is facing a bill of up to $34 billion from the Gulf of Mexico oil spill disaster. After US senators demanded, the oil company deposited $20 billion (about Rs 92000 crores) into a ring-fenced account to meet escalating compensation costs but the way Indian legislators are agreeing to a Rs 1500 crore cap on nuclear disaster from large nuclear power plants, Rs 300 crore cap for institutions involved in reprocessing fuel and Rs 100 crore cap for small research reactors is unacceptable and condemnable.
For now, I'm suggesting we support Greenpeace's campaign and send a letter to the PM calling for unlimited liability in the case of nuclear accidents: let the courts decide.  

And if you are looking for more resources, do check out the ToxicWatch site, linked above.  Also, Sukla Sen has a really excellent analysis of the Bill and it's history over at the Environment Press.  Read it, and while you are at it, join the Coalition for Nuclear Disarmament and Peace (CNDP)'s Facebook group. 


  1. It's quite shocking the way these changes are being sneaked through. What a way to subvert the democratic process!

    I wrote about this issue a couple of days ago making more or less the same points: http://www.bhagwad.com/blog/2010/politics/how-to-smuggle-a-nuclear-liability-bill.html

  2. Very good post, Bhagwad. I think you are right; they will not get away with it. But they will get away with very low liability limits and that is a shame.

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What do you think?