PUCL Karnataka Towards civil liberties and human rights for all in Karnataka

Nuclear Energy And Liability: Who Profits, Who Pays?

03.15.2010 · Posted in Meetings and Events


April 03, 2010, Saturday, from 2 pm to 6 pm

Ashirwad, St Marks Road, Bangalore.

The nuclear liability bill, expected to be tabled in the next parliament session, represents a real danger to democracy in India. Unfortunately, there has been very little public debate on this controversial bill. The voice of the people of India, whose health, well-being and civil rights will be directly compromised should the bill go through, is largely silent. The single voice that dominates is that of the nuclear lobby, impatient to have the bill, the only remaining hurdle in the path of opening up India’s multi-billion nuclear market, passed.
India plans to increase its installed capacity of nuclear power by 60,000 MW by the year 2030. This represents a nuclear market worth $175 billion. The nuclear liability bill is the outcome of active lobbying by private nuclear operators who are eyeing this profitable market but equally interested in an escape route in the event of a nuclear leak or accident. Should such an event occur, the bill seeks to cap the liability amount the operator must pay at a paltry $ 450 million.

To invite private operators in the nuclear arena, in an era of liberalization where environment and industrial safety regulations have been whittled down, under pressure from industry, to the barest minimum, is nothing short of playing with fire. The move to introduce the bill consigns the lessons from tragedies like Bhopal and Chernobylto the trashcan of history. Ironically the cap amount being proposed, $450 million, was the amount awarded in the Bhopal Gas case in 1990, which was a gross under-assessment of liability at that time. Today, twenty years later, and given that a nuclear disaster would potentially dwarf the effects of the Bhopal disaster, the nuclear liability cap is truly a slap on the face of people of this country.

The nuclear liability bill undermines the very basis of Indian democracy. It violates the ‘Polluter Pays’ principle and the ‘Precautionary Principle’, and so, violates the Right to Life as enshrined in Article 21 of the constitution. The bill also goes against significant Supreme Court judgements which have ruled that hazardous and dangerous industries owe an ‘absolute and non-delegable’ duty to the community to ensure safety.

The ‘community’ in the case of the nuclear industry is exceptionally large because of the widespread, long-term, and generational impact of radioactive contamination of air, soil and water. The nuclear liability bill ensures that the clean up costs and the health burden of a nuclear leak or accident, even if we were to simplistically assume that these can ever be properly calculated, would have to be borne by the government. Essentially, therefore, the bill seeks to shift the financial burden to the taxpayer, that is, from the perpetrators of the crime to the victim.

An outrage is being proposed to be committed in our name; an outrage whose price we, as tax payers and citizens, will be left to pay. There is no doubt that the nuclear liability bill must be vigorously opposed. In order to do so however it is very important to bring the real issues to the public arena. As a first step, we propose to organize a seminar bringing together democratic rights organizations, women’s organisations, students, and many other sections of society to collectively understand and discuss the nuclear liability bill and related issues in the first week of February 2010. The proposed topics and speakers are:

  1. The Context: Introducing the main issues in India’s engagement with nuclear energy/weapons and laying the ground for the subsequent discussions on various aspects of the nuclear question/ Achin Vanaik
  2. Nuclear Liability Bill: Understanding the legal and other Implications/
  3. Kaiga: Then and Now – Lessons from the Kaiga Struggle; Nuclear power and issues of workplace and community safety/ Activist from the anti-Kaiga movement
  4. Looking Ahead – Opposing the nuclear liability bill and other nuclear issues/ SP Udayakumar

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