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Wednesday, September 26, 2012

India: Don't change N-liability law to suit MNCs

Don't change N-liability law to suit MNCs

Jim Riccio | Sep 23, 2012, 01.42AM IST

Nuclear power is dangerous and meltdowns are expensive. Nuclear power

is so dangerous that the corporations that build nuclear reactors
would not do so unless they were protected from the liability of a
nuclear accident. As the world has witnessed in Japan, the cost of a
nuclear accident far outstrips the insurance coverage governments have
jerry-rigged for the benefit of the nuclear industry. Ultimately, the
public is left holding the radioactive bag and billions of dollars in
accident clean-up costs.

Without an insurance scheme that shifts liability from the corporation

to the public, the nuclear industry would never have split the first
atom. After the Fukushima disaster, Vermont Law School Institute for
energy and the environment researcher Mark Cooper stated that: "If the
owners and operators of nuclear reactors had to face the full
liability of a Fukushima-style nuclear accident or go head-to-head
with alternatives in a truly competitive marketplace, unfettered by
subsidies, no one would have built a nuclear reactor in the past, no
one would build one today, and anyone who owns a reactor would exit
the nuclear business as quickly as possible."

Cooper found that without such insurance schemes "nuclear power is

neither affordable nor worth the risk."

In 2010, India passed the Civil Liability for Nuclear Damage Act.

Since then, foreign corporations and the governments that represent
them have pressured the Indian government to amend the Act. Unlike
other liability regimes adopted by nuclear nations, the Indian law
allows those corporations that supply nuclear reactors to be held
accountable in the event of a meltdown. The Nuclear Liability Act
provides the nuclear plant operator a 'right of recourse' and this has
made foreign nuclear corporations nervous.

Nuclear salespersons and statesmen, from Areva's "Atomic Anne"

Lauvergeon to US Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, have
lobbied India to amend its Act. And Russia has recently requested that
India waive its Nuclear Liability Act for the two Russian reactors
being built at the Kudankulam nuclear power plant. It seems American,
French and Russian corporations want to sell India billions of dollars
worth of new nuclear reactors; they just don't want to be held
accountable for the damages their nuclear reactors can cause.

Rather than rewrite the Nuclear Liability Act, the rules implementing

it have drastically diluted the liability of the reactor supplier.
Fortunately, as the world's largest democracy, India is uniquely
situated to defeat and deflect these attempts to water down the law.
The parliamentary standing committee has identified inconsistencies
between the Act and the rules implementing it and has asked the
department of atomic energy to go back to the drawing board and
establish rules that are consistent with the intent of the Nuclear
Liability Act. This is a step in the right direction and will serve to
better protect the lives and livelihoods of Indian citizens.

India's Nuclear Liability Act should not be altered or subverted to

benefit Areva, General Electric Hitachi, Westinghouse or Rosatom.
These corporations have been coddled by their own domestic and
international regimes that channel legal and economic liability for a
nuclear accident away from the nuclear supplier and to the owner of
nuclear plant. In the Indian context, these are public companies and
so the ultimate burden would fall on the tax payer.

But, as is evident after the accident at Fukushima, no nuclear plant

owner can withstand the financial tsunami of a nuclear meltdown.
TEPCO, the owner of the Fukushima nuclear plant is now bankrupt,
virtually a ward of the state. General Electric, the corporation that
designed the reactors that melted down and then blew up, turned a $5
billion profit in 2011. Even if the faulty GE designed reactors
contributed to Fukushima disaster, Japanese law fails to hold the
nuclear vendor accountable.

Fukushima has again shown that splitting atoms to generate electricity

is inherently dangerous. If corporations want to sell nuclear
reactors, they should be held accountable for the damage their reactor
can cause. The Indian Civil Liability for Nuclear Damage Act corrects
this glaring omission in international liability regimes. Nuclear
power has proven to be more peril than promise and those who would
profit from promoting it should be held accountable.

The writer is a nuclear policy analyst for Greenpeace in Washington DC

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