Atomic Energy Regulatory Board to be made “truly autonomous and independent”

Stressing, in the wake of the Fukushima nuclear accident, that the government was committed to ensuring the safety of Indian nuclear power plants, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on Tuesday said steps would be taken to make the Atomic Energy Regulatory Board (AERB) “truly autonomous and independent.”

“We will strengthen the Atomic Energy Regulatory Board and make it a truly autonomous and independent regulatory authority. We will ensure that it is of the highest and the best international standards,” he said here at a function honouring nuclear scientists.

Though the AERB is tasked with ensuring the safe use [of] nuclear energy, its lack of independence from the Department of Atomic Energy has led critics to question its effectiveness as a regulatory authority on safety issues.

Making an oblique reference to complaints that decision-making on nuclear related issues was shrouded in secrecy, Dr. Singh emphasised that there was need for “greater openness and transparency.”

“The people of India have to be convinced about the safety and security of our nuclear power plants. We should bring greater openness and transparency in the decision making processes relating to our nuclear energy programme and improve our capacity to respond to the public desire to be kept informed about decisions and issues that are of concern to them.”

Technical review

Incidentally, the Prime Minister is also the Minister in charge of Atomic Energy and heads the “decision making processes” involved. Noting that the government had already directed a technical review of all safety systems of the nuclear power plants using the best available expertise, he pointed out that all reactors that would be built in India would have to be certified by the regulatory authority and meet its safety standards. “This will apply equally to reactors and technologies that are imported from abroad,” he added. He noted that the tragedy at the Fukushima Daichi nuclear power plant in Japan had raised world-wide concerns about the safety of nuclear energy as a source of power and stressed that it was “vitally important” to address the concerns. “I would like to see accountability and transparency in the functioning of our nuclear power plants.”

For energy independence

Rejecting demands for doing away with nuclear power as an energy option in toto, he said that for a large and fast growing economy like India, it was imperative that all sources of energy were tapped and the energy mix was diversified. “Nuclear energy has the potential of playing an increasingly important role in giving our country energy independence from traditional and polluting sources of energy.”

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