Board is yet to develop 27 out of the 168 safety documents despite recommendations by two panels in 1987 and 1997

The Comptroller and Auditor General of India (CAG) on Wednesday pulled up the Atomic Energy Regulatory Board (AERB) for not preparing a nuclear and radiation safety policy for the country despite receiving a specific mandate to do so in the order constituting the Board as far back as 1983.

In a scathing report tabled in Parliament, the CAG also noted that the Board had yet to develop 27 out of the 168 safety documents despite recommendations made by two panels in 1987 and 1997 that the process of developing safety documents be expedited.

The report was also critical of the AERB not having a direct role in conducting independent assessments and monitoring to ensure radiological protection of those working in nuclear power plants. In India, the responsibility of monitoring radiological exposure and conducting radiological surveillance of the plants lies with their operators — the Nuclear Power Corporation of India — and not the AERB.

In addition, the CAG noted that the AERB did not have a detailed inventory of all radiation sources to ensure effective compliance of regulations for safe disposal of disused sources.

“There were no proper mechanisms in place to ensure/verify that: radioactive waste had actually been disposed of safely after utilisation; the sources for which consent for transport of radioactive material for safe disposal has been given had really been disposed of or not.”

Besides, the audit found that the consenting process and the system of monitoring and renewal of licenses for the different radiation facilities in the country were “weak”. “This led to a substantial number of units of radiation facilities operating without valid licenses,” it noted.

Specifically, the CAG observed that 91 per cent of the medical x-ray facilities in the country were not registered with the AERB and that despite a Supreme Court directive issued in 2001 requiring the setting up of Directorate of Radiation Safety in every State, such agencies had so far been set up only in Kerala and Mizoram. The report further noted that the Board had not conducted 85 per cent of the regulatory inspections for both industrial radiography and radiotherapy units and that there was a shortfall of over 97 per cent in the inspection in the case of diagnostic radiology facilities.

Complaining that the AERB has not prescribed any frequency for such regulatory inspections, the auditor noted that it reviewed the situation by adopting a benchmark recommended by the International Atomic Energy Agency.

Decommissioning

The report, among other things, noted that even 13 years after the AERB issued the safety manual about decommissioning of nuclear power plants, none of the plants, including those operating for 30 years and those which had been shut down, had a decommissioning plan.

“Neither the Atomic Energy Act, 1962 nor the Rules framed thereunder had any provision for creation of decommissioning reserves by the utilities. Besides, the AERB had no rule to play in ensuring availability of adequate functions.”

Adopting good practices

Further, it pointed out that although the AERB maintained liaisons with the international nuclear organisation, it was “slow’’ in adopting international benchmarks and good practices. “The AERB had not yet availed of the opportunity of the peer review and appraisal services of the IAEA to get its regulatory framework and its effectiveness reviewed by them.”

It also urged the AERB to be closely associated with on-site emergency preparedness conducted in nuclear power plants. “Though actual periodic exercises prescribed, based on various types of emergencies, were conducted by them [power plants], the AERB only reviewed the reports of these exercises and did not directly associate itself in these exercises, even as observers.”

On the off-site emergency exercises, the report was critical of the AERB not being empowered to ensure the implementation of corrective measures suggested by it.

No approach road

The report noted that at the Tarapur atomic power station there was no proper approach road between the tehsildar’s office and the plant site, and that over the years population had increased manifold in the emergency zone due to large scale industrial activities in the area.

“These bottlenecks would pose serious impediments to speedy responses for rescue of affected people in case of any emergency,” the report warned.

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