The Supreme Court on Thursday refused to stay loading of fuel for the nuclear power plant at Kudankulam but agreed to examine the risk associated with the project, saying safety of people living in its vicinity is of prime concern.

“Public safety is of prime importance. There are poor people living in the vicinity of the plant and they should know that there life would be protected,” a bench of justices K.S. Radhakrishanan and Deepak Misra said while posting the matter for hearing to September 20, 2012.

The bench, which refused to stay the fuel loading after the centre assured the court that commissioning of the plant will take place at least two months, said it would go through the judgements of the Madras High Court and hear the matter.

“We are not against the plant, nor the petitioner but we want to see that recommendations of the Atomic Energy Regulatory Board (AERB) on the safety measures have been implemented,” the bench said.

The Centre was represented in full strength with Attorney General G.E. Vahanvati, Solicitor-General Rohinton Nariman and Additional Solicitor-General Mohan Parasaran vociferously opposing the plea for staying fuel loading.

The Centre said the plant is “completely safe”. Since all the recommendations made by the Board cannot be put in place in one go, it would be implemented in due course within six months to two years, it said.

The court was hearing an appeal by social activist G. Sundarrajan against the High Court’s decision refusing to impose any restraint against the plant.

During the hearing, advocate Prashant Bhushan, appearing for Mr. Sundarrajan, asked the bench to restrain the Centre from loading the fuel as it would lead to the operation of the plant against which there has been largescale protests.

However, the Attorney General and other law officers allayed his apprehension by telling the bench that it will take around two months after loading the uranium fuel to make it operational.

When Mr. Bhushan insisted that the statement of the law officers to this effect be recorded, the bench said, “Since the statement is being made in the open court there is no need to record it.”

When he was making the submission, the bench also said, “as such you are not against the installation of the nuclear plant but you are concerned with the implementation of all safety measures.”

“Your opposition is not for installation but for non-implementation of the 17 safety measures suggested by a committee,” the bench further said.

The court was informed that a committee appointed by the Centre after last year’s nuclear disaster in Fukushima in Japan had suggested 17 safety measures for the Kudankulam plant.

Mr. Bhushan said that till now only six safety measures have been adopted and there is a plan going on to load the fuel.

However, the Centre said to make the plant fully operational is a long drawn process and the 17 safety measures would be implemented in a phased manner within six months to two years.

The bench was told that the safety measures were recommended by the Atomic Energy Regulation Board (AERB).

The Centre said the petition was aimed against the installation of the nuclear plant at Kudankulam and early this year the Supreme Court had heard an identical petition in which the petitioners did not get full relief.

Responding to the submission, Mr. Bhushan said that petition was admitted by the court. However, Mr. Vahanvati said in that matter, the court only decided to hear only one aspect.

A bench headed by Chief Justice S.H. Kapadia on March 16, 2012 had admitted the petition of an NGO, Common Cause, to examine the legality of the provisions of controversial Civil Liability on Nuclear Damage Act.

The PIL had alleged that some of the provisions were allegedly infringing fundamental right to life of citizens.

While issuing notice, the bench had asked the government to respond to the contention that the legislation did not cover the nuclear safety regime.

“We will examine the validity of the Act, vis-à-vis Article 21 (right to life) of the Constitution,” the bench had said while making it clear that it will not venture into any other aspect as the issues raised in the petition about the nuclear plants are “very scientific” in nature and it “does not have the expertise to go into them“.

The PIL filed by Common Cause and other public spirited persons, also questioned the provision in the Civil Liability on Nuclear Damage Act, 2010, which limits theliability of the supplier for the nuclear reactor to Rs. 1,500 crore for any disaster.

The NGO also raised the issue on the appointment of an independent regulatory body to oversee nuclear plants.

The present petition by Mr. Sundarrajan is against the Madras High Court’s August 31 decision refusing to impose any restraint.

The appeal has claimed that non-implementation of various recommendations formulated by the Government’s Task Force “puts to grave risk the safety of millions of citizens.”

It said the high court had given a go ahead to the nuclear power plant without first ensuring that the 17 critical safety features recommended by the Central government’s expert task-force are put in place.

It complained that in complete violation of the absolute liability principle evolved by the apex court, the government has absolved the Russian company supplying the nuclear reactor of any liability in case of an accident.

“The government has also brutally cracked down on the local community peacefully protesting against the plant and has slapped sedition cases against thousands of protesters.

“Thus it is absolutely clear that the government intends to push the project through without any consideration of the safety, costs, environmental impact and other concerns regarding the project,” the petition said.

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