‘Benefits’ outweigh ‘minor radiological detriments,’ says SC

The Supreme Court has cleared the decks for the commissioning of the Kudankulam nuclear plant. A bench of Justices K.S. Radhakrishnan and Dipak Misra, in concurring judgments, however, made it clear that the plant should not be made operational unless the Atomic Energy Regulatory Board (AERB), the Nuclear Power Corporation of India Ltd (NPCIL) and the Department of Atomic Energy (DAE) gave their final clearances. Justice Misra said: “The AERB as the regulatory authority and the MoEF are obliged to perform their duty that safety measures are adequately taken before the plant commences its operation.”

The Bench declared: “We have to balance ‘economic scientific benefits’ with that of ‘minor radiological detriments’.”

Economic benefit, which has to be viewed on a larger canvas, the Bench said, alleviates poverty and generates more employment. NPCIL, while setting up the NPP at Kudankulam, has satisfied the environmental principle such as sustainable development and corporate social responsibility. The Bench also noted that it is part of national policy to develop, control and use atomic energy for the welfare of the people and for economic growth.

The Bench said: “Larger public interest of the community should give way to individual apprehension of violation of human rights and right to life guaranteed under Article 21 of the Constitution.” Describing the negative aspects of the nuclear power plant as “minor inconveniences and minor radiological detriments”, the Bench noted: “The benefits we reap from KKNPP are enormous since nuclear energy remains an important element in India’s energy mix which can replace a significant part of fossil fuels like coal, gas oil etc.”

India has a mammoth population unlike developed countries, and the consumption of electricity was growing. The Bench said: “To sustain rapid economic growth, it is necessary to double the supply of energy. Energy tariff is also increasing, and nuclear power in the long run will be much cheaper than other forms of energy.”

The Bench added: “[Kudankulam] Nuclear power plant is being established not to negate the right to life but to protect the right to life guaranteed under Article 21 of the Constitution.”