The Nuclear Power Corporation of India (NPCIL) on Wednesday asserted in the Supreme Court that no danger would be caused by `spent fuel’ after being discharged from the nuclear reactor.

Making this submission before a Bench of Justices K.S. Radhakrishnan and Dipak Misra, Solicitor General Rohinton Nariman said “spent nuclear fuel was the `used’ fuel after desired energy had been extracted. The said `spent fuel’ after being discharged was being re-used to produce electricity through re-cycling technology, he said.

Mr. Nariman said “these discharged materials include uranium and plutonium which constitutes about 96 per cent and 1 per cent of the spent fuel respectively. The remaining 3 per cent cannot be re-cycled.”

He said the core focus of the fuel recycle management in India “involves around re-processing and waste management to reclaim fertile and fissile elements for use as fuel, removal of minor actinides, long lived fission products and noble metals from spent fuel, for reduction in radio toxicity of the waste for final disposal. Reprocessing of spent fuel is the key to our country’s three stage nuclear power programme.”

He said the residuary spent fuel (after recycling) was stored as per guidelines of the Atomic Energy Regulatory board. The spent fuels are kept in pools for a number of years for the purpose of decay of short lived radio active isotopes and reducing their heat generation and radioactivity associated with spent fuel.

To a question where these spent fuels were transported, he said they were sent to deep mining places in Kolar.

In his reply, counsel Prashant Bhushan appearing for petitioners G. Sundarrajan and others maintained that the Kudankulam plant should not be allowed to be commissioned without the 17 safety measures being put in place. He said the AERB and NPCIL should not be allowed to take the recommendations of the expert committee casually but should get them implemented fully before granting permission for starting the operations at the nuclear reactors of Kudankulam.

He argued that the recommendations of the task force committee provided a crucial line of defence to ensure more reliable safety when the first line of safety failed which could happen due to several reasons like electrical or mechanical failures or human errors in operations, vulnerabilities due to aging of the instruments and equipment, internal sabotage and lack of close coordination among the officers and workers involved in operation and maintenance. Hence they should be considered as essential prerequisites for ensuring higher reliability of nuclear safety.

Mr. Bhushan said “it is clear that NPCIL and AERB are taking chances with safety putting to grave risk the health and life of millions of people, in their hurry to commission the nuclear plant under international political pressure. The fact that both the Task Force and the AERB had categorically stated that these 17 measures have to be implemented means that these measures are necessary. Otherwise why would they suggest measures that cost quite a lot of money, energy and time to implement, unless they would have felt that they are necessary?” Arguments will continue on November 27.

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