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Who pays in case of accident at Kudankulam, asks PM

Special Correspondent
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Writes to DAE, seeks views of MEA and Law Ministry

The Kudankulam nuclear plant
The Kudankulam nuclear plant

Activists citing concerns about the fate of local residents in the event of an accident at the Kudankulam nuclear power plant received a boost from an unexpected source with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh questioning the Department of Atomic Energy’s decision to waive its legal right to claim damages against the NPP’s Russian suppliers.

On Thursday, NDTV disclosed that Dr. Singh, who is also the Minister for Atomic Energy, has objected to a request by the Nuclear Power Corporation of India Ltd. — the operator of the Kudankulam facility — to waive its right to recourse under Section 17 of the Nuclear Liability Act if an accident in the yet-to-be-built units 3 and 4 results from faulty equipment.

A senior PMO official confirmed to The Hindu that the Prime Minister had raised certain questions and that the DAE’s answers were being awaited.

Under the terms of the December 2008 Intergovernmental Agreement (IGA) between Russia and India for the supply of units 1 and 2, the entire liability burden for accident-related damage must be borne by the Indian operator. Under Russian pressure, the DAE and NPCIL agreed last month that the same liability condition would carry over to units 3 and 4 despite the provisions of the Nuclear Liability Act, which became law in 2010. The DAE told the Cabinet Committee on Security that this was permissible since India had already committed itself in 2008 to making the Indian operator fully liable for any damages resulting from an accident.

According to NDTV, the Prime Minister asked the DAE how the provisions of the 2010 Act could be overruled and suggested the matter be referred to the Ministries of Law and Justice and External Affairs. In his notings, he also expressed the fear that other supplier nations would demand that NPCIL grant them a similar exemption from those provisions of the law that they did not like.

Article 13 of the India-Russia IGA on KK 1-2 states: “The Indian side and its authorised organisation at any time and at all stages of the construction and operation of the NPP power units to be constructed under the present Agreement shall be the Operator of power units of the NPP at the Kudankulam site and be fully responsible for any damage both within and outside the territory of the Republic of India caused to any person and property as a result of a nuclear incident occurring at the NPP.”

The fuel loading for KK1&2, both 1000 MW VVERs, will commence in mid-August and the first unit is expected to “reach criticality” by the end of September. A formal agreement for KK3&4 has yet to be signed at the apex level and the Prime Minister’s queries suggest the liability issue remains as big a hurdle today as it was in July 2010, when The Hindu first reported the Russian demand for exemption.

Routine matter: DAE

“This is a routine matter and it is not as sensational as it is made out to be,” DAE head R.K. Sinha told The Hindu on Thursday evening when asked to comment on Dr. Singh’s queries. “The Prime Minister is our Minister-in-charge. This matter is routine. Certain clarifications have been sought on this issue and we are providing it from the Department [of Atomic Energy],” said Mr. Sinha.

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