Priscilla Jebaraj

NEW DELHI: Going by the compensation being promised to those affected by radiation in the Mayapuri scrap yard last month, the government will find it impossible to keep to the limits imposed in the Civilian Nuclear Liability Bill in the case of a nuclear accident, according to international environmental NGO Greenpeace.

Delhi University promised to give Rs. 8 lakh to the family of the man who died and Rs. 5 lakh to each of the seven persons hospitalised, due to exposure to university radioactive equipment auctioned off to Mayapuri scrap dealers. The State government has promised Rs. 2 lakh for the widow.

“In the case of a Level Four accident at a nuclear power plant, the government cannot provide so much for everyone [affected by radiation] under the liability cap of Rs. 500 crore,” said Karuna Raina, nuclear campaigner with Greenpeace India.

The controversial Bill was introduced near the end of the last session of Parliament. Ms. Raina points out that most of the proposed new plants are located in areas with high population density. The liability cap would not be sufficient for people within a 2 km area who would be affected by radiation, she added.

Of course, the Bill only covers radiation in the case of a plant accident, and not radiation due to instances of theft, loss or negligent disposal of radioactive equipment, such as in the Mayapuri case. “There have already been at least 16 cases of theft or loss of radioactive sources since 2000,” says Ms. Raina. “Imagine once we have a whole lot of new power plants, how many more cases there could be… And these risks would not be covered by the Bill.”

She argues that the Atomic Energy Regulatory Board is not sufficiently equipped to deal with the thousands of existing radiation facilities and a slew of new nuclear power plants. She also felt it is a “flawed policy that makes the nuclear regulating body [AERB] subordinate to institutions that promote nuclear technology in India [that is, the Department of Atomic Energy]. This clear conflict of interest allows for transparency and accountability to be compromised,” she said.