Privatisation of the Kaiga atomic plant generates a lot of heat
the Atomic Energy Act, 1962, may soon be amended. On March 8, 2001, the Nuclear Power Corporation, that owns all the nuclear power plants in India, gave a contract to Power Finance Corporation, a public sector undertaking, to suggest amendments to this act, thus facilitating private participation in the Kaiga atomic power plant in Karnataka.
The Atomic Energy Act insulates the Indian nuclear establishment from public reach and gives exclusive rights to the government to produce electricity from atomic energy. Using this act, the government keeps all the information regarding nuclear establishments inder wraps.
For many years, anti-nuclear activists and environmentalists have been protesting against this Act. "This Act is used to stop flow of information even about civilian establishments concerning safety measures," says Kavita Chaudhury, a Jaipur-based anti-nuclear activist. Recently, the act came to light when anti-nuclear activists protested against a secret exercise in Pokhran for exploring a nuclear waste-dumping site. "This act is used to conceal even health surveys conducted by different nuclear installations including civilian ones like a power plant," says Ganghamitra Gadekar, an anti-nuclear activist who recently carried an independent health survey near the site of India's first nuclear tests in 1974.
However, it seems that the amendment to the Act will be limited to the clause that allows only the government or a government company to use 'atomic energy for power generation'. According to sources, when the Union Cabinet took the decision to review the Act in December last year, it was decided to limit the reformation just to allow private participation in nuclear power sector. The then minister of the department of atomic energy, Vasundhara Raje, had said, "The process of reviewing the Atomic Energy Act and suggesting amendments with a view to enable private sector participation in the production and supply of nuclear power is underway." Nuclear experts feel that India is expecting huge investments from Russia and France in this sector.
The other reason why the act would not be totally amended, feel anti-nuclear activists, is that India's civilian and military nuclear establishments are closely associated. India processes weapon grade plutonium from power plants' spent fuel. So the act will not allow total private participation even in power plants. In fact, the Power Finance Corporation would look for partners only for up to 49 per cent equity investment in the project, thus assuring government control.
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