Cabinet push to nuclear bill

Multinationals will make profits, government will bear liability

By Savvy Soumya Misra
Published: Thursday 31 December 2009

ON NOVEMBER 19, the Union cabinet cleared the civil nuclear liability bill meant to help companies in the US and France export nuclear technology and fuels to India without any liability.

The multinational corporations won't be responsible in case of a mishap in the power plants set up with their technology; the bill proposes to transfer all liability to the operator. In other words, the Nuclear Power Corporation of India Limited (NPCIL), the sole operator of power plants in India, would compensate victims. The bill limits the compensation amount to Rs 2,500 crore (US $538 million). The proposed legislation is likely to be introduced in Parliament in the ongoing session.

The bill was given cabinet approval just before Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's US visit. "This bill has been passed in haste to please the US companies," said Anil Chaudhary of the Coalition for Nuclear Disarmament and Peace in New Delhi.He pointed out other countries make the suppliers liable (see 'Radioactive mirage', Down To Earth, October 15, 2009).

Two US companies, GE and Toshiba Westington, have signed memorandums of understanding with NPCIL besides French company AREVA.

A senior CPI(M) leader said the bill is being fast-tracked in anticipation of restrictions being lifted on enrichment and reprocessing technology, promised by the Bush administration. But there is no reason to hasten the bill since the Obama administration has not been very forthcoming and wants India to sign the non-proliferation treaty against its will, he said.

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