Sunday 12 July 2015

Nuclear Safety Regulatory Authority (NSRA) Bill | Atomic Energy Regulatory Board (AERB)

Why in news?
  • The UN nuclear watchdog IAEA has called for statutory backing for the country's Atomic Energy Regulatory Board (AERB) to ensure its decisions are not unduly influenced by external agencies.
  • Bill yet to come - earlier Bill, by UPA government, has lapsed. 
  • Left parties which have strongly opposed atomic power plant at Kovvada of Ranasthalam, in Srikakulam District alleged that NPCIL had not obtained the site clearance certificate from AERB.
Background of the Bill:

  • Currently, AERB, established in 1983 through a gazette notification, is tasked with regulating the safety and security aspects of the country’s civilian nuclear facilities. 
  • It's not an autonomous body as it depends on the Department of Atomic Energy (DAE)
    • so ineffective in regulatory functions.
  • Demand for autonomy 
    • In 1997, the Raja Ramanna Committee report had recommended that the Atomic Energy Act (1962) should be amended to enhance the effectiveness of the nuclear regulatory system in the country. 
    • Even though the Union government, in 2000, had directed the DAE to suggest the necessary amendments to the 1962 Act, nothing substantial happened for almost a decade. 
    • Finally, it was the Mayapuri radiation accident (New Delhi) in 2010 and the Fukushima disaster (Japan) of 2011 that served as a wake-up call for the DAE.
AERB | CAG and Committee reports:
  • CAG of India had undertaken a “Performance Audit on Activities of AERB.” 
    • The CAG report, tabled in Parliament in August 2012, concluded that “the legal status of AERB continues to be that of an authority subordinate to the Central Government, with powers delegated to it by the latter,” and recommended to the government to “ensure that the nuclear regulator is empowered and independent. 
    • For this purpose, it should be created in law and should be able to exercise necessary authority in the setting of regulations, verification of compliance with the regulations and enforcement of the same in the cases of non-compliance.”
  • Following the CAG report, PAC) of Parliament also produced a report in 2013 entitled “Activities of AERB” in which it agreed with CAG on the functioning of the AERB. 
    • The PAC also highlighted the observation made by the “Parliamentary Standing Committee on SNT, Environment and Forests” in 2012 that the NSRA lacks autonomy. 
    • The PAC was critical of the functioning of the AERB as well as the proposed NSRA Bill 
Details of the Bill:
  • The NSRA, which will replace AERB
  • The Bill also aims at achieving the highest standards of nuclear safety based on scientific approach, operating experience and best practices followed by the nuclear industry.
  • The proposed regulatory authority will be formed through an Act of Parliament providing legal and regulatory powers
 Atomic Energy Regulatory Board:
  • Established in 1983 under the provisions of the Atomic Energy Act, 1962 through an executive order and it has developed an elaborate and robust regulatory framework for nuclear and radiation safety using the enabling legal powers of the Act and the safety related rules.
  • It oversees safety of all nuclear installations that have not been demarcated as MILITARY
    • includes nuclear reactors, reprocessing facilities and U enrichment plants
    • It also covers medical facilities and educational institutions that use radiation sources.
  • It enjoys the functional autonomy and its independence has never been compromised.
Functions of AERB:
  • Develop safety policies in nuclear, radiation and industrial safety areas.
  • Develop Safety Codes, Guides and Standards for siting, design, construction, commissioning, operation and decommissioning of different types of nuclear and radiation facilities.

  • Grant consents for above.

  • Ensure compliance of the regulatory requirements prescribed by AERB during all stages of consenting through a system of review and assessment, regulatory inspection and enforcement.

  • Prescribe the acceptance limits of radiation exposure to occupational workers and members of the public and approve acceptable limits of environmental releases of radioactive substances.

  • Review of the emergency preparedness plans for nuclear and radiation facilities.

  • Safety reviews for transport of large radioactive sources, irradiated fuel and fissile material.

  • Review of the training program, qualifications and licensing policies for personnel of nuclear and radiation facilities and prescribe the syllabi for training of personnel in safety aspects at all levels.

  • Take such steps as necessary to keep the public informed on major issues of radiological safety significance.

  • Promote research and development efforts in the areas of safety
  • Source Indian Express

  • To be effective, and acceptable to the people at large, it should bring the country’s civilian nuclear establishment out of the thick layers of secrecy and opaqueness within which it has traditionally operated. The first step in that direction will be to establish a genuinely autonomous, transparent and accountable institution that is capable of regulating the country’s “nuclear estate.”
  • The words of Professor Kiyoshi Kurokawa, who chaired the Fukushima Nuclear Accident Independent Investigation Commission are eminently appropriate in the Indian context as well: 
“What must be admitted — very painfully — is that this was a disaster ‘Made in Japan.’ Its fundamental causes are to be found in the ingrained conventions of Japanese culture: our reflexive obedience; our reluctance to question authority; our devotion to ‘sticking with the program’; our groupism; and our insularity … nuclear power became an unstoppable force, immune to scrutiny by civil society. Its regulation was entrusted to the same government bureaucracy responsible for its promotion.”
    [Sources: Business Standard, AERB website, The Hindu]


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