Indian Decade

India Beefs Up Nuclear Safety

India’s decision to invite an IAEA review team into the country is a welcome step to boosting nuclear safety.

The Indian government has decided to invite an Operational Safety Review Team of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) to assist in its own safety reviews and audit of the nuclear power plants in the country. The move is widely seen as aimed at preventing a situation similar to the catastrophe triggered by the earthquake and tsunami in Japan earlier this year.

The decisions were taken by the Cabinet Committee on Security (CCS), the government’s highest decision-making body, in its meeting on December 1. The CCS reviewed the safety of nuclear power plants in India and discussed steps that had been taken since the nuclear incident at Fukushima’s Daiichi plant in March.

The government issued a brief press release on December 3 on the CCS meeting and the decisions taken. It’s rare for the government to issue a press release on a CCS meeting as deliberations of this apex body are seldom allowed into the public domain. But perhaps in the interests of easing public concern, the CCS is said to have decided to take the following actions to ensure the complete safety of existing and under-construction nuclear power projects:

1) A technical review has been undertaken of all safety systems located within India’s nuclear power plants, with a particular focus on their ability to withstand the impact of large natural disasters such as tsunamis and earthquakes. Recommendations to enhance safety, wherever required, are being implemented. 

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2) Mechanisms for responding to nuclear and radiological emergencies are being strengthened in coordination with the National Disaster Management Authority, including the setting up of additional emergency response centers. The NDMA has also drawn up various action plans for emergency preparedness.

3) Action that has been taken on previous safety reviews has been placed in the public domain.

4) The Nuclear Safety Regulatory Authority Bill, which aims to create an independent and autonomous nuclear regulatory body, has been introduced in parliament and will hopefully be passed into law.

The CCS also appears to have discussed in some detail a radiation leak in Delhi’s Mayapuri industrial area in April 2010, when one person was killed. The incident, which proved to be an anomaly, caused much concern among Indian security managers as the accidental leak took place six months before Delhi hosted the Commonwealth Games. The Indian concern at the time was over what would happen if terrorists were to engineer a deliberate nuclear radiation leak just before or during the Games.

It seems India’s nuclear industry, young compared with Western nations, is working to ensure the safety and security of its nuclear technology. Learning from the past and strengthening safety standards for the future is always, of course, a welcome step.