DAE allays fears over nuclear liability law

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protestNew Delhi, September 19; Days ahead of the Prime Minister’s visit to the United States, a controversy erupted on Thursday over the move to sign a contract for setting up of a nuclear plant with an American company bypassing the atomic regulator even as the Department of Atomic Energy asserted that any contract signed will be fully consistent with Indian law.

The DAE also said Nuclear Power Corporation of India Ltd (NPCIL), the Indian operator, will enter into a preliminary contract with America’s Westinghouse only with the approval of Atomic Energy Commission (AEC) and the government here.

The statement by the DAE came after a note for Cabinet Committee on Security, suggesting bypassing the AEC, became public and also the reports that the proposed contract may not be in tune with the Indian nuclear liability law, evoking a sharp reaction from various political parties, including the BJP and the Left.

CCS was to consider the note in its meeting on Fridayw. But the meeting has been rescheduled for September 24 and it was not clear whether the proposal will be part of the fresh agenda for Tuesday’s meeting.

According to the note, there is a proposal to sign a ’Preliminary Contract’ between NPCIL and Westinghouse Electric Company (WEC) to buy six 1000 MW nuclear reactors at a cost of $ 15.16 million for a power plant to be set up at Chayya-Mithivirdi in Gujarat.

The CCS note comes following an opinion rendered by Attorney General G E Vahanvati in which he is learnt to have said that it is up to the nuclear plant operator — in this case NPCIL — to invoke section 17 of the Civil Liability for Nuclear Disaster Act regarding liability of suppliers in case of a mishap.

However, this was met with a sharp reaction from political parties with BJP saying reports of India compromising on crucial clauses in the Nuclear Liability Act regarding fixing of liability is “worrisome”. It alleged that Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has allowed this to give a gift to American companies during his forthcoming visit to the US.

Warning that it would be an “illegal act” on part of the government if tried to dilute the liability act, Left parties said “it is evident that the UPA government is succumbing to the pressure of the US administration to safeguard their companies’ interests. But this cannot be at the expense of the interests of the country.”

But the government sought to downplay the controversy saying there will be no dilution on the issue and the country’s interest will be protected.

External Affairs Minister Salman Khurshid said while India needs energy, it will get it at its “own terms and conditions”.

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