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Fission over N-Bill

The Nuclear Liability Bill has become a hot potato for the UPA government. We zero in on the key issues.

K.R. Balasubramanyam | Print Edition: July 11, 2010

The background: The historic Indo-US Nuclear deal on October 10, 2008, ended India's nuclear pariah status. The deal can work only if the Parliament clears the Nuclear Liability Bill, which seeks to cap the liability of nuclear operators.

What's at stake: India's newlyopened civilian nuclear energy market is worth $150 billion over the next few years. India aims to generate 20,000 MWof nuclear power by 2020 and 63,000 MWby 2032, with plans to build 24-30 new reactors, in addition to the existing 19 reactors.

What the Bill proposes: It caps all liability due to any accident at $450 million. The Bill also proposes to cap the liability of an individual operator of a nuclear plant at Rs 500 crore (about $100 million). The Opposition feels this is woefully inadequate given the scale of the 1984 Bhopal Gas Tragedy and the paltry relief victims got in return.

The government's stand: The draft legislation is consistent with the Convention on Supplementary Compensation (CSC) for Nuclear Damage adopted by the International Atomic Energy Agency in 1997. The Rs 500-crore cap on individual operators will be periodically reviewed.

What needs to be done: The compensation payable in the event of a nuclear incident has to be substantially raised. In the US, in the event of an accident, first the insurer pays and beyond that, a fund jointly contributed by the operators pays up to $10 billion. (The foreign reactor supplier's role must be clearly defined and the supplier be held accountable if its negligence were to cause any incident.)

Bill's status now: Before the Parliamentary Standing Committee which has time till July 14 to submit its views.

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