Opposition ‘Nu’ Cleared : Civil Liability for Nuclear Damage Bill


On 6th July 2010 in the wake of the Bhopal Gas Tragedy verdict many a articles were written across newspapers on how the compensation was inadequate and how it was calculated at 5,000 deaths and 20,000 injured as against 25,000 deaths and maiming another 5,00,000 in the study commissioned by ICMR in 1994 (10 years after the accident).

The same day I had written in this blog an article Bhopal Tragedy & Civil Liability.

I quote few lines from the article. “For the UPA Government trying to push the Civil Liability for Nuclear Damage Bill on capping civil nuclear liability in order to pave the way for the American transnational companies to export their nuclear reactors to India without having to bear the full liability on account of an accident, is a non issue. The Bill, which was introduced twice and hastily  withdrawn, states that the total liability for a nuclear incident shall not exceed 300 million Special Drawing Rights (Approximately Rs 2100 crore at current exchange rates). Within this amount, the liability of the supplier shall be Rs 500 crore. The liability of Rs. 500 crore is the same liability UCIL negotiated in 1989. The price for the worst Industrial disaster in the World. The price for 25,000 dead Indians. 

Now here is the icing, if the liability in case of a Nuclear accident exceeds Rs 500 crore, the Union Government of India shall be liable for the amount exceeding Rs 500 crore. If damage is caused in a nuclear installation owned by the central government, the government will be solely liable.

We have seen how the political leadership, the Indian Judiciary and Bureaucracy has dealt with the worst industrial disaster in the World, which killed and maimed thousands of people. In the intervening 25 years, the Congress Party ruled Madhya Pradesh for 15 years and the BJP 10 years, so no one is above board. As tragic as the tragedy itself, these tyrants of the modern day India, through political manipulation have ensured that on an average each victims of Bhopal gas tragedy got, just Rs. 12,412 as compensation. Let us not play ball to the powers-to-be, to manipulate us any more at the insistence of the American Corporations and the US Government.” Un quote.

Today the Government announced that the Standing Committee report on the Civil Liability for Nuclear Damage Bill is likely to be tabled in Parliament tomorrow. With the intension to pass the Bill before US President Barack Obama‘s visit in November 2010, the Government has got the BJP support on the Bill. The passage of the Bill will open up India’s $150 billion nuclear power sector.

Chairman for the Standing Committee on the Bill, Subbirami Reddy said that all the contentious issues have been addressed in the Bill. Compensation cap will be increased from Rs 500 to Rs 1,500 crore and the zero liability clause has been amended, which was a key demand by the BJP and Left Front. The Bill will now sure be passed by the Parliament even though the CPI-M has given a dissent note demanding that the compensation cap be increased to Rs 10,000 crore.

The proposed compensation cap of Rs. 1500 crore in current exchange rate would mean US$32 millions. A look at Wikipedia on Nuclear accidents gives a list of 14 nuclear power plant accidents with more than US$100 million in property damage, upto 2007. Reporducing the same for you:

Date Location Description Cost
(in millions
2006 $)
February 22, 1977 Jaslovske Bohunice, Czechoslovakia Severe corrosion of reactor and release of radioactivity into the plant area, necessitating total decommission US$1,700
March 28, 1979 Middletown, Pennsylvania, US Loss of coolant and partial core meltdown, see Three Mile Island accident and Three Mile Island accident health effects US$2,400
September 15, 1984 Athens, Alabama, US Safety violations, operator error, and design problems force six year outage at Browns Ferry Unit 2 US$110
March 9, 1985 Athens, Alabama, US Instrumentation systems malfunction during startup, which led to suspension of operations at all three Browns Ferry Units US$1,830
April 11, 1986 Plymouth, Massachusetts, US Recurring equipment problems force emergency shutdown of Boston Edison’s Pilgrim Nuclear Power Plant US$1,001
April 26, 1986 Kiev, Ukraine Steam explosion and meltdown with 4,056 deaths (see Chernobyl disaster) necessitating the evacuation of 300,000 people from Kiev and dispersing radioactive material across Europe (see Chernobyl disaster effects) US$6,700
November 24, 1989 Greifswald, East Germany Electrical error causes fire in the main trough that destroys control lines and five main coolant pumps UD$443
May 4, 1986 Hamm-Uentrop, Germany Experimental reactor releases excessive radiation to four square kilometers surrounding the facility US$267
March 31, 1987 Delta, Pennsylvania, US Peach Bottom units 2 and 3 shutdown due to cooling malfunctions and unexplained equipment problems US$400
December 19, 1987 Lycoming, New York, US Malfunctions force Niagara Mohawk Power Corporation to shut down Nine Mile Point Unit 1 US$150
March 17, 1989 Lusby, Maryland, US Inspections at Calvert Cliff Units 1 and 2 reveal cracks at pressurized heater sleeves, forcing extended shutdowns US$120
February 20, 1996 Waterford, Connecticut, US Leaking valve forces shutdown Millstone Nuclear Power Plant Units 1 and 2, multiple equipment failures found US$254
September 2, 1996 Crystal River, Florida, US Balance-of-plant equipment malfunction forces shutdown and extensive repairs at Crystal River Unit 3 US$384
February 16, 2002 Oak Harbor, Ohio, US Severe corrosion of control rod forces 24-month outage of Davis-Besse reactor US$143

In 2008 President George Bush and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh signed and sealed a civil nuclear agreement which ended New Delhi’s isolation in global atomic commerce and opened up its state-controlled nuclear power market to American transnational companies. And when this agreement got the endorsement of the Nuclear Suppliers Group (46 member group of countries) other countries could also have nuclear trade with New Delhi. But it is common knowledge that nuclear trade is primarily driven by seven member countries – US, UK, Canada, Japan, Germany, France and Russia.

The Indo-US Nuclear deal could not be implemented until India put in place a compensation regime that limited the liability of private companies, especially those from the United States, in the event of an industrial accident. So, India framed the Civil Liability for Nuclear Damage Bill 2010 which stipulates the compensation burden on the state-run reactor operator, the liability of the Union Government and the responsibility of private suppliers and contractors.

The Civil Liability for Nuclear Damage Bill is important for the private American companies whose liabilities are not underwritten by the US governments as is done by the governments of Russia and France. Compensation claims from one nuclear accident could be enough to bankrupt a private company. These companies are reluctant to enter the Indian market despite its size ($150 billion), until there is some clarity on compensation in case of an accident. The US Administration and Obama has been pushing this with the Indian Government.

 The Prime Minister sure is in a hurry to remove all the hurdles for Nuclear trade with the US before the proposed visit by President Obama to India in November, but little thought is put in by the Indian Government and Bureaucracy inspite of the Bhopal Gas Tragedy.  With the passage of the Civil Liability for Nuclear Damage Bill in both the houses of Parliament, we will create more Bhopal’s in our backyard and still be able to sell India cheap. And dead Indian’s cheaper.

Suggested Reading : http://wp.me/pV9Cw-5z

Statistics Copyright : Nuclear Accidents – Wikipedia

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    • Surajit Mitra
    • August 19th, 2010

    Has the Government of India not learned from the Bhopal Gas Tragedy. Why should the tax payers of India pay for the damages due to a Nuclear accident.

  1. Thanks for your thoughtful analysis of the Civil Liability for Nuclear Damage Bill 2010. The costs of recorded Nuclear Accidents is very relevant to this discussion. We are taking away the Rights of our children and also of their children. Release of Radiation into environment puts children at very high risk as they are extremely susceptible to Radiation injury. Radiation Release is clearly linked to Cancer Incidence in the Community. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh would be remembered for this Himalayan Blunder.

    • Griffith Sharon
    • September 2nd, 2010

    For what its worth, the infinitely reliable Wikipedia makes me think that the last major nuclear accident is yet to happened. It will wipe out the entire freeking human race.

    OMG its so scary… Read http://marketingtheworld.com/nuclearpower/nuclearaccidents.php

    • ramalingam ramaswamy
    • September 17th, 2010

    Now that the Bill has been passed with modifications suggested by the opposition parties, US has begun piling pressure on India to be mindful of the concerns of foreign suppliers when rules are framed for the civil nuclear liability bill passed by Parliament.

    But I feel rules should be framed keeping in mind that US always tries to manipulate things for their own good. It is not that GoI should say yes to whatever US says as the recent history has been. But India should think seriously about its citizens and not just fall in any mirage or illusion which US is very much capable of producing. After reading your article am scared for the next generation of India.

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