x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 25 July 2017

India's nuclear regulator 'weak and poses grave risks to country'

National auditor analyses performance of Atomic Energy Regulatory Board and finds it has no powers to make rules, monitor safety at nuclear power plants or enforce standards.

NEW DELHI // India's nuclear energy regulator is weak and lacks independence, posing grave risks to the country, the national auditor warned in a report yesterday.

The Comptroller and Auditor General(Cag) said it had analysed the performance of the Atomic Energy Regulatory Board (AERB), in light of the expansion of nuclear power in energy-starved India.

It warned that the organisation was effectively a "subordinate office" to the central government and had no powers to make rules, monitor safety at nuclear power plants or enforce standards.

"Failure to have an autonomous and empowered regulator is fraught with grave risks," the Cag concluded in its report, pointing to the lessons learned from the Fukushima disaster in Japan last year.

"There is an urgent need for the government to bolster the status of AERB if it is to qualify as an independent regulator in a sector which is likely to become increasingly important," it said.

Responsibility for monitoring exposure to radioactive substances at the country's six nuclear power plants lay with the operators, not the AERB, and the regulator had no power to put in place emergency procedures, the Cag said.

It also noted that the AERB also did not have any oversight of the decommissioning process for nuclear plants, for which there is no legislative framework, and had no way of confirming that radioactive waste was disposed of safely.

India is heavily dependent on coal and produces less than 3 per cent of its energy from atomic power. The government hopes to raise the figure to 25 per cent by 2050.

In the most recent accident at a nuclear plant, more than 40 workers at the Rajasthan Atomic Power Station in northern India were exposed to tritium radiation in June and last month, although none of them was seriously harmed.

The Cag also highlighted the AERB's lax monitoring of other radiation centers, including medical X-ray facilities or other industrial centers using radioactive substances.

In April 2010, a machine from Delhi University containing cobalt-60, a radioactive metal used for radiotherapy in hospitals, ended up in a scrapyard in the city. It killed a worker and seven others were hospitalised.

"Around 91 per cent of the medical X-ray facilities in the country had not been registered with AERB and as such were out of its regulatory control," the report said.