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Special Report
The Nuclear Safety Culture in India: Past, Present and Future
Chaitanya Ravi

Global, electricity demand is expected to grow by 76% from 2007-20301 resulting in a steep (over 50%) increase in energy related greenhouse gas emissions from coal fired power plants in the absence of concerted efforts by governments to transition to cleaner sources. There is talk of a large increase in nuclear capacity worldwide (Nuclear Renaissance)2 to meet the twin challenges of energy security and climate security in an energy starved, carbon constrained world. Electricity generation from nuclear power is projected to increase from about 2.7 trillion kilowatt hours in 2006 to 3.8 trillion kilowatt hours in 20303 with the fastest growth occurring in Asia (average annual rate of 7.8 per cent from 2006 to 2030, including 9.9 percent per year in India). India currently has seventeen Pressurized Heavy Water Reactors (PHWR’s) with a total installed capacity of 4120 MWe5 thatsupply 3% of its electricity. Recently, Prime Minister Singh projected a seven fold increase in installed capacity to 35000 MWe by the year 2022, and to 60,000 MWe by 2032 at the Nuclear Security Summit.7 Such aggressive expansion targets have been announced in the aftermath of the landmark Indo-U.S nuclear deal that ended the three decade old sanctions regime (imposed after India’s 1974 nuclear test) and enables India to buy nuclear reactors, uranium and dual use technologies on the international market despite its NPT holdout status. Five “Nuclear Energy Parks” housing multiple imported reactor units8 are expected to provide about 40,000- 45,000 MWe. The long term target of the DAE is to supply 25% of India’s electricity by 2050.10 Any substantial increase in nuclear capacity will result in an increase in the number of facilities throughout the fuel cycle having profound implications for nuclear safety. A serious lapse in safety may slow the growth of nuclear power in India. The report begins by examining the recent acrimonious debate over the civil nuclear liability bill and the government’s response to the radiation poisoning caused by Cobalt 60 at Mayapuri in New Delhi to understand the current attitudes and institutional structures affecting nuclear safety in India. The report then chronicles a few key safety related incidents that have occurred at various Indian nuclear facilities in the recent past. The key question that it tries to answer is whether India’s nuclear and radiation policies, institutions and facilities are ready to prevent or respond rapidly to threats ranging from radioactive material in imported scrap to an accident at a nuclear reactor? Finally, some preliminary recommendations are made to sensitize policymakers and civil society to the areas of improvement in current arrangements.


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