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Why such poor progress?
Dear Minister Modi

The Department of Atomic Energy (DAE) has done excellent work in harnessing nuclear energy for power production, medical and industrial applications and agriculture. More importantly, it is a treasure house of India’s scientific manpower. There are several areas in which DAE’s operations can be improved.

 

Civilian and military regulatory set ups

The archaic Atomic Energy Act of 1964 needs to be recast. The Atomic Energy Regulatory Board (AERB) came into existence by an Act of Parliament based on the Atomic Energy Act. But after 1998, efforts to segregate regulatory responsibilities between the civilian and strategic applications have not been done properly. A regulatory outfit called BARC Safety Council came into existence by the order of the Secretary, DAE. The segregation of responsibilities was made on the basis of BARC, which carries out R&D for both civilian and military applications. Thus even medical and agricultural use of atomic energy applications come under the strategic definition and not under the mainstream of atomic energy regulation in the country.

It is not advisable to bring strategic regulatory activities under a unit of DAE which is also the R&D centre for such applications. Many of these applications involve other agencies, most importantly the Defence department. So an appropriate restructuring is urgently called for.

In future there are going to be grey areas of safety in strategic applications. So the interaction of the two agencies - AERB and that for strategic applications - need to be well-structured.

 

National registry of radiation exposure

The radiation dose registry for India is maintained by BARC. And it has done an exemplary job. However, with the growth of the nuclear industry, it is anachronistic that such critical database required for analysis of any possible accident should be under the control of BARC. With the expansion of the nuclear activities this structuring of responsibility can lead to acrimony if some unfortunate accident takes place. With this in view there was a suggestion for the formation of a separate agency which will be custodian of this important database.  This was accepted in principle among the professional circles in private but not by the establishment.

    A bill for the revision of the Atomic Energy Act has been under the consideration of the Parliament for some time.  But still there is scope for improvement. The regulatory set up needs to be strengthened and a semblance of independence needs to be thought of more deeply.

The Mayapuri accident in which a rogue source was found tampering within the public domain in Delhi that led to the first radiation

causality in the country. The legislation is so loose that people who were responsible for the incident were never penalised. These need to be looked into by the ministry of judicial affairs. No technical documentation of the details of the accident is available in the public domain.

There are many aspects of atomic energy that needs to be made accountable. There is a need for intra-governmental reviews of activities. We find the targets set by the DAE always falling short of plans. Even of late, some reports claim that 45,000 MW of nuclear power will be installed by end of the decade! A cursory analysis would tell anyone of the impossibility of achieving this in six years! This over-projection must be controlled; otherwise it can never be taken seriously in any planning of power production in the country.

Bilateral deals non-starters

In the aftermath of the Indo-USA nuclear deal, many unilateral international concessions were given and many facilities were brought under safeguard control. But did we get back anything substantial?  We need to concentrate on our own resources more judiciously in planning and setting targets. As an example, for medical use of radioisotopes, we are now left with just one reactor, other two have been shut down under the Indo-USA agreement; and no new indigenous isotope production reactor seems to be under planning. By and large, our requirements of

medical isotopes, which are critical to the medical applications in key areas such as cancer therapy, diagnostic applications, etc. in the country, depend on imports. A lack of planning is apparent in these areas.

Public communication strategies need to be developed using modern techniques. There needs to be more work on these aspects aimed at proper communication with the public.

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