This is a welcome step. However, several measures to strengthen the independence of the regulatory authorities are required.
One such is to empower the authority to prevent repeat of the Mayapuri type of incidents. In that case, no criminal charges against the violators of safety norms could be made, presumably due to the soft nature of the norms. The regulatory body need to be given teeth to deal with lapses on the part of the licensees. More often, the regulator is unable to enforce strict regulatory norms in cases of violation, and often forced to bend regulatory norms to accommodate the licensees. Strict enforcement is possible only if the regulator is armed with sufficient powers.
Several features to make the regulator robust and independent were recommended by the IAEA in the aftermath of the Fukushima disaster. IAEA found that the independence of the Japanese regulator was not at the desired level.
Can raise uncomfortable questions
The custodianship of the radiation exposure records is with one of the wings of the DAE (BARC). This is an example of the lax set up. This can give rise to uncomfortable questions if an unfortunate accident occurs in the domain of atomic energy. The defaulting agencies in case of an accident could raise the veracity of the radiation exposure database. Technical competency is one factor, which might be raised by proponents of status quo: this can be sorted out by the independent stakeholder of the data. I am not suggesting that the data could be tampered with, but it is difficult to establish legally the independence of the holding authority in case of accidents.
Dual set up for defence and civilians...Incorporation of dual independent regulatory set up for defence and civil applications needs to be built into the regulation. The interaction of the two, in case some accident happens in the public domain from the use of atomic energy in defence applications would naturally need to be considered. I am not sure if these are considered at present.
The US legislation would be a model. The current makeshift bifurcation based on the institution (BARC safety council for BARC - managed facilities) is not the ideal one. Due to this, currently even medical applications under BARC do not come under AERB. The present regulatory set up with a wing of DAE involving operations under the Department of Defence could lead to un-reconcilable decisions if this is not sorted out.
Further, the present status does not have the ultimate sanction in the Atomic Energy Act. It is to be noted that, the use of atomic energy in strategic applications is not conceded directly by the Atomic Energy Act; it allows only the use of ato-
mic energy for peaceful purposes. The proponents of status quo might argue for indirect incorporation of this in the Atomic Energy Act. One can visualize situations in the future when this would lead to problems.