Indian cabinet changes nuclear liability bill

20 August 2010

After debating a parliamentary panel report, the Indian cabinet has agreed changes to the Civil Liability for Nuclear Damage Bill, which should now gain support from former opponents. 


RTT News reported that the liability limit has been tripled from Rs 500 crore ($109 million) to Rs 1500 crore ($327 million) and that the time period for making claims in relation to a nuclear incident has been doubled from 10 to 20 years.


A further amendment, bound to be of great interest to foreign firms interested in investing in the Indian nuclear sector, is that the bill has dropped an existing clause that exempted suppliers from liability in the case of an accident. Normally it is the responsibility of the operator of a nuclear facility to work safely, under the authority of a regulator that independently checks and monitors the appropriateness of plant design and safety measures. The exact wording of this deletion has not yet been released, but allowing for supplier liability would run contrary to the principles of liability as established in other countries and international frameworks.


The amended bill also prevents India from ratifying the Convention on Supplementary Compensation for Nuclear Damage, and indeed any international treaty or framework governing nuclear liability under which the supplier cannot be sued in their home country.


Speaking on NDTV today, senior leader of the opposition Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) Murli Manohar mentioned that their major concerns had all been discussed and accepted by the government. He said the new bill is now more 'India-centric' and more closely focused on the rights of victims of potential nuclear accidents.  


Other opposition parties are still not in agreement with the amended bill. Voices on the left are calling for a yet higher increase to the limit of liability, yet others such as a Communist Party of India spokesman, who spoke on the same NDTV broadcast, do not see why there needs to be a cap to liability at all.


The revised bill is expected to be entered to the Lok Sabha (parliament) within days. Its passage would complete a long international legislative process to allow India access to nuclear goods and services from other countries. The vastly populous nation wants to expand its nuclear sector from providing just a few percent of power today to around one quarter by 2050. Key to this will be the import of large advanced reactors and moves towards this have been made with major vendors from Europe, Japan and the USA.
Researched and written
by World Nuclear News