The Supreme Court Thursday told the government not to treat as an adversarial litigation the petition seeking implementation of all safety steps before the commissioning of the Kudankulam Nuclear Power Plant (KNPP) as it concerns public interest.
A bench of Justice K.S. Radhakrishnan and Justice Dipak Misra made the observation when Solicitor General Rohinton Nariman sought to counter counsel Prashant Bhushan while he was arguing the case against the loading of fuel rods in the reactor of the plant till all the 17 safety steps recommended by the expert committee were put in place.
Asking the Solicitor General to be patient, Justice Radhakrishnan observed: “It concerns the rights of the people. It is a matter of public interest (matter). We understand it.”
It also told Nariman that issues being raised by Bhushan were not piecemeal as he had contended.
The court’s response came in the course of the hearing of a petition by an IT professional, P. Sundarrajan, seeking to restrain Nuclear Power Corporation of India Ltd (NPCIL) from going ahead with the loading of the fuel rods in the reactor of KNPP’s unit one.
During the last hearing Sep 13, the court had declined to pass any immediate order to restrain the government and NPCIL from going ahead with the loading of nuclear fuel rods in the reactor of the plant.
Assailing the Atomic Energy Regulatory Board’s (AERB) nod for the loading the fuel rods in KKNPP, Bhushan said that the regulatory board had made an unequivocal statement that the Tamil Nadu nuclear plant would not be commissioned without implementing the 17 recommendations of the expert committee that was set up in the wake of Fukushima nuclear power plant accident in Japan.
Now the same regulatory board says that fuel roads could be loaded in the reactor and safety recommendations could be implemented in the due course of the time, he told the court.
Mocking at the AERB for allegedly backtracking from its position before the Madras High Court, Bhushan said: “If it (safety measures) is not required, then why they should be implemented even after two years? If they (safety steps) are required to be taken, then why not before the loading of the fuel rods?”
On the government’s submission that the 17 steps were by way of abundant caution and were not pre-requisite for commissioning of the plant, Bhushan said: “In nuclear plant you have to move with more than abundant caution because nuclear accident is catastrophic.”
Bhushan also contended that the KNPP had never received the environmental impact assessment and there was no nuclear emergency management plan as envisaged by the National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA).
Questioning the way AERB was functioning – not as an independent regulatory authority but as an authority subservient to the atomic energy establishment – Bhushan referred to the Comptroller and Auditor General questioning whether the AERB was discharging the objective it was created for and should it stay on as regulatory authority.
At this, Justice Misra asked: “Can CAG comment on the constitution of an authority which legislatures empower the state to create. Can a body exist or not… can it come under the purview of the CAG.”
Responding to the observation, Bhushan said that AERB gave its nod for the loading of fuel rods under the government’s pressure. He also noted that the current AEB chief was earlier chief of the NPCIL.
Saying that it would like to hear what guarantees the government could provide on the safety steps, the court directed the listing of the PIL petition Sep 27 for further hearing.