SC notice to Russia on Kudankulam Nuclear Power Plant liability exemption

The Supreme Court on Thursday issued notice to the central government on a PIL challenging the exemption to Russia from any liability under the nuclear liability act in the event of any accident in Unit 1 and 2 of the Kudankulam Nuclear Power Plant.

The petition by the Centre for Public Interest Litigation (CPIL) has sought the declaration that irrespective of any agreement, it (Russia) might have with Indian government, Russia would be bound by the Civil Liability for Nuclear Damage Act, 2010, in the event of any accident at the plant.

A bench of Justice KS Radhakrishnan and Justice Dipak Misra issued notice in respect of Unit 1 and 2 of the KNPP which were exempted under the agreement between India and Russia.

Russian was granted waiver from any civil liability under the act on the grounds that the agreement for the supply of Unit 1 and 2 of the KNPP was signed in 2008.

The court issued notice after senior counsel Jayant Bhushan told the court that the agreement exempting Russia from any liability has inherently dangerous implications and it was a settled law that all “agreements/undertaking (that are) in conflict of the law or public policy are void to the extent of the said conflict”.

As court issued notice, it noted that the exemption give to Russia was only in respect of the Unit 1 and 2 of the KNPP and not in respect of Unite 3 and 4.

To a query from the court, the Attorney General G. Vahanvati said that Kudankulam reactors 3 and 4 were covered by the liability law.

The court also said that the earlier petition by the NGO Common Cause and other eminent citizens challenging the constitutional validity of the nuclear liability law itself be tagged and heard along with this case.

In the earlier petition challenging the constitutional validity of the act, notice was issued March 16, 2012, to examine the constitutional validity of the act that limits the liability to Rs 1,500 crores.

The court also asked the government to file an affidavit on the disaster management and rehabilitation of people living around the KNPP.

Bhushan told that court that under the 1989 environmental clearance, the union environment and forests ministry directed that exclusion zone (where no person can reside) must be of two km.

The government has unilaterally modified it to be 1.6 km, and so violation of an essential condition would make the clearance void, he contended.

As the court directed the listing of the matter next week, it said that it would also examine the environmental and safety aspects of the plant.

Plea for stalling Kudankulam nuke project reaches SC

The row over setting up the Kudankulam nuclear power plant in Tamil Nadu reached the Supreme Court with a petition, which sought its directions to restrain the Union government and other authorities from commissioning the controversial project.

The Special Leave Petition (SLP) by social activist G Sundarrajan against the Madras High Court’s Aug 31 decision refusing to impose any restraint has claimed that non-implementation of various recommendations formulated by the Government’s Task Force “puts to grave risk the safety of millions of citizens.”

The petition, filed through counsel Prashant Bhushanand Pranav Sachdeva, said the high court had given a go ahead to the nuclear power plant without first ensuring that the 17 critical safety features recommended by the Central government’s expert task-force are put in place.

It complained that in complete violation of the absolute liability principle evolved by the apex court, the government has absolved the Russian company supplying the nuclear reactor of any liability in case of an accident.

“The government has also brutally cracked down on the local community peacefully protesting against the plant and has slapped sedition cases against thousands of protesters. “Thus it is absolutely clear that the government intends to push the project through without any consideration of the safety, costs, environmental impact and other concerns regarding the project,” the petition said.

The petitioner urged the court to pass an “ex-parte ad-interim injunction against the respondents from further proceeding with Initial Fuel Loading and/or Commissioning the Unit 1& 2 of the KudankulamNuclear Power Project till the recommendations of the task force regarding the said project are fully implemented.”

According to the petition, the government’s Task Force had made a detailed review of the safety measures of the project in the light of inadequacies of Fukushmia plant which suffered due to lack of alternative fresh water storage and want of back-up power system.

The Task Force had sought implementation of its 17 recommendations before commissioning units 1 and 2 of KKNPP, the petition said.

The important recommendations among other things related to the provision of alternative fresh water storage system and emergency pumping equipment, which are yet to be implemented even today, it added.

It said the Atomic Energy Regulatory Board (AERB) now states that implementation of these measures would take six months to 2 years.

“If, by chance, any natural disaster happens before the said measures are implemented, there is every chance of a meltdown and huge leakage of radiation that would make a large area uninhabitable for decades and would need evacuation of millions of people,” the petition said.

The petitioner said the AERB could not act independently in the matter because it is under the Atomic Energy Department and hence is unable to act firmly.

“India’s nuclear safety regulator AERBis a body under the control of the very department it is supposed to regulate and merely acts as a rubber-stamping authority, and thereby, it has put to grave risk the rights of the citizens under Article 21 of the Constitution,” the petition said.

The petitioner said with the Civil Liability for Nuclear Damage Act, 2010 coming into force from Sept 21, 2010, the liability of the nuclear plant operator and supplier has been pegged at a meagre Rs 1,500 crore “in complete violation of the absolute liability principle” propounded by the apex court in its earlier judgements on environmental issues.

“Russia claims that it is exempt from even this minimal liability since their contract with the Indian government states that they would not be liable,” the petition said.

(Source : PTI)