THE ABJECT, CRAVEN MANNER in which the government has capitulated to pressure from multinationals—in particular, American ones—and Indian corporations where it comes to capping liability for nuclear accidents is both shocking and unparalleled. It’s as if the Civil Liability for Nuclear Damage Bill were drafted by the Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry, which last year set up a Working Group headed by nuclear industry executives to demand just such legislation. The bill will earn the government nothing but discredit and set an egregious legal precedent, imperilling public safety.
The bill sets an unconscionably low cap on the total liability for a nuclear accident (300 million Special Drawing Rights or about 23 billion rupees) and an even lower five billion rupees on the operator’s liability. The difference is to be made up by the government, that is, the public, which isn’t even remotely responsible for any mishap that may occur. The total liability is infinitesimal in relation to the likely damage from a catastrophic accident like Chernobyl, which would run into hundreds of billions of SDRs, or quadrillions of rupees. Some 65,000 people perished in Chernobyl, mainly from radiation-induced cancers, and the estimated damage runs into 250 billion dollars. If a Chernobyl were to occur in Germany, it could wreak losses of 2-6 trillion dollars, wiping out the country’s annual GDP, according to an independent expert study.
Yet, a Chernobyl, or a core-meltdown accident, can happen in each of the world’s existing 430-odd nuclear-power reactors regardless of their design or configuration. That includes the bulk of Indian nuclear reactors, based on the Canadian natural uranium-heavy water design.