Govt won’t halt Jaitapur, pledges autonomous and free n-regulator

The government today refused to give in to demands to halt work to build nuclear power plants at Jaitapur in Maharashtra but in a big step to instil public confidence in the harnessing of nuclear energy, it decided to make the sectoral regulator, Atomic Energy Regulatory Board, an independent and statutory body.

The government said it will move a Bill in the monsoon session of Parliament to create an "independent and autonomous" Nuclear Regulatory Authority of India "that will subsume the existing Atomic Energy Regulatory Board".

In its existing structure, the AERB reports to the Atomic Energy Commission whose mandate is to promote nuclear energy.

The decision to delink the regulatory body from the atomic energy establishment was taken at a meeting that Prime Minister Manmohan Singh had today with Maharashtra Chief Minister Prithviraj Chavan and Environment Minister Jairam Ramesh over the status of the Jaitapur nuclear power project.

India plans to build six nuclear reactors — two in the first phase — in Jaitapur in association with French nuclear company Areva. The first phase is planned to go operational in 2019.

The Jaitapur project has been facing protests from activists and local communities who are opposed to it for various reasons.

"The question of pausing or halting work at Jaitapur does not arise. We have been meeting with local communities and are taking all steps to address their legitimate concerns. The state government will very soon work out a generous new compensation package for people affected by the project which will be over and above the statutory compensation," Chavan told reporters.

To address safety concerns at Jaitapur in the wake of the tsunami-induced disaster at Fukushima in Japan, it was decided that each reactor in Jaitapur will have its individual stand-alone safety and operation systems.

Atomic Energy Commission chairman Srikumar Banerjee said even in the existing power plants in India, safety features are almost exclusive to every reactor. But to strengthen safety standards, there is a move to make every reactor in a single complex even more independent of each other.

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