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Yet another nuclear disaster

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Yet another nuclear disaster
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The breakthrough Indo US nuclear deal has raised a few eyebrows as concerns whether the deal would plunge the economy deeper into crisis or prove beneficial, soar up.

US President Barack Obama and Indian Premier Modi agreed on a deal to limit the legal liability of US suppliers in the event of a nuclear power plant catastrophe. The Modi government pandered to the US demands of an insurance scheme that would cap the exposure of nuclear suppliers and open the door to billions of dollars of new contracts. Only few specific details have been released after the announcement of the agreement in a press conference by both the nations on civil nuclear cooperation and critics are already being wary of the adverse effects. Neither the representatives of the people, the political leaders nor the Human Rights groups are aware of the details of the deal. India’s Nuclear Liability Act, which provides civil liability for nuclear damage and prompts compensation for victims, is likely to be amended as it is unclear whether compensations would be provided for victims for any nuclear disaster.

Despite providing allowances, the private US companies did not agree to the deal. The Indian Nuclear Liability Act or the CLNDA has been extremely controversial and is already weak. The law contains many clauses which the opposition parties claim is ‘unconstitutional’ and the government has finally succumbed to the US pressure. The rules of the Act limited supplier liability to Rs 1, 500 crore. A writ petition challenging the constitutional validity of the law is already pending before the Supreme Court. But the Modi government has decided to move ahead even with this limited liability. According to the new deal between US and India, the companies have been freed from paying the amount. They would not be held responsible for disasters if any.

The 2011 Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster in Japan and the Chernobyl disaster in Ukraine in 1986 caused huge losses coming up to 10, 500 crore dollars and 23, 500 crore dollars respectively. The 1984 Bhopal tragedy is yet another instance where the responsible parties got away without any compensation. One of the world’s worst industrial disasters, the infamous chemical leak killed more than 4000 people and left almost 3000 permanently disabled. Even after thirty years, the compensation claims remain pending. The two nuclear power plants would be constructed in Gujarat and Andra Pradesh as the Toshiba-Westinghouse scheme in Gujarat’s Mithi Virdi, and the General Electric Hitachi scheme at Kovvada in Andra Pradesh. Both the projects would be using untested technologies. In both instances, public sector Nuclear Power Corporation of India will be the operator.

The publicly funded ‘Insurance pool’ system suggested by the Prime Minister is commercially shaky and is apparently used to cover up the foreign suppliers and the liability under the law. Of the total 24.4 crore dollars of insurance amount envisaged, half would be paid by the public sector insurance companies and the remaining by the central government. This plainly means that the people would have to bear the brunt through payable tax and also through electricity costs if necessary. Countries like the US are closing down their existing nuclear power plants and replacing them with alternative energy sources like the sun and wind energy that are cheap and less dangerous. Electricity from these renewable sources cost Rs 8 and Rs 4.5 per unit respectively. The Forbes magazine had in 1985 declared the US nuclear deal as 'the largest managerial disaster in business history'. Despite being aware of all this fact, the Indian government is adamant on moving ahead with the deal putting corporate interests above the public welfare.

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