Independence of the nuclear regulator is being debated in India. The need for nuclear capacity addition is also being questioned in the country. In an exclusive interview, the Atomic Energy Regulatory Board (AERB) chairman S S Bajaj
spoke to Sanjay Jog
about these issues, among others. Edited excerpts:
After the Fukushima nuclear accident in 2011, political parties, NGOs and experts are questioning nuclear power projects in India. As a regulator, what is your take in this regard?
AERB is neither for nuclear power nor against it; or for that matter for any other application of nuclear energy or radiation application. As a regulator, AERB's mandate is to ensure that activities involving ionising radiation are conducted safely.
It is for the government and its energy planners to work out the energy mix required for the country, taking into account society's aspirations with regard to standards of living and associated energy needs on one hand and available sustainable energy resources on the other. Sustainability, of course, includes secure availability of resources as well as environmental impact of continued utilisation of the resource.
How safe are Indian nuclear power plants?
After the Fukushima nuclear accident, AERB undertook exhaustive safety assessments of all operating nuclear power plants in the country. These assessments were led by a high-level committee with independent experts. The conclusion was that the plants have sound designs and operating practices to cope with design basis events including external events. However, to add further margins and robustness, particularly to cope with beyond design-basis situations, additional safety upgrades have been recommended for implementation in a phased manner. Some of these upgrades have already been put in place, while others are in progress for completion in an agreed time-frame.
What major changes are being carried out in safety applications in nuclear plants as directed by AERB?
Following the Fukushima accident, AERB recommended certain additional safety enhancements to further augment the safety of Indian nuclear power plants such as enhancing the reliability of cooling through external hook up points, strengthening backup power supply, strengthening provision for monitoring of critical parameter under prolonged loss of power, enhancing severe accident management programme, training and mock-up exercises of operating personnel, creation of emergency monitoring facility capable of withstanding severe flood, cyclone, and earthquake.
These recommendations are being implemented in the nuclear power plants in a phased manner. AERB is continuously monitoring the progress of implementation of these safety enhancements. Similar time-bound implementation for the identified safety enhancements after Fukushima accident is being carried out in a phased manner in all operating reactors worldwide.
At the AERB level, what is the status of Kudankulam, Jaitapur and other projects lined up for development?
AERB is presently reviewing the test results at current stage of commissioning for various systems of the Kudankulam nuclear power project - unit 1&2. With regard to Jaitapur and Gorakhpur projects, the site evaluation is under review by AERB.
For the upcoming Kudankulam project, AERB has a system of quality checks, testing and reviews specified and enforced by it. According to AERB's well-established regulatory process, commissioning stage of a nuclear power plant involves conducting series of checks and tests, system-wise and also in an integrated manner to ensure all the systems perform as per the design intent. The results of various tests conducted at each stage are reviewed in AERB. Only after satisfactory review is permission for proceeding to subsequent stage given.
Experts and NGOs are questioning the independent status of AERB. What are your views?
It is a wrong notion that AERB is an extended arm of the Department of Atomic Energy (DAE). AERB is independent of DAE while reporting to the Atomic Energy Commission (AEC). Reporting of AERB to AEC, in practical terms, comprises submission of AERB's annual report and the approval of the annual Budget.