New Delhi/Chennai: Harmonising issues of public safety and economic development, the Supreme Court Monday said steps to operationalise the first unit of the Kudankulam Nuclear Power Project (KNPP) in Tamil Nadu would continue uninterrupted.
"While setting up a project of this nature, we have to have an overall view of larger public interest rather than smaller violation of right to life guaranteed under Article 21 of the constitution," an apex court bench of Justice K.S. Radhakrishnan and Dipak Misra said.
"We have to balance economic scientific benefits with that of minor radiological detriments on the touchstone of our national nuclear policy. Economic benefit... has to be viewed on a larger canvas which not only augment our economic growth but alleviate poverty and generate more employment," the court said.
"Larger public interest of the community should give way to individual apprehension of violation of human rights and right to life guaranteed under Article 21," the court said.
While disposing of a public suit seeking an halt on the project's commissioning, the court directed the government, including the environment and forests ministry (MoEF), to submit a report on the compliance of all safety steps.
Justice Radhakrishnan said: "The court has to respect national nuclear policy of the country reflected in the Atomic Energy Act and the same has to be given effect to for the welfare of the people and the country's economic growth and it is with these objectives in mind KNPP has been set up."
"Public money running into crores and crores of rupees has already been spent for the development, control and use of atomic energy for the welfare of the people and, hence, we have to put up with such minor inconveniences, minor radiological detriments and minor environmental detriments," the court said.
The petitioner, Chennai-based IT professional G. Sunderrajan, wanted the government to implement 11 of the 17 additional safety measures recommended for the project by a task force set up by the government in the wake of Fukushima nuclear accident in Japan in 2011.
Justice Misra said: "The AERB as the regulatory authority and the MoEF are obliged to perform their duty that safety measures are adequately taken before the plant commences its operation."
"Safety, security and life would constitute a pyramid within the sanctity of Article 21 and no jettisoning is permissible," Justice Misra said.
"Therefore, I am obliged to think that the delicate balance in other spheres may have some allowance but in the case of establishment of a nuclear plant, the safety measures would not tolerate any lapse. The grammar has to be totally different," he said.
"Problems highlighted, while setting up a nuclear plant, are not unique to this nation, because other countries are also grappling with those situations," the court said.
Justice Radhakrishnan noted that of the "seventeen suggested safety measures, by the Atomic Energy Regulatory Board (AERB), 12 have already been implemented and the rest, in a phased manner have to be implemented...."
"...all the expert teams are unanimous in their opinion of the safety and security of the KNPP both to life and property of the people and the environment which includes marine life," he said.
Reacting to the judgment, M. Pushparayan, a key leader in the People's Movement Against Nuclear Energy (PMANE) told IANS in Chennai: "It is a delayed and unjust judgment. It will not bind us and our protest against the project will continue."
"The KNPP will not even satisfy the power requirements of Tamil Nadu or even Kerala," Pushparayan contended.
"It is discouraging that the court seems to have not considered important issues like the substandard equipments used in the reactor, Coastal Regulation Zone stipulations, spent fuel storage, conduct of proper mock drill for the locals while deciding on the case," he said on phone from Tirunelveli district.
According to Pushparayan, around 25 school children submitted a petition to the Tirunelveli district collector to shut down the nuclear plant due to its substandard equipment.
The NPCIL is setting up the project in Kudankulam, around 650 km from Chennai, with two Russian-made VVER 1,000-MW each reactors.
Key directions given by the Supreme Court Monday on operationalising the Kudankulam Nuclear Power Project in Tamil Nadu are:
* The plant should not be made operational unless Atomic Energy Regulatory Board (AERB) and Nuclear Power Corporation of India (NPCIL) and department of atomic energy (DAE) accord final clearance ... ensuring the quality of various components and systems.
* Environment and forests ministry should oversee and monitor whether the NPCIL is complying with the conditions laid down.
* Endeavour should be made to withdraw all the criminal cases filed against the agitators so that peace and normalcy be restored at Kudankulam and nearby places.
* The AERB, the NPCIL, the environment and forests ministry and the Tamil Nadu Pollution Control Board (TNPCB) would oversee ... safety of the plant, impact on environment, quality of various components and systems in the plant before commissioning of the plant.
* Maintaining safety is an ongoing process not only at the design level, but also during the operation for the nuclear plant ... the NPCIL, the AERB and the regulatory authority should maintain constant vigil and make periodical inspection at least once in three months and if any defect is noticed, the same has to be rectified forthwith.
* The NPCIL shall send periodical reports to the AERB which shall take prompt action on those reports, if any fallacy is noticed in the reports.
* Spent nuclear fuel (SNF) needs to be managed in a safe manner to ensure protection of human health and environment ... for which sufficient surveillance and monitoring programme have to be evolved and implemented.
* The AERB should periodically review the design-safety ... so that there will be no adverse impact on the environment.
* A deep geological repository (DGR) has to be set up at the earliest so that SNF could be transported from the nuclear plant and stored. The NPCIL says the same would be done within a period of five years.
* The NPCIL should ensure that the radioactive discharges into the environment ... shall not cross the limits prescribed by the regulatory body.
* The Union of India, the AERB and the NPCIL should take steps at the earliest to comply with rest of the 17 recommendations, within the time stipulated in the affidavit filed by the NPCIL Dec 3, 2012.
* SNF is not being re-processed at the site, which has to be transported to a Re-Processing facility. Therefore, the management and transportation of SNF be carried out strictly by the code of practices laid down by the AERB, following the norms and regulations laid down by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).
* The NPCIL, the AERB and Tamil Nadu should take adequate steps to implement the National Disaster Management Guidelines, 2009 and also carry out the periodical emergency exercises on-site and off-site.
* The NPCIL, in association with the Tiruneveli district collector should take steps to discharge corporate social responsibilities.
* The NPCIL and Tamil Nadu, based on the comprehensive emergency preparedness plan, should conduct training courses on-site and off-site.