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Bharath Kumar asked: Considering the fact our bridge fell off during CWG without EQ (and Bhopal), I am curious about the safety of nuclear facilities? All good?

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  • A. Vinod Kumar replies: It is natural to be curious and concerned about safety of our civil nuclear energy facilities, in the light of the Japanese tragedy. I will also not call it unfair to compare it with the mishaps during the CWG constructions and the Bhopal tragedy. For such events reflect the national culture in constructing and maintaining national assets and how much of commitment and accountability is followed on their establishment. Hence, the worries on nuclear energy facilities are genuine and need to be addressed by the government before we plunge into our contribution to the nuclear energy renaissance.

    Yet, despite all what we need to be worried about, our nuclear energy infrastructure has been amazingly robust, reliable and durable. A reason why this could be affirmatively claimed is the environment in which the nuclear energy infrastructure came up. The questioner might recall that for most part of our nuclear energy development years, we were at the receiving end of technology control regimes, like the NSG. While proliferation concerns were cited as reason why we were kept outside, besides the fact that we didn’t sign the NPT, another inherent element was the questions regarding our ability to ‘safely’ run the nuclear infrastructure. This was more of a western prejudice on most third world countries. Hence, even when we developed an indigenous nuclear energy infrastructure like Pressurized Heavy Water Reactor (PHWR), the DAE stressed that we adhere to the best practices and standards of safety. And that culture has been followed as a sacrosanct value ever since.

    A case in example is the Tsunami onslaught on Kalpakkam in December 2004. Unlike in Fukushima where the power units to run the coolant systems were perilously close to sea, and hence vulnerable to tidal surges, our power units in Kalpakkam are reportedly secured at a height of 15 meters, sufficiently away from the sea. Not many might recall that a whole housing colony for Kalpakkam employees were wiped out by the Tsunami, but yet our reactor and the power units were intact thanks to such measures.
    Hence, even while we conceive ourselves as a corrupt nation without accountability on national assets and infrastructure, this is one example to show how we might be more progressive then even many western countries on safety and security. Of course, the Bhopal tragedy might have been an eye-opener which our planners took seriously while planning other national assets. That tragedy also very well reflects in our Nuclear Liability Bill in which, much to chagrin of western suppliers, we have made long-term provisions to make even the suppliers accountable to any mishaps in nuclear facilities.