The national auditor's report on India's nuclear safety has raised concerns over a weak regulatory body. In its report on the Atomic Energy Regulatory Board's (AERB) performance audit, the Comptroller and Auditor General has warned a Fukushima or Chernobyl-like disaster if the nuclear safety issue is not addressed by the government.
The AERB, which supervises safety issues at India's 22 running nuclear plants, has no power to make rules, enforce compliance or impose penalty in cases of nuclear safety oversight. It can impose a fine of maximum Rs 500 as a deterrent in cases.
The report says, "The legal status of the AERB continued to be that of an authority subordinate to the Central Government, with powers delegated to it by the latter."
The national auditor said there was an urgent need for the government to bolster the status of AERB if it was to qualify as an independent regulator in a sector which was likely to become increasingly important in meeting the country's energy needs.
The auditor also pulled up the nuclear regulator for failing to prepare any safety policy for the country even after three decades of its existence.
"Out of the 168 standards, codes and guides identified by AERB for development under various thematic areas, 27 safety documents still remained to be developed...," said the report which was tabled in Parliament on Wednesday.
The report said without the legal status, the AERB neither has the authority for framing or revising rules relating to nuclear and radiation safety nor can it decide on the quantum of penalties leave alone imposing them.
The report said off-site emergency exercises highlighted the inadequate emergency preparedness to deal with situations involving radiological effects from a nuclear power plant which may extend to public areas.
"Further, AERB was not empowered to secure compliance of corrective measures suggested by it," the audit report said.
It was found that the approach road to the plant site of Tarapur Atomic Power Station was highly congested, which would pose serious problems in dealing with any future emergency, it said.
The report said there was no legislative framework for decommissioning of nuclear power plants and the AERB did not have any mandate except prescribing of codes, guides and safety manuals on decommissioning.
"Even after the lapse of 13 years from the issue of the Safety Manual by AERB, none of the nuclear power plants in the country, including those operating for 30 years, and those which had been shut down, had any decommissioning plan," it said.
The report pointed out that the International Atomic Energy Agency had recognised the need for independence for regulatory bodies and a number of countries such as Australia, Canada, France, Pakistan and the US have conferred legal status to their respective bodies.
The government has introduced the Nuclear Safety Regulatory Authority (Bill), which seeks to provide statutory status to the nuclear regulator, in Parliament last year.
The AERB was constituted through an executive order in 1983 and reports to the Chairman of the Atomic Energy Commission (AEC).
( With inputs from PTI)