US continues pressure to reopen debate on Indian Civil Liability for Nuclear Damage Act

The US wants “greater debate” on the issues of foreign direct investment (FDI) and civil nuclear cooperation in India, said US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in an India Times report.

“We want to have far greater debate and dialogue on FDI and civil nuclear cooperation. The United States was in conversation with Indian government on those issues for a long time,” she said.

Clinton called for an open conversation based on facts. “Increasingly, in my own country and around the world, people are trying to avoid the facts.”  Clinton added: “Increasingly around the world, people are trying to substitute ideology or partisan politics with what I have been calling for… evidence-based decision making.”

Replying to a question on the Indian Civil Liability for Nuclear Damage Act passed by parliament last August, Clinton said: “We have made it clear to the government that under the legislation that was passed, it would be difficult for US companies to participate.”

“We’re still discussing this and hoping there’s a way to work it out,” she said.

 

The Act aims to provide a civil liability for nuclear damage and prompt compensation to the victims of a nuclear incident through a no-fault liability to the operator.

Because of the long-term costs related to clean-up and shut-down activities if a nuclear accident were to occur, prominent members of the civil society in India have called on the Government and political parties to hold nuclear suppliers responsible and liable for nuclear accidents.

The liability cap on the operator may be inadequate to compensate victims in the event of a major nuclear disaster; may block India’s access to an international pool of funds; and is low compared to some other countries.

A major point of debate is the amount of financial assistance to be provided under such circumstances as it is considered insufficient and unsatisfactory. Other than this, the bill contain certain clauses which if implemented will let free the manufacturer and supplier legally and to a large extent financially as well.

Though the Bill allows operators and suppliers to be liable under other laws, it is not clear which other laws will be applicable.  Different interpretations by courts may constrict or unduly expand the scope of such a provision.

The extent of environmental damage and consequent economic loss will be notified by the national government.  This might create a conflict of interest in cases where the government is also the party liable to pay compensation.

The US has repeatedly objected to some provisions of the Indian nuclear liability bill which allows citizens to file tort claims for damages and the nuclear plant operator’s right of recourse against nuclear suppliers.

In other words, the government may have to foot the entire bill thereby exonerating the manufacturer/supplier.

The Act also included amendments in the Atomic Energy Act 1962 allowing private investment in the Indian nuclear power program.

A Public Interest Litigation (PIL) has also been filed against the Act at the Supreme Court of India, examining the constitutionality of the Act regarding the Right to Life as enshrined in the Constitution of India.

 

Civil Liability for Nuclear Damage Rules

 

Civil Liability for Nuclear Damage Rules 2011

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