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India Must Do More On Nuclear Safety: Greenpeace Report

India’s plans do not offer a complete defence-in-depth for existing nuclear plants

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Press release - June 7, 2016
New Delhi | 7 June 2016: Greenpeace India today released a report titled ‘Red Alert – India’s nuclear disaster plans, outdated and inadequate’ [1]. The report assesses India's nuclear disaster plans and concludes that India’s plans do not offer a complete defence-in-depth for existing nuclear plants. [2]

According to the report, some of the disaster intervention levels set by the Indian nuclear regulator allow inadequate protection against possible exposure, both internal (ie from consumption of irradiated foodstuffs or radioactive particle-laden air) and external (by simply being physically present in an area with high radiation levels) in case of a nuclear emergency.

Lack of emergency preparedness

The report highlighted that population density around nuclear power plants in India pose a significant evacuation challenge in the event of an emergency. "The current evacuation plans only provide support within a radius of 16 km in case of an offsite nuclear accident [3]. For Fukushima, Japan had to set an evacuation zone of 30km,” said David Boilley,Director ACRO Labs and lead author of the report “Our report examines such differences and provides recommendations for the authorities to act upon.”

Ancient manual for emergency guidelines

The manual on emergency preparedness at Kalpakkam, despite being revised in April 2011, still includes a regulatory guideline with intervention levels based on Publication 40 of the International Commission on Radiological Protection (ICRP) adopted in 1984, well before the Chernobyl disaster. There have been updates to these international guidelines in 1992, and then again in 2007.

However, the Atomic Energy Regulatory Board (AERB) has not updated its guidelines for 26 years.

Food contamination - (un)acceptable levels

India's acceptable limit of contaminated food are set dangerously higher than international limits. In case of an accident, contermeasures are initiated only if the contamination is in the range between 8,000 Bq/kg in meat to 90,000 Bq/kg in fruits and vegetables. In comparison, any organic matter with more than 8,000 Bq/kg of cesium is considered as radioactive waste in Japan.

“Effectively, this means India will allow the consumption of irradiated food which, in other countries such as Japan, would be termed radioactive waste” said David Boilley, ACRO Labs.

Learnings from Kakrapar

The report also examined the recent nuclear accident at Kakrapar Atomic Power Station (KAPS) [4] in PM Modi’s home state Gujarat. KAPS suffered a serious accident which caused significant heavy water leakage. A state of emergency was declared at the plant, and lasted for 21 days before a normal shutdown could be done.

“The Kakrapar accident proved that India’s nuclear accident plans are not in line with international standards. Only four public updates were provided in 21 days of continued plant emergency at Kakrapar nuclear station,” added Hozefa Merchant, Senior Nuclear Campaigner for Greenpeace India.

AERB and NPCIL were the only two authorities responsible for updating the public on Kakrapar accident. A question of credibility arises since AERB and NPCIL both come under the Atomic Energy Commission of India as well as the Department of Atomic Energy.

Lack of an Independent Nuclear Regulator

“While in opposition, the BJP vehemently supported a stronger liability regime as well as strong regulations on safety. Now that it enjoys a massive majority at the centre - and considering the growing international influence being exerted by PM Modi - his party is uniquely placed to implement strong regulations for protecting India and its citizens against nuclear accidents,” said Merchant. [5]

India does not have an independent nuclear regulator. A recent IAEA review highlighted that the lack of an independent nuclear regulator is a concern which India should address. The IRRS report recommended that India’s nuclear regulator should not only be made independent but also strengthened to eliminate industry influence.

“It has been  30 years since Chernobyl and five years since Fukushima, but India has not learned any lessons. Its existing nuclear disaster plans are mostly inadequate as well as outdated. At the end of the day, it all boils down to the efficiency of the nuclear regulator; and the grim reality is that India simply does not have a nuclear regulator independent or efficient enough to enforce stricter regulations,” added Merchant.

 
Notes to the editor:
  1. Link to the report: Red Alert: http://www.greenpeace.org/india/Global/india/2016/docs/RedAlertReport.pdf
  2. Defence-in-depth is the coordinated use of multiple security countermeasures to protect the integrity of the nuclear plant as well as to limit the risk of public to radiation exposure. This is a five layered defence strategy of which the last resort is to manage an offsite nuclear emergency.
  1. Offsite nuclear accident is a nuclear accident that is no longer limited to the immediate vacinity of the nuclear station and could pose a serious risk to the public is known as offsite nuclear accident.
  2. http://articles.economictimes.indiatimes.com/2016-03-20/news/71678503_1_reactor-building-kakrapar-atomic-power-station-plant-worker
  3. http://www.thehindu.com/news/national/bjp-against-dilution-of-suppliers-liability/article589965.ece
 
Contact for more information:
  1. David Boilley, Director ACRO Labs and lead author of the report, +33 619777913,
  2. Hozefa Merchant, Senior Nuclear Campaigner, +91 9819592410,
  3. Anindita Dutta Choudhury, Communications Specialist, +91 9871515804,