Tuesday, 31 May 2022

AERB and the Safety Regime


India has had the experience of dealing with the worst industrial disaster in history, when nearly 40 tonnes of methyl isocynate escaped from one of the storage tanks of the plant owned by the Union Carbide India Ltd situated in Bhopal city. The deadly gas took a heavy toll on human life, leaving nearly 3,828 instantaneously dead and over 30,000 injured, a figure that now stands at half a million. The disaster also resulted in severe environmental damage. A ghastly monument to the dehumanizing influence of inherently dangerous technologies, it resulted in the violation of the right to life, health, clean air and water not only of that generation but also of succeeding generations. The disaster is unparalleled in its magnitude and devastation. However, as seen from the discussion above, the Indian nuclear establishment has yet to learn from the mistakes that resulted in the Bhopal disaster and other mishaps.

The AERB was established in 1983 by the Government of India under section 27 of the Atomic Energy Act 1962 to carry out regulatory and safety functions under sections 16, 17 and 23 of the Act. Its central objective is to ensure that the presence of ionizing radiation and the use of nuclear energy do not cause unacceptable impact on the health of workers, to the public and to the environment. The regulatory powers of the AERB are also derived from the rules and notifications promulgated under the Atomic Energy Act and these include the Atomic Energy (Radiation Protection) Rules 2004; Atomic Energy (Safe Disposal of Radioactive Wastes) Rules 1987; Atomic Energy (Factories) Rules 1996; Atomic Energy (Working of the Mines, Minerals and Handling of Prescribed Substances) Rules 1984; and the Atomic Energy (Control of Food Irradiation) Rules 1996. The AERB also has powers to monitor environmental quality.

AERB is also empowered to perform the functions under sections 10(1) (powers of entry) and 11(1) (powers to take samples) of Environmental Protection Act, 1986 and Rule 12 (agency to which information on excess discharge of pollutants to be given) of the Environmental Protection (Amendment) Rules, 1987 with respect to radioactive substances.

The AERB is also to prescribe acceptable limits of radiation exposure to occupational workers and the public; approve the acceptable limits of environmental release of radioactive substances; promote research and development efforts; and maintain liaison with statutory bodies both within and outside the country on safety matters. It is also to take necessary steps to keep the public informed on major issues of radiological safety. Significantly, in the DAE units, it is the AERB that is to prescribe the limits for environmental release of conventional pollutants.


From the foregoing, it can be concluded that contrary to government claims that all is fine with the nuclear establishment, there have been several instances of near misses, human rights violations and environmental degradation. The AERB has held inquiries into several of these incidents; however, as its reports have not been made public, no one knows about the magnitude of the harm, or who have been the victims, or what has happened to them. Thus, the dark side of the nuclear program has not received the attention it deserves.

As the above information reveals, there have been several accidents and near misses that have affected the workforce in these plants, those living in the close vicinity and the environment, demonstrating the ineffectiveness of the AERB in ensuring safety. More importantly, the management of these establishments has a free hand in running the plants, suppressing the legitimate voice of the victims; the AERB remaining a mute spectator to many of these issues.

AERB and the Safety Regime by Velanati Jyothirmai @ Lex Cliq

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