'Stringent safety mechanisms in place to ensure N-safety'
New Delhi: India's nuclear regulator on Friday gave a point-by-point response to CAG's audit report on its performance questioning its independence and asserted that it had even ordered shutdown of nuclear plants found wanting on issues related to safety.
Appearing before Parliament's Public Accounts Committee, Atomic Energy Regulatory Board Chairman S S Bajaj circulated to members a 69-page response to its performance audit conducted by the Comptroller and Auditor General's (CAG).
The CAG had submitted the report on the performance audit to Parliament in August.
Besides Bajaj, Atomic Energy Commission Chairman R K Sinha and Principal Advisor with the Department of Atomic Energy Ravi Grover were among the officials who appeared before the PAC chaired by BJP leader Murli Manohar Joshi.
On the CAG's recommendation on strengthening the process of regulatory inspections of nuclear facilities, the AERB said that "the existing system of inspections for nuclear facilities is already rigorous and adequate in line with the above (safety) documents.
"AERB is fully autonomous with regard to its regulatory decision making. AERB has not allowed its present legal status or organisational position, to hinder the discharge of the assigned responsibilities in an autonomous, professional and effective manner," the nuclear regulator said.
"... In extreme situations, AERB has even ordered shutdown of plants or suspension of activities in ongoing projects," he said.
Sinha told the PAC that in order to improve the existing legal framework and for bringing in institutional separation concerning promotional and regulatory functions, the government has tabled the Nuclear Safety Regulatory Authority Bill in Parliament.
On CAG's contention that maximum amounts of fine were too low to serve as deterrents against offences, the AERB pointed out that contravention of rules made under the Atomic Energy Act were punishable with a maximum term of imprisonment of up to five years.
It said enforcement actions were commensurate with seriousness of the non-compliance and range from written warnings to withdrawal or suspension of consent for a particular activity.
"It may be noted that withdrawal of consent by itself is a very severe economic penalty and has the potential of seriously affecting the financial health of the stakeholder," the AERB said.
This was in response to CAG's observations that AERB had no role in deciding the quantum of penalties and no powers with regard to imposition of the same.
On suggestions to eliminate delays in giving sitting consents to set up nuclear power plants, the AERB said it be allowed to conduct regulatory activities by the merit of the issues and not be subjected to undue pressures on the grounds of avoiding any time and cost overruns.
"As the regulator for safety AERB consider that it is of utmost importance to consider all the necessary aspects, with good quality," it said.
"These investigations are important and cannot be termed as delays. ... Safety is an overriding concern," it said.