Thursday, April 28, 2011

On "Independent" Regulators

Under the shadow of Fukushima and the 25th anniversary of the Chernobyl nuclear disaster, India has decided to go ahead with a N-power project at Jaitapour, Maharashtra. A report in the Hindu adds that, "in a concession to heightened public awareness of the need for proper regulation and oversight...the government promised to introduce a bill in the next session of the Parliament for creating an independent and autonomous Nuclear Regulatory Authority of India (NRAI) that would subsume the existing Atomic Energy Regulatory Board (AERB)".

How many regulatory institutions in India are actually "independent and autonomous"?  Given the way in which agencies like TRAI have been created then then rendered toothless, the NRAI-bill is unlikely to inspire much confidence in N-safety.

There is, of course, a world of difference between regulating telecom and N-power. The inability of TRAI to foresee or prevent scams does not result in permanent genetic damage, malignant tumors or death.

The hazards of creating a pliable "independent and autonomous" N-regulatory authority has been brought out forcefully in a recent NYT article. Onishi and Belson write about the 'culture of complicity' behind the recent disaster at Fukushima-Daiichi plant.

The regulations that control the Japanese N-industry have a record of being inconsistent, nonexistent and unenforced. Thanks to a nexus between politicians, bureaucrats and industry executives, the regulatory system - headed by the Nuclear and Industry Safety Agency - remained non-transparent, encouraging collusive interests that "underlie the establishment’s push to increase nuclear power despite the discovery of active fault lines under plants, new projections about the size of tsunamis and a long history of cover-ups of safety problems".

How do we prevent such a collusion of vested interests? Onishi and Belson present the Nuclear Regulatory Commission in USA as a possible institutional model which is free to choose from a pool of engineers unaffiliated with a utility or manufacturer, including those who learned their trade in the Navy or at research institutes.

The very fact that government of India intends to subsume AERB into NRAI may be a tacit admission that it is not, at present, an effective regulatory body. But will the NRAI turn out to be nothing but old wine in a new, subsumed bottle?


Dhar, Aarti (2011). Green Signal to Jaitapur Nuclear Project
Onishi, Norimitsu and Belson, Ken (2011). Culture of Complicity Tied to Stricken Nuclear Plant. New York TImes, 26 April 2011

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