Firm safety measures in place for Nimitz visit: India


New Delhi : The Indian government said Wednesday that firm environmental measures are in place ahead of the port call of the nuclear powered USS Nimitz, the world's largest aircraft carrier that will drop anchor off Chennai July 1-5.

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"The procedure that is followed for any nuclear powered ship or submarine berthing in any Indian port is well established since 1988," the defence ministry said in a statement.

"An Environmental Survey Committee (ESC) has carried out a detailed survey at Chennai and cleared the visit of USS Nimitz from the radiation hazard point of view," it added.

A stringent radiation monitoring protocol is also in place that shall, "at periodic intervals, monitor and analyse air and water samples," the statement said.

"These activities shall be conducted under the ambit of a well rehearsed Radiation Safety Contingency Plan under the stewardship of a Crisis Management Group and Crisis Management Cell comprising scientists from DRDO (Defence Research and Development Organisation), BARC (Bhabha Atomic Research Centre), the Defence Laboratory at Jodhpur and representatives of the Chennai Port Trust and the Indian Navy," the statement added.

India's Left parties that support the ruling United Progressive Alliance (UPA) from the outside have vehemently opposed the Nimitz visit. Tamil Nadu's main opposition AIADMK and unions of Chennai dockworkers are also against the port call, citing environmental concerns.

Nimitz will not be docking at Chennai but will be dropping anchor three km off the port in the high seas.

"This is not the first visit by a nuclear powered ship to an Indian port," the statement said, adding that seven foreign naval vessels had made such calls between February 2001 and November 2006.

Interestingly, only one of these vessels was an aircraft carrier and it had docked at Mumbai. All the other vessels were submarines that docked at Goa.

"In fact, the Indian Navy has operated INS Chakra, a nuclear powered submarine (on lease from Russia), from 1988 to 1991," the statement said.

The process of clearing a harbour for berthing of nuclear powered vessels evolved when INS Chakra was inducted into the Indian Navy on Jan 5, 1988.

"This included survey by an Environmental Survey Committee (ESC) constituted by the scientific advisor to the defence minister. A Radiation Safety Contingency Plan was also drawn up and implemented prior to the berthing of INS Chakra," the ministry said.

In 2001, when the Indian Navy conducted the International Fleet Review, the French nuclear submarine Perle had berthed at Mumbai harbour Feb 15-20.

For this purpose, the Environmental Safety Committee carried out a complete survey and examination of Mumbai harbour, the statement said.

It also detailed the six-point procedure that is followed for any nuclear-powered ship or submarine berthing at Indian ports. Under this:

* The defence ministry intimates the ESC of an impending visit by a nuclear powered ship or submarine. The ESC then proceeds to the port well in advance before the arrival of the vessel and carries out a survey.

* Movement of nuclear powered ship takes place only during daylight hours and in good visibility, with escort tugs in attendance.

* No other ship is berthed within a 200-metre radius of the nuclear powered ship.

* Ships within 600 metres of the berthed vessel are put on short notice, not exceeding two hours, to get underway if there is an emergency.

* Radiation monitoring laboratories manned by scientists of the DRDO and the BARC, as also defence personnel, are set up onboard a suitable ship to undertake frequent monitoring of water and air samples.

* Two safety zones are established around the nuclear powered ship.

Zone I stretches up to a radius of 200 metres around the berth vessel. Only authorised personnel can enter this zone and quick evacuation can be conducted in an emergency.

Zone II extends to a radius of 600 metres around the berth ship. The local population is permitted within this zone.

"Only authorised personnel and items can leave the nuclear powered ship," the ministry stated.

Apart from the submarine Perle, the French aircraft carrier Charles de Gaulle and the submarine Amethyst had docked at Goa April 15-19, 2004. In the same year, the USS Alexandria had paid two visits to Goa Oct 3-5 and Oct 9-11.

During 2005, the submarine USS Santa Fe had paid two visits to Goa Sep 28-29 and Oct 3-8.

The Charles de Gaulle paid a return visit to Goa March 29-April 2, 2006, a year in which two other vessels called at the port. These were the Royal Navy submarine Sovereign May 19-23 and the submarine USS Providence Oct 30-Nov 3.