Key changes suggested in nuclear liability bill


New Delhi : A parliamentary panel that examined the contentious nuclear liability bill tabled its report in both houses of parliament Wednesday with a slew of recommendations aimed at safeguarding the interests of victims in case of a nuclear accident. If passed by parliament with the suggested amendments, it will mean:

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* In case of a nuclear accident, the operator of the nuclear plant will have to pay compensation of up to Rs.1,500 crore (about $322 million) to the victims. The government can raise the compensation amount, but can’t decrease it.

* Unlike the 1984 Bhopal gas leak in which many of the victims are still waiting for compensation even after 26 years, there will be no court proceedings to establish the guilt of the operator. The operator will become exclusively liable for compensation the moment the government notifies an accident.

* The compensation amount will be determined by an officer of the rank of additional secretary or a judicial authority of a similar rank. The chairperson and members of Nuclear Damage Claims Commission, who will be appointed by the government, will dispose off claims within three months.

* The time limit for filing compensation claims has been doubled to 20 years since the after-effects of radiation takes years to manifest. For example, cancer due to radiation exposure takes a minimum of five to seven years to develop.

* The claim will be computed from the date on which a nuclear accident took place and not from the date the government notifies it.

* Victims will have the right of appeal to the high courts and the Supreme Court if they are not satisfied with the compensation given by the Claims Commissioner or the Nuclear Damage Claims Commission.

* Nuclear damage, for the purpose of calculating compensation, includes the immediate and long-term health impact on a person and loss of life and personal injury, as also damage to the environment.

* The operator will first compensate the victims and then settle liability with the supplier under a contractual agreement. This will include the right to recourse in case an accident results from defective equipment or sub-standard material or from gross negligence on the part of the supplier of the material, equipment or services.

* Private companies will continue to be barred from operating nuclear plants. Nuclear installations will be either owned by the government or government-controlled.