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EAS Sarma, former power and finance secretary, fears for safety of nuclear energy because he feels the Department of Atomic Energy that is planning for 60,000 MW has not been transparent and it would eventually cost Rs3.90 lakh crore to Indian taxpayers!
EAS Sarma, former secretary of the government of India (GoI), fears that the Department of Atomic Energy’s (DAE) ambitious program to build several nuclear reactors in the country will come at a price of safety. He believes that the DAE, along with the Nuclear Power Corporation of India (NPCIL), has indulged in impropriety in its dealings with multinationals companies (MNCs) who are assisting DAE in building reactors. By adopting single-vendor purchases from different MNCs, the Indian taxpayer could be forced to pay the price dictated by the MNCs which could run into as much as Rs3.90 lakh crore, he claimed.
Mr Sarma, in a letter to the prime minister, says: “Procurement of reactors through single-vendor purchases precludes accurate price discovery. In the case of imported nuclear reactors, the problem is severely compounded by the fact that India is then compelled to buy not only the reactors but also the accompanying fuel, the price of which is in itself open-ended and is further subject to escalation beyond India's control. In a competitive bidding procedure, India would have been in an eminent position to set down the specifications of the reactors, their threshold safety features and the parameters that could regulate the price escalations in a transparent manner. By resorting to non-transparent, single-vendor procurement of imported nuclear reactors and the accompanying fuel, I feel that DAE and NPCIL have openly flouted the General Financial Rules (GFRs), in particular GFR 137 and the guidelines issued by the CVC.”
A competitive bidding system as opposed to a single-vendor purchase would mean price discovery and reduced prices as MNCs (as well as locals) would vie for prestigious contracts. Furthermore, a competitive bidding system would ensure that norms are strictly adhered to on the basis of competence and past track record. This would ensure pre-qualification of certain vendors who are capable of building nuclear reactors that complies with the highest safety and quality protocols.
Further more, under GFRs, it states: “every authority delegated with the financial powers of procuring goods in public interest shall have the responsibility and accountability to bring efficiency, economy, transparency in matters relating to public procurement and for fair and equitable treatment of suppliers and promotion of competition in public procurement”.
EAS Sarma had pointed out in his letter to the PM that the DAE and NPCIL have not complied with the said regulation and therefore demanded an investigation be made to bring about forth in their dealings with MNCs in a transparent manner. He has also called for independent audits by the CAG (Comptroller and Auditor General of India) as well as the Central Vigilance Commission (CVC) to investigate possible vigilant angle in DAE and NPCIL dealings with multinationals.
Earlier, even the CAG had come down heavily on the nuclear establishment, especially on its regulator, Atomic Energy Regulatory Board (AERB), and some startling facts were discovered. Apparently, the CAG has found several deficiencies in the way AERB is operated, with hardly any tooth, and which could even affect nuclear plant workers. We had written about this earlier over here: Widespread support for CAG findings on nuclear technology from activists
This is not the first time that Mr Sarma had written to the PM. On 17 December 2011, he had written to PM about the civil nuclear liability law. He had stated: “DAE's latest move to enact the rules under the civil liability law went beyond the ambit of the law itself, placing an artificial limit on the time span beyond which the operating company could pass on the liability of an accident to the reactor supplier. In other words, if a Fukushima-like accident takes place during the life cycle of a reactor, say, after five or ten years of its installation, the Indian operator cannot pass on the liability to the reactor supplier, thereby shifting the burden to the Indian taxpayer.”
The DAE’s ambitions to set up as 60,000 MW of nuclear power is so mindboggling that it could predate strict safety and compliance standards required to ensure that nuclear plants do not leak or meltdown. Since DAE and NPCIL will have to import reactors and fuels from one vendor, Indian taxpayers could be asked to fork over as much as Rs3.90 lakh crore towards nuclear power alone! By bending backwards to MNC pressure vis-à-vis single vendor agreement, there could be chance that reactor design may compromise safety standards, especially post Fukushima nuclear fallout in Japan after the tsunami.