Nuclear waste
Britain's nuclear waste dumping programme not effective, says PACAlexander Natruskin/Reuters

The Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) on Wednesday warned of a Fukushima or Chernobyl-like disaster in India if the Atomic Energy Regulatory Board (AERB) fails to address nuclear safety issues on time.

In its report on AERB's performance listed for a parliamentary discussion, the national auditor raised concerns over the government's failure to empower AERB to act and frame legal actions and also to secure compliance of corrective measures.

"The legal status of the AERB continued to be that of an authority subordinate to the Central Government, with powers delegated to it by the latter," said the auditor's report.

AERB was constituted in 1983 to avoid problems of using nuclear energy, and to ensure that the use of nuclear energy does not cause any health or environmental repercussions for the country. However, the board lacks power to exercise immediate actions during emergency.

The audit report also talked about the legal status of AERB, which does not have the power to frame or revise the rules relating to nuclear or radiation safety. The regulatory body which oversees 22 nuclear plants in the country can impose a maximum fine of ₹ 500 to a plant which poses as a threat to the people or the environment. The report on safety also pointed out that even after the issuance of safety manuals to the nuclear plants by AERB none of the plants were ready to progress in this regard. It further reasoned this as AERB's lack of power to mandate actions.

"Even after the lapse of 13 years from the issue of the Safety Manual by AERB, none of the nuclear power plants in the country, including those operating for 30 years, and those which had been shut down, had any decommissioning plan," it said.

India, which has a flourishing and largely indigenous nuclear power program, must elevate the status of AERB to qualify it as an independent body that would meet the increasing nuclear energy demands of the country, the national auditor added.