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Independent nuclear watchdog for India?

  |   March 30, 2011 at 12:58 PM
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NEW DELHI, March 30 (UPI) -- In the wake of Japan's nuclear crisis, Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has proposed an independent nuclear regulator for his country.

"We will strengthen the Atomic Energy Regulatory Board and make it a truly autonomous and independent regulatory authority," Singh said Tuesday, Press Trust of India reports. "We will ensure that it is of the highest and the best international standards."

While the AERB is charged with ensuring the safe use of nuclear energy, critics have questioned its effectiveness as a regulatory authority on safety issues because of its lack of autonomy from India's Department of Atomic Energy. India's prime minister is also the minister in charge of atomic energy and heads the decision-making processes, PTI said.

Singh said that all nuclear reactors to be built in India would require certification by the regulatory authority and to meet its safety standards. That includes imported reactors and technologies.

The government had already directed a technical review of all safety systems of existing nuclear power plants, he said.

Singh stressed that it was "vitally important" to address concerns regarding the safety of nuclear energy arising from the disaster at Japan's Fukushima nuclear power plant.

"I would like to see accountability and transparency in the functioning of our nuclear power plants," he said.

India aims to have 63,000 megawatts of nuclear power by 2032, up from the current total of 4,780 megawatts. The country's 20th nuclear reactor was connected to the power grid in January.

The prime minister rejected the possibility of scrapping nuclear power as an energy option for India, saying that for such a large and rapidly growing economy, it was vital that all sources of energy be exploited.

"Nuclear energy has the potential of playing an increasingly important role in giving our country energy independence from traditional and polluting sources of energy," Singh said.

Nearly 40 percent of Indian households have no access to electricity. India relies on coal for more than half of its power capacity.

India's civil nuclear market opened up in 2008 when a landmark agreement between India and the United States ended three decades of sanctions imposed on New Delhi for conducting nuclear tests.

In the past year or more New Delhi has signed civil nuclear energy deals with a number of countries, including France, Russia, United Kingdom, Canada, Namibia, Mongolia and Argentina.

The Japan crisis is likely to impact a proposed Indo-Japanese civilian nuclear agreement the two countries have been working on since last year.

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