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This article is written by Abhinav Anand, a student pursuing B.A. LL.B (Hons.) from DSNLU, Visakhapatnam. The article critically analyses the regulations for nuclear waste management. It also assesses the impact of nuclear wastes on the environment and discusses various provisions of regulations for nuclear waste management.

Introduction

Nuclear Waste management has become one of the major issues in contemporary time. Nuclear Energy has evolved as a better substitute for accomplishing the need for energy requirements. But, the waste generated from the nuclear establishment is hard to dispose of. It needs to be transported with the utmost care to the designated disposing facility. This article critically analyses the impact of nuclear waste on the environment and also focuses on the international and national regulations to curb the arbitrary practice of state in nuclear waste management. It also suggests changes in the legislation for better protection of the environment.

What is the need to regulate nuclear waste management?

Nuclear waste is considered as one of the most hazardous wastes for the environment. There are various impacts of nuclear waste. The people turn sceptic when it comes to the development or establishment of nuclear waste management facilities in their vicinity. This public attitude, towards such establishments, is because they fear their life. The nuclear waste damages the flora and fauna of a place if not disposed of properly. There are instances wherein an animal has become extinct from the food chain in the animal kingdom after the locality is exposed to nuclear establishments. People may get infected from severe diseases if exposed to radioactive elements emanating from nuclear waste disposal establishments.

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What is the Impact of Nuclear Waste on the Environment?

These are the following impacts of nuclear waste on the environment:

Carbon Dioxide

Nuclear power plants are a clean source of energy. The nuclear plants may not emit carbon dioxide, but the process of setting up and running a nuclear plant requires the radioactive element uranium. The mining of uranium emits a high amount of carbon dioxide. The transportation of radioactive waste also emanates lots of carbon dioxide in the environment.

Low-level radiation

Nuclear power plants constantly emit low-level radiation. Exposure to low-level radiation increases the chances of causing different types of diseases. The low-level radiation can also cause damage to the DNA. It also causes harm to the flora, fauna, and wildlife of the area. It mixes in the clean air and makes it tough to breathe.

Radioactive Waste

Radioactive waste remains active for many years. During the process of transportation, if it leaks, then it can cause serious damage to the locality. It has not been identified yet what can be the effective process that will not lead to any kind of harm of disposing of the radioactive waste. The scientists have found some ways to mitigate the damage but the suggested solutions are not sufficient for different kinds of diseases, that may occur due to radioactive wastes.

Cooling water system

The cooling water system is used in the nuclear power plants for protecting it from overheating. The water is taken from the ocean, during this process, many water species are also dragged leading to their death. After cooling, the water is released in the ocean which is 25 degrees warmer than the normal water, this leads to the death of aquatic species.

International Laws for Nuclear Waste Management

These are the following conventions that regulate Nuclear Waste Management:

Joint Convention on the Safety of Spent Fuel Management and on the Safety of  Radioactive  Waste Management

The convention was concluded in Vienna, Austria on 29th September 1999. The place of adoption is Vienna, Austria. The date of entry into force is 18th June 2001. The depositary is Director General of International Atomic Agency.

Article 1 of the convention mentions the objective of the convention:

  • To achieve a high level of safety in spent fuel management and radioactive management through high-level cooperation on the national and international levels. The safety-related technical cooperation is also done when required.
  • To ensure that during every stage of fuel production, the safety standards are adequate and effective to control the potential hazards and protect human beings from ionizing radiation. The consumption of such non-renewable resources should be done by considering the needs and aspirations of future generations.
  • To prevent accidents with radiological consequences and to mitigate their consequences if any such incident happened.

Article 19 of the convention talks about the legislative framework that should be made for spent fuel management and radioactive waste management waste system

  • Each contracting party should provide a regulatory and safety framework to govern the safety of spent fuel and radioactive waste management.
  • The legislative and regulatory framework shall provide for:
    • The establishment of national safety requirements and regulations for radiation safety.
    • A system of licensing for the spent fuel and radioactive activities.
    • A System of the prohibition of the activities of the spent fuel and radiation without a license.
    • A system of appropriate institutional control, regulatory bodies, and proper documentation and reporting.
    • The enforcement of the applicable regulations and the terms of the licenses.
    • A clear allocation of the bodies involved in the responsibilities of maintaining the laws for waste management.
  • While considering the radioactive materials as radioactive waste, the contracting parties must consider the intention of the convention.

 Article 20 of the convention provides for the regulatory framework.

  • Each contracting party shall establish a regulating body as referred in article 19 of the convention and also provide with the adequate authority, competence and financial power to complete the duties assigned to them.
  • Each Contracting Party, in accordance with its legislative and regulatory framework, must ensure the effective independence of the regulations from other regulations for the organization involved in the waste management and spent fuel.

Vienna Convention on Civil Liability of Nuclear Damage

The Vienna Convention on Civil Liability of Nuclear Damage is a treaty signed in Vienna in 1963 governing the issues of liability arising out of nuclear damage. The problem of the liability for damages caused the states to think about a special legal framework. The liability for damages in the conventional hazardous industries are stringent. But, the use of nuclear energy is considered to be more hazardous. The executive of countries decided to frame legislation that covers the liability for the damages caused by the purposive use of nuclear energy. In 1950, they framed the first law on this issue. The convention provided for the harmonization of the national laws of the contracting parties for the compensation provided to the victims by the peaceful uses of nuclear energy.

The legal regime in the convention is based on these following general principles:

  1. Exclusive liability of the operator of the nuclear installation.
  2. The liability should be “absolute” or “strict”, so that the victim doesn’t need to prove the fault or negligence on the part of the operator.
  3. The minimum amount of liability.
  4. The obligation on the operator to cover the liability through insurance or other financial security.
  5. Limitation of the liability.
  6. Equal treatment of the victim, irrespective of the nationality, domicile provided that the damage occurred within the geographical limits of the convention.
  7. Exclusive jurisdictional competence of the courts of the contracting party in whose territory the incident occurs.
  8. Recognition and enforcement of the final judgments by the competent court.

National Law for Nuclear Waste Management 

Atomic  Energy (Safe  Disposal of  Radioactive Wastes) Rules, 1987

The objective behind the enactment of this rule is to monitor the disposal facilities of atomic waste. The disposal of atomic waste has to be done with prior information to the authorities. The provisions in the Act explicitly envisage the permissions that must be taken before the disposal of the waste.

Section 3 of the rule says that no person can dispose of the atomic waste without permission of the authorities. The disposal of atomic waste must be done in accordance with guidelines laid down by the authorities. If the amount of waste disposal is more than the authorized limit, it needs to get permission from the authority. If the place of the disposal is different from the specified place for the disposal then permission must be taken from the authority for the same.

Section 4 of the rules provides for the procedure of application of authorization. It says that the application should mention the process, equipment, and machinery involved in generating radioactive wastes. It says that the environment around the area must be mentioned. It provides for the information of the equipment involved in the waste generating machine and the equipment which controls the waste release in the environment. It mentions the information of the safety devices installed in the area to control the release of the effluent and also act according to the anticipation of the foreseeable occurrences. The safety device must ensure that the disposal should not occur during normal hours. It also provides about the estimation of the waste release annually and the assessment of the environmental impact on society. 

Section 10 of the rules provide for the power to inspect the installations which says any person duly authorized by the competent authority under Section 17 of the act for the purpose of inspection of any of these rules may, at any time, inspect any of the places where the disposal of radioactive waste is carried out. It says that they can inspect any of the instruments involved in the process. They can make an evaluation of the machines and check the environmental hazards caused by them. The authorized person can do all the necessary things that he may consider fit for the protection of the environment.

Atomic Energy Amendment Act, 2015

Section 2 (bb) of the Act “Government Company” means a company in  which: 

  1. i) the 51% share of the company and paid-up share capital is held by the government
  2. ii) the whole of the paid-up share capital is held by one or more companies sub-clause(i) which by articles of association, empowers the central government to direct and redirect the central government to constitute and reconstitute the board of directors.

The Civil Liability for Nuclear Damages Act, 2010

Section 4 of the act provides for the liability of the operator:

  1. The operator of the nuclear installation shall be liable for the damage caused by a nuclear incident
  1. In that nuclear installation
  2. Involving nuclear materials coming from that nuclear installation.
  1. The liability of the nuclear operator shall be strict and of no-fault liability.

Section 7  provides for the liability of the central government:

  1. The central government shall be liable for the nuclear damage in respect of the nuclear incident:
  1. Where the liability exceeds the amount of the operator’s liability specified in the subsection(2) of Section 6.
  2. Occurring in a nuclear installation owned by it.
  3. Occurring on account of the causes specified in clauses(i) and (ii) of subsection 1 of Section 5

Section 9  of the Act provides compensation for nuclear damages and its adjudication.

The section further provides for the appointment of the claims commissioner by the notification from the central government.

Section 14 provides for persons who claim compensation for nuclear damage.

The compensation can be claimed by the following:

  1. The person who sustained injury.
  2. The owner of the property to whom the damage is caused.
  3. The legal representative of the deceased.
  4. Any person duly authorized by such person, an agent or legal representative or owner.

Section 19 provides for the establishments of nuclear damage claims commission:

Where the Central Government after looking into the injury caused by nuclear incident is of the opinion that it is necessary to appoint a commission and the damage claims cannot be dealt by the claims commissioner, then in that situation, the central government by the notification may establish a nuclear damage claims commission.

Atomic Energy Radiation Protection Rules, 2004

The objective of these rules is to regulate the radiation emitting from any nuclear establishment and maintain it under reasonable limits:

Section 2(a) of the rules provides the definition of “accident” which says that any unintended event including operating error, equipment failure, or other mishaps, the consequence or the potential consequence of which are not negligible from the radiation protection point of view.

   

Environment Protection Act, 1986

The Environment Protection Act is implemented with the following objectives:

  1. To implement the decision taken at the UN Conference Human Environment held at Stockholm in 1972.
  2. To enact a general law on environmental protection for the areas that were uncovered. The existing laws are more specific and concentrated, so they are not comprehensive.
  3. To coordinate the various regulating agencies under the various existing laws.
  4. To provide deterrent punishment to those who endanger the human environment, safety, and health.

Powers of the Court

The Act does not curtail the power of the Supreme Court. It has from time to time issued directions and orders to control pollution. These are some of the important cases relating to Environmental pollution:

In the landmark case, M.C. Mehta vs. Union of India, in order to control chaotic traffic condition and vehicular pollution, the Court has ordered the following things:

  1. All commercial and transport vehicles which have completed 20 years should be phased out and not permitted to ply on the road after October 1998.
  2. All commercial and transport vehicles that are 17 to 19 years old shall not be permitted on the road in the National Capital Region after October 1998.

It was in the case of G Sundarrajan vs. Union of India, in 2013, the Supreme Court was to decide whether the setting up of a power plant on the southern tip of India, Kudankulam in Tamil Nadu will violate the set standards of fundamental rights of people and other allied laws. The proposal was challenged on grounds of not complying with the safety standards and protocols provided by the Atomic Energy Regulation Board and Atomic Energy Agency. The court emphasized on various dimensions that Article 21 of the Constitution talks about. It has stated that safety, security, and life is the pyramid that is enshrined in Article 21. So, there should be a delicate balance between ecology and development. The Court has allowed the construction of the plant by directing them to follow all the safety measures and considering all the possible threats to the environment.

Conclusion

The development in the regulations of nuclear waste management in other countries has set an example for India to understand the problems and enact similar regulations. The potential risk that is posed by the use of nuclear energy can be assuaged by the proper legal framework. The legislation enacted to ensure the safety standards needs to be implemented properly. The authorities need to monitor the activities of the officials regularly, and any lapse on the part of authority should be taken seriously. The erring officials should get stringent punishment if they fail to comply with the assigned duty. The safety standard protocol should be addressed to the people, so that there will be less casualties. The disposing of nuclear waste should be done with utmost care. The required legal framework should be brought forward for the affected people to help them with the treatment and rehabilitation. 

References

  1. https://www.world-nuclear.org/information-library/nuclear-fuel-cycle/nuclear-wastes/radioactive-waste-management.aspx
  2. https://www.iaea.org/sites/default/files/25404681226.pdf
  3. http://www.nuclearbusiness-platform.com/nuclear-industry/nuclear-waste-management-overview-opportunities/
  4. http://www.barc.gov.in/pubaware/nw.html
  5. https://indiankanoon.org/doc/184104065/

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