The Charter reproduced below was adopted by the People’s National Convention Against Nuclear Energy held in Ahmedabad from 25-26 July 2013.
The Indian People’s Charter on Nuclear Energy is a statement emerging from the shared experiences, struggles and visions of grassroots movements for a safe energy future. Such movements have existed right since the inception of India’s nuclear programmeand have scored significant victories in places like Kerala.
More recently, people from Koodankulam (Tamil Nadu), Jaitapur (Maharashtra), Mithi Virdi (Gujarat), Kovvada (Andhra Pradesh), Gorakhpur (Haryana), Chutka (Madhya Pradesh) and Haripur (West Bengal) have waged relentless struggles against these anti-people and unsafe nuclear power projects being promoted by the Nuclear Power Corporation of India Ltd (NPCIL). Their massive peaceful protests have been met with callousness and brutal repression on the part of the government. Communities near the existing nuclear facilities in Tarapur, Rawatbhata, Kalpakkam, Kaiga, Kakrapar and Hyderabad have also been raising voices against radiation leaks and their harmful effects, which are often hushed up by the authorities. Existing and proposed new uranium mines in Jharkhand, Andhra Pradesh and Meghalaya have also met with massive protests. In the recent past, these voices of protest have received solidarity and support from the wider democratic sections of Indian society. Intellectuals, policy experts, scientists, social activists, writers, artists and people from all walks of life have come out and backed these movements.
Nuclear energy is today widely seen as posing a threat to the life, livelihoods and the environment, not least because it can have irreversible catastrophic consequences and radiation effects spanning across generations. Chernobyl, followed by the Fukushima nuclear accident in Japan has led to global rethinking on the pursuit of nuclear energy with many countries reversing and phasing out their nuclear energy programmes. Owing to its inherent safety problems, exorbitant costs and secretive nature, it has been invariably thrust on people against their will through pressure tactics and often violent repression of local communities.
Despite the hyperbole surrounding it and its enormous budgets, nuclear power accounts only for 3% of India’s electrical capacity. Yet India is planning to expand it massively, one of the main motives being to fulfil the promise of paybacks made to the US for the Indo-US nuclear deal and to other countries for their support in getting an endorsement for that agreement from the International Atomic Energy Agency and the Nuclear Suppliers’ Group for India. Such expansion will also strengthen the domestic and foreign industrial lobbies that see great opportunities to profit. It will greatly reinforce the power and privilege of the nuclear establishment and further promote India’s highly centralised and energy-intensive growth path.
The claim that nuclear energy is indispensable for the country’s energy security is widely questioned. Nuclear energy expansion will detract from our real requirements of ecologically sustainable, decentralised and equitable model of energy supply and use.
All this means that the issue of whether or not the path of nuclear energy should be pursued (and if so, how and under what preconditions) must be put upfront on the public agenda.
We demand that:
- A moratorium should be imposed with immediate effect on all proposed nuclear reactor projects.
- Land acquisition for nuclear projects should immediately be put on hold.
- An open and democratic national debate on nuclear energy and alternatives to it be organised. The government must acknowledge that there are serious and legitimate concerns about the hazards of nuclear power
- The government must constitute a high-level citizens’ commission to examine the appropriateness, desirability, safety, environmental soundness, costs and long-term problems posed by nuclear power generation. This commission must include independent experts, social scientists and civil society representatives.
- The government must set up a body of independent experts to carry out baseline health and environmental surveys in all areas where it is proposed to set up reactors, start mining and otherwise establish activities and structures connected to the whole nuclear fuel cycle. The survey results must be transparently shared with the local public, which must assured full and unimpeded access to their health data.
- The existing process of Environmental Impact Assessment for nuclear projects by non-accredited bodies is unacceptable. So is the non-consideration of specific nuclear hazards, including radiation leaks, radioactive waste storage, transportation risks, accidents, etc. Environmental clearances to all nuclear projects must be tightened with mandatory public hearings and full disclosure of all pertinent facts, including those related to the generic problems of nuclear power generation – radiation, effluents and emissions, requirements and availability of resources such as freshwater, impact on forests, fauna and flora and local eco-systems, potential for accidents and mishaps, waste separation, storage and disposal, hazards from transportation of nuclear materials, and risks to public and planned measures to mitigate these. The definition of potentially affected population by nuclear mishaps must be severely revised in the light of the catastrophic accidents like Chernobyl and Fukushima.
- Veto power must be entrusted to the local population as to whether they wish or not wish to have a nuclear installation or uranium mining or other related dangerous facilities to come up in their areas. Instead of the farce that currently takes place, there must be proper Jan Sunwais that are well advertised, organised by independent civil society bodies and open to participation and testimonies from all, be they ordinary civilians, concerned groups or experts.
- A transparent safety review of the entire nuclear sector be carried out by independent experts. Periodic safety reviews of existing nuclear facilities and mining sites must be carried out by independent experts.
- The authorities should facilitate long-term and medium-term health studies near these facilities by independent health experts and their findings must be publicised by the government. A citizens-based network for radiation monitoring near nuclear facilities should be created and financed out of a public fund expressly created for that purpose.
- Independent health inspection of nuclear workers should be carried out periodically and the results be made public. No contract worker should be employed in the nuclear sector because their health condition cannot be properly monitored.
- The government must immediately bring forth new legislation to replace the 1962 Atomic Energy Act to maximise the transparency of functioning and public accountability of the nuclear programme , with full public participation in decision-making.
- The Atomic Energy Regulatory Board has failed to perform its mandate and violates its own norms. It must be immediately made completely independent of the DAE and staffed by senior personnel known for their public probity and independence of mind who can be trusted to be completely impartial in their supervision. Furthermore, its budget provisions should come through the Ministry of Environment and Forests.
- The Right to Information Act must be made fully applicable to all aspects pertaining to the existence and development of the civilian nuclear energy sector so that the government cannot claim secrecy in the name of security considerations and thereby hide relevant information.
- Emergency plans for disaster management which include procedures for mass evacuation must be publicly discussed and examined and approved by the representative bodies of those likely to be affected. The government must establish with full local participation the practical mechanisms, structures and practices for rapid and effective evacuation along with initial— and periodic — trials runs to ensure the reliability of such evacuation procedures in case of accidents.
- The present Nuclear (Civil Liability) Act 2010 is not based on the moral and legal principle of absolute liability in case of accidents and must be suitably amended. Moreover, any attempts to further dilute the Act by formulating Rules calculated to artificially restrict and limit the suppliers’ liability must be dropped.
- The goverment must immediately provide health facilities and adequate compensation to all victims of radiation sickness living around India’s nuclear installations. The government presently does not even acknowledge these health effects.
- The government must immediately and unconditionally withdraw all charges of sedition and other false allegations against people protesting against nuclear projects. In the specific case of Koodankulam, the Supreme Court has directed the witdrawal of all charges against protesters which the Tamil Nadu government has refused to do.
Given these infirmities of nuclear energy, it is imperative to prepare a comprehensive alternative energy policy based on principles of equity, environmental sustainability and affordability, and on conventional and non-conventional energy resources, including solar, wind, small hydro, etc. This is the least that the government owes to the Indian public. The nuclear energy fuel cycle is too important a matter to be left only in the hands of scientists, bureaucrats, industrialists and politicians.