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India Announces Plans for New Nuclear Safety Body


Activists from the Anti-Nuclear Struggles Solidarity Forum shout slogans as they hold placards during a protest against a planned nuclear power plant at Jaitapur in New Delhi, April 21, 2011.

Activists from the Anti-Nuclear Struggles Solidarity Forum shout slogans as they hold placards during a protest against a planned nuclear power plant at Jaitapur in New Delhi, April 21, 2011.

Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh says he will soon submit legislation to parliament on establishing a new organization to supervise nuclear safety in India.

It is one of several steps by the government aimed at calming public anxiety over a planned coastal nuclear complex some fear could produce a repeat of Japan's nuclear catastrophe.

India's government says the proposed new agency to supervise nuclear safety will take over the work of the country's existing Atomic Energy Regulatory Board, except that it will be autonomous and independent.

V. Narayanasamy, minister of state in the office of the Indian prime minister, announced the decision Tuesday.

"[The] government's intention is to ensure nuclear power that is safe, secure and economical," Narayanasamy said. "Against this background, the commitment to India's three stage indigenous nuclear power program was reaffirmed."

The announcement followed a meeting between Prime Minister Singh, Environment Minister Jairam Ramesh, and the chief minister of India's Maharashtra state, Prithviraj Chavan.

Last week, one person was killed in Maharashtra when recurring protests over a planned coastal nuclear park in Jaitapur turned violent.

The deal to build the nuclear park in Jaitapur was inked with a French company during French President Nicholas Sarkozy's visit to India in December. It envisions an eventual total of six reactors.

Indian officials say nuclear energy is a necessary and crucial building block in providing economic growth and basic services to millions of its citizens.

However, the recent nuclear disaster in Japan fueled opposition to the Jaitapur project on the grounds that it, too, is in an earthquake and tsunami prone area-- just like Japan's Fukushima nuclear complex.

Environment Minister Jairam Ramesh says the government is planning a crucial design difference for the Jaitapur complex.

"Today, a very important decision has been taken, that in Jaitapur... each reactor will have a stand-alone safety system, a stand-alone dedicated operation and maintenance system. This is a very major step forward," Ramish said.

Press reports here in India quoted Ramesh on Saturday as saying it may be necessary to "press pause" on the Jaitapur project in the interest of safety. He downplayed those comments Tuesday. So, did Maharashtra Chief Minister Chavan, who offered assurances that nothing would be built in a rush.

"The first two units are expected to become operational in 2019. It's a long process. It's not that we'll switch on the reactors in one or two years. It's a long process which involves safety review. It's a long process," Chavan said.

The Jaitapur complex is likely to face continued opposition not only on safety grounds, but from local residents who say the complex will deprive them of their homes and livelihoods.

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