ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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Inadequate Basis for Safety of the PFBR

A comment on "The Limits of Safety Analysis: Severe Nuclear Accident Possibilities at the PFBR" by Ashwin Kumar and M V Ramana (EPW, 22 October 2011), followed by a response by the authors themselves.

The Limits of Safety Analysis: Severe Nuclear Acciden Possibilities at the PFBR

The Prototype Fast Breeder Reactor that is being built in Kalpakkam in Tamil Nadu has the potential to undergo severe accidents that involve the disassembly of the reactor core. Such accidents could release sufficient energy to fracture the protective barriers around the core, including the containment building, and release large fractions of the radioactive material in the reactor into the surroundings. The designers of the PFBR have made choices aimed at making the reactor cheaper rather than safer. The safety assessment of the PFBR points to some fundamental problems with how nuclear technology is regulated.

Safety First? Kaiga and Other Nuclear Stories

The November 2009 exposure of employees at the Kaiga nuclear power plant to tritiated water is not the first instance of high radiation exposures to workers. Over the years, many nuclear reactors and other facilities associated with the nuclear fuel cycle operated by the Department of Atomic Energy have had accidents of varying severity. Many of these are a result of repeated inattention to good safety practices, often due to lapses by management. Therefore, the fact that catastrophic radioactive releases have not occurred is not by itself a source of comfort. To understand whether the dae's facilities are safe, it is therefore necessary to take a closer look at their operations. The description and discussion in this paper of some accidents and organisational practices offer a glimpse of the lack of priority given to nuclear safety by the dae. The evidence presented here suggests that the organisation does not yet have the capacity to safely manage India's nuclear facilities.

Indo-US Nuclear Deal

If the India-US deal moves forward, this would give the former greater freedom to pursue cooperation with countries possessing nuclear materials and technology. However, international cooperation would require the facilities receiving assistance to be subject to safeguards, and to that extent India's priorities for international cooperation must be articulated. Having clear priorities would also help India's negotiators navigate a situation in which offers of cooperation come with strings attached.
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