Event ReportsPublished on Feb 23, 2012
Highlighting the inevitability of Nuclear power being an essential requirement to address India's growing Energy security needs in the time to come, Mr Shashidhar Reddy, Vice Chairman National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA) said.
Nuclear Disaster Management in India-Issues and Prospects

Highlighting the inevitability of Nuclear power being an essential requirement to address India’s growing Energy security needs in the time to come, Mr Shashidhar Reddy, Vice Chairman National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA) said that even though India had an enviable record in nuclear safety , there was a need to dwell more on failures and consequences of inaction in order to secure a safe nuclear future for India. Mr Reddy was speaking at a talk on Nuclear Disaster Management in India- Issues and Prospects organized by ORF.

India’s Energy Future

Talking about India’s growing energy needs he indicated that in India consumption of energy was 657 units per capita annually as against a world average of 2500 units. To meet energy requirements in 2050, and achieve a Human Development Index of 1, a bare minimum of 5000 units per capita annually would be required at a time when India’s population was likely to stabilise at about 1.6 billion. Such a number was only reasonable as countries like Norway had per capital annual consumption of about 27,000 units and Canada about 18,000 units.

Known sources for generation of power like hydrocarbon, hydro, wind energy etc have limitations ,leaving two viable future options of solar(limitations of cost etc) and nuclear. Nuclear, more so due to the availability of 1/3rd of the world’s thorium reserves. With this aim, expansion of nuclear power generation in the country was extremely crucial for India’s energy security and directly linked to India’s economic growth.


The triple disaster of earthquake-tsunami and nuclear meltdown in Japan-had raised concerns on safety of nuclear facilities world over. Immediately after the Fukushima event, the Prime Minister of India had convened a meeting of all officials of the atomic energy fraternity and taken stock of the safety measures in place. If supplementary measures to nuclear safety seemed to be a reaction to Fukushima, this was understandable as we needed to learn from mistakes of the past. Even India’s Tsunami warning early system in Hyderabad, among the best in the world came up after the 2004 Tsunami which was catastrophic.

There were clear directions to review the safety aspects of nuclear installations in the country with the idea of ensuring the continuance of the enviable record of nuclear safety in the country which were guided by IAEA, AERB regulations.

NDMA also carried out statewise reviews of plants in all six states, except Jaitapur and Koodankulum giving interesting perspectives. Even in Tarapur there had been a two day program with a workshop and a mock exercise.

It was understood that stiff opposition within the country towards Nuclear energy had several reasons both genuine and others guided by vested interests.

NDMA’s role

NDMA’s role was to supplement the national safety measures in place and to ensure that no compromises were made on safety aspects. NDMA had demonstrated admirable capability in the natural disaster sphere, when it undertook the biggest evacuation in human history of 650,000 in Orissa during the cyclone. It was only later that this number was surpassed by US’s Katrina cyclone evacuation.

Aiming at world class preparedness, the NDMA had organized more than 400 mock excercises in last few years covering different disasters in different regions. The mega mock exercise for earthquake preparedness in Delhi recently was an example of the initiative and these were not to be measured merely in terms of participation but also generation of mass scale awareness and gap finding. AERB mandated mock exercises were also being carried out every two years.

Understanding that records of safety were not enough, the NDMA discovered the need to go into the field, look at the preparedness at grassroots level, evaluated the possibility of offsite nuclear disasters, and thus had stipulations in place.

India is well prepared to deal with most disasters inspite of some lacunae in harnessing S&T . Mobile radiation detection systems, incident response systems ,GIS platform and modeling had been inculcated to strengthen the framework.


With the given resources at our disposal we are well prepared, but the resources are not enough. There was a tendency to talk about our strengths and not about weaknesses. Consequences of inactions could not be ignored and needed to be looked at, not with the sole aim to penalize but to learn valuable lessons and improve.

Implementation of the guidelines at the state level needed to be fast tracked, delegation of responsibility in the event of an accident needed to be clarified further, land acquisition, provision of housing from people relocated from the safety zones in Nuclear Power Plant (NPP) vicinity needed to be addressed. Tarapur was an example of inferior housing being offered to the relocated people. Promises of development, provision of electricity had not come through fully. Connectivity had also been a significant problem. Human resources also needed to be augmented further and training decentralized. Only 30,000 people were trained in disaster management, the number needed to increase. Minute aspects such as gender sensitivity even in emergency rescue, relief and decontamination procedures needed to be factored in. Generating awareness was also crucial as the grassroots level.

Nuclear Power Corporation of India (NPCIL) had been doing lot however more needed to be done to instill confidence in the minds of the people.


NDMA’s major mandate among other things was the preparation of guidelines; it is on this basis that the ministries need to prepare their plans. In the past, NDMA has come out with comprehensive guidelines focused on nuclear and radiological emergencies. Unfortunately the translation of these guidelines into action plans had not been effective. Now there is likely to be a more stringent approach towards notifying these guidelines and also garnering support of various states.

There was a need to look at things in totality with transparency in thinking and to evolve a roadmap to improve in a systematic and scientific manner. High priority was being accorded to monitoring equipment and upgrading disaster response facilities. These facilities were likely to be in disuse for long until any disaster occurred, but preparedness was to be maintained.

Disaster management needs to be factored in as an integral aspect of developmental policies. Also development plans could not be limited to special cases and it would have to evolve as a policy. Local development would be crucial for addressing genuine concerns, allaying fears and achieving progress. Development had to be an essential part of overall plan.

States have been asked to prepare plans covering 16 km emergency zones near the NPPs, which has not been attempted in the past. There have been suggestions of Rs 200 crore development plans. Karnataka was the first to come up with such a plan which included widening of roads, construction of new shortcut roads, footbridges, sanitation, electricity, drinking water, school, government buildings and health .Other states are being encouraged to do the same. More funds were not impossibility and NPCIL could be encouraged to look at corporate social responsibility and more to generate funds.

Disaster management India is at a stage of work in progress and lot more needs to be done. Once the concerns on safety are addressed adequately, resistance to expansion of nuclear power generation in the country will come down. Challenges can only be resolved with sustained efforts and this is extremely important in the context of energy security of the country.

Concluding, General Nirbhay Sharma, Distinguished Fellow ORF thanked Mr Reddy and commended his unique insights emerging from a rare combination of being a politician and scholar with a scientific temperament. Major General J K Bansal, Member NDMA, representatives from Japanese, Czech, Canadian and Australian embassies, guests and ORF faculty were in attendance.

Report prepared by Akhilesh B Variar, Research Assistant,ORF

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