NEW DELHI, June 1 (IANS): Against the backdrop of Japan's nuclear plant leak in March, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh Wednesday signalled India's resolve to scale up atomic energy production as he directed government agencies to upgrade safety measures at all nuclear installations in the country.
Manmohan Singh, who met government officials, nuclear scientists and disaster management authorities at his residence here, took stock of measures to deal with a Fukushima-like disaster which was triggered by a cocktail of an earthquake and a tsunami.
The prime minister discussed a slew of new steps such as installing hi-tech radiation measuring gadgets in 35 cities across India, including Delhi, Mumbai, Chennai and Kolkata, and asked the states and central agencies to work on implementing the chemical, biological, nuclear and radiation disaster management guidelines prepared by the National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA).
"The prime minister has reviewed the safety of nuclear installations in the country and has directed authorities to review safety measures in the light of experience in the Fukushima nuclear plant in Japan. These directions are being acted upon," NDMA Vice Chairman Shashidhar Reddy told reporters here after the meeting.
"The prime minister also reviewed the safety measure being undertaken by the Department of Atomic Energy, Atomic Energy Regulatory Board, Bhabha Atomic Research Centre and Nuclear Power Corporation of India Limited in respect of nuclear facilities and asked them to look at beyond-design-basis accidents, as in Fukushima," Reddy said.
The meeting was attended by Home Minister P. Chidambaram, Agriculture Minister Sharad Pawar, Planning Commission Deputy Chairman Montek Singh Ahluwalia, Minister of State in the Prime Minister's Office V. Narayanasamy, and Atomic Energy Commission chairman S. Banerjee, who made a presentation on the safety measures of nuclear plants.
Manmohan Singh, however, expressed satisfaction on the safety and security of India's 20 operational nuclear reactors.
"The prime minister is fully satisfied," Reddy stressed.
Though the terror threats to India's nuclear installations and the challenges posed by non-state actors to Pakistan's nuclear arsenal were concerns receiving the highest attention at top levels in the government, the NDMA vice chief made it clear that the possibility of such attacks or the neighbouring country's nuclear weapons falling into terrorists' hands was not a point of discussion at the meeting.
"The meeting only dealt with issues that may be the fall-out of a disaster, be it natural or man-made, and the preparedness of the disaster management agencies to tackle evacuation, isolation and containment and medical emergencies," he said.
The meeting noted with satisfaction that there was no accident in any nuclear facility in the past in the country, though there were radiation emergencies such as the Mayapuri junkyard incident in Delhi last year in which one person died after coming in contact with radioactive material disposed off by an educational institution.
The Fukushima disaster has provoked a global rethink on the viability of nuclear energy. Germany Monday announced that it will phase out all its nuclear facilities by 2022.
Manmohan Singh has, however, made it clear that his plans for expanding nuclear production in India, an ambition that drove the landmark nuclear deal he clinched with the US in 2008, will not be affected by the Fukushima incident as his government was taking all steps to ensure the safety of nuclear installations.
Addressing a joint press conference here with visiting German Chancellor Angela Merkel Tuesday, Manmohan Singh stressed that India needed nuclear power to meet its growing energy demands and to adhere to its self-imposed obligations to combat climate change.
"Nuclear energy accounts for only three per cent of total energy generated in our system. As of now our capacity is less than 5,000 MW. We want to raise it to 20,000 MW by 2020," he said.
"If India is to meet its emission (reduction) targets, then nuclear energy and emphasis on renewable energy is required. We must have the option of make use of nuclear energy together with coal," he said.