India gets own nuclear watchdog
New Delhi - India has decided to set up an independent watchdog to oversee all of its nuclear reactors in view of mounting concerns about the safety of such installations.
Those concerns have intensified since an earthquake-spawned tsunami knocked out cooling systems at a Japanese nuclear power plant, unleashing massive amounts of radiation into the environment.
But discontent over the country's atomic energy has been simmering for some time: Residents of a western Indian town have complained about the safety of a plant planned for their community and demanded more compensation for moving.
V Narayanswamy, a minister in the prime minister's office, said on Tuesday that the government is preparing a bill to be introduced in the next session of parliament to create an autonomous nuclear regulatory authority.
At a meeting chaired by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, top government leaders also decided to go ahead with the nuclear power plant in Jaitapur.
"The government is satisfied with the safety aspects of the Jaitapur nuclear plant," Narayanswamy said.
In response to concerns of the residents of the small village in Maharashtra state, the government has decided to increase the compensation already paid and will reach out to local people to assure them of the plant's safety, said Prithviraj Chauhan, chief minister of Maharashtra.
"We have made detailed presentations on Jaitapur to all political parties. The political dialogue will continue and special efforts will be made to convince people that safety will not be compromised," Chauhan said.
Energy-starved India is making a big push for nuclear power to drive its booming economic growth. The government is promoting nuclear energy as a clean and environmentally friendly alternative to polluting coal-fired power plants.
Nuclear energy forms only 3% of power available in India at present.
The government has announced plans to increase the share of its nuclear power generation to 13% of its energy basket by 2030 to meet the rising demand for electricity.