New Delhi: The Supreme Court on Thursday wanted to know from the Centre as to what would be the guarantee that there would be no radio active substance in the spent fuel to be stored at the controversial Kudankulam nuclear power plant in Tamil Nadu to prevent any accident.

Posing a host of searching queries to the Centre on the functional safety of the power plant, a bench of justices KS Radhakrishanan and Deepak Misra also asked if any environmental impact assessment was done on the project.

The bench posted the matter for further hearing on next Thursday, saying that it would pass appropriate orders after examining the issue at length.

"It is not adversarial. We are concerned with the people's rights and interests. It is in public interest. What will be the guarantee that there will be no radio active material in it?

"In 1984 there was the Bhopal gas tragedy. But the problem of waste is still there. If there is a problem, how to meet it?," the bench asked Solicitor General Rohinton Nariman and Additional Solicitor General Mohan Parasaran, who appeared for the Centre.

The bench was dealing with the petition filed by social activist G Sundarrajan challenging the Madras High Court's decision not to impose any restraint against the plant, despite the alleged non-compliance of several safety measures recommended by the Atomic Energy Regulatory Board.

Appearing for the petitioner, counsel Prashant Bhushan told the bench that not only 11 out of the 17 recommendations made by the AERB were violated by the government but even minimum statutory norms like environmental assessment impact and disaster management study and measures have been overlooked for loading the fuel in the plant.

"Was any environmental impact assessment done?," the bench asked the Centre to which Parasarn nodded in the affirmative.

Bhushan submitted that as per the original agreement, the spent fuel was to tbe sent back to Russia but owing to some strange reasons, the Indian government decided to retain it in the country, posing a grave threat to the safety of the people as the spent fuel contains radio active material for several years.

He complained that the mandatory disaster management plan has not been worked and the guidelines formulated by the NDMA (National Disaster Management Authority) headed by the Prime Minister too were not followed while setting up the project.

He added the State Disaster Management Authority and the District Disaster Management Authority too have not been constituted as required under the AERB norms.

At the last hearing, the Apex Court had refused to stay the fuel loading but had decided to examine the risk associated with the project, saying the safety of people living in its vicinity is of prime concern.

The Centre had told the court that the plant is "completely safe".

The present petition by Sundarrajan is against the Madras High Court's August 31 decision which had refused to impose any restraint on the nuclear power plant.

The appeal has claimed that non-implementation of various recommendations formulated by the government's task force "puts the safety of millions of citizens to grave risk."

It said the high court had given a go ahead to the nuclear power plant without first ensuring that the 17 critical safety features recommended by the Central government's expert task force are put in place.

It complained that in complete violation of the absolute liability principle evolved by the apex court, the government has absolved the Russian company supplying the nuclear reactor of all liabilities in case of an accident.

According to the petition, a committee appointed by the Centre after last year's nuclear disaster at Fukushima in Japan had suggested 17 safety measures for Kudankulam plant but only six safety measures have been adopted before loading of the fuel.

The Centre, however, had said that making the plant fully operational was a long-drawn process and the 17 safety measures would be implemented in a phased manner within six months to two years.

A bench headed by Chief Justice S H Kapadia earlier on March 16 this year had admitted another petition by NGO Common Cause to examine the legality of the provisions of the controversial Civil Liability on Nuclear Damage Act.

The petition had alleged that some of the provisions were infringing fundamental right to life of citizens.

While issuing notice, the bench had asked the Government to respond to the contention that the legislation did not cover the nuclear safety regime.

"We will examine the validity of the Act, vis-à-vis Article 21 (right to life) of the Constitution," the bench had said while making it clear that it will not venture into any other aspect as the issues raised in the petition about the nuclear plants are "very scientific" in nature and it "does not have the expertise to go into them".


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