Mumbai: Welcoming the Centre's move to set up an independent atomic regulator, India's nuclear establishment has said there should be no compromise on the vast technical and scientific support required for maintaining highest safety levels.

The Government will introduce a Bill in the monsoon session of Parliament to set up the new body, which will replace the Atomic Energy Regulatory Board (AERB).

"It is a good step as it would not only strengthen the legal position of the regulatory body, but also satisfy public perception in the aftermath of Fukushima crisis and protests over the proposed nuclear plant in Jaitapur," S P Sukhatme, a former Chairman of AERB said.

"There was never any challenge to the functional and technical independence of AERB, but its legal position was weak as the Board was created under the Atomic Energy Act through a Gazette Notification in 1983," he pointed out.

AEC Chairman Srikumar Banerjee emphasised that utmost care should be taken to maintain and also enhance the large technical support currently available to AERB.

Ex-AEC Chairman Anil Kakodkar, who played a key role in clinching the landmark Indo-US civil nuclear deal, welcomed the move to overhaul AERB and make it fully independent.

He, however, declined to comment further, saying it remains to be seen how the whole thing evolves.

Asked if AERB (or the new regulatory authority) should be under a Ministry, Sukhatme said, "This is not necessary. It can function independently as it will be formed under an Act of Parliament.

Sukhatme suggested that once the new body comes into existence, there could be cross linkages between AEC and AERB for a better flow of information.

AERB Chairman S S Bajaj said currently the regulator has no problems in enforcing norms related to the nuclear industry.

Though questions were raised on AERB's statutory status and its limited autonomy in dealing with safety issues, Bajaj said the board's work had been appreciated during a peer review at the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) a few years back. However, any effort to formalise the board's existing independence by passing a law was a welcome step, Bajaj said.

He pointed out that AERB is dealing with 20 operational nuclear power plants, a few under construction ones, fuel-cycle units and thousands of radiation facilities.

The legislation for an independent authority is in the drafting stage currently and some DAE experts, who do not wish to be named, said the body would be better-off if it is not placed under a Ministry as has been suggested by some.

The issues related to AERB's autonomy had been discussed threadbare within DAE for over a decade, he said.

The experts said although AERB currently enjoys functional independence, the Board has financial independence since the last 5 to 6 years.

AERB presents a report on safety in DAE's units directly to the AEC once a year. In addition, whenever issues related to safety are discussed, the AERB Chairman is always invited to meetings, they stated.

In this manner, the AEC, which comprises top officials such as the MoS from PMO, National Security Advisor, Principal Secretary to the PM, Cabinet Secretary, Finance Secretary and eminent scientists, is kept updated on all important issues related to safety in DAE's units as well as radiation safety in non-DAE facilities, the experts said.

Likewise, the AEC, which comprises top officials such as the MoS from PMO, National Security Advisor, and Principal Secretary to the PM, Cabinet Secretary, Finance Secretary and eminent scientists, is kept updated on all important issues related to safety in DAE's units as well as radiation safety in non-DAE facilities, the experts said.

There is a suggestion to formalise AERB's independence by modifying existing rules, they said.

Such a simple step, these experts point out, would formally make the AERB independent and at the same time avoid the risk of being starved of the scientific expertise that is essential for an effective radiation safety regulation in the country.

(Agencies)