‘Strategic’ nuclear plants may no longer require green clearance

Anubhuti Vishnoi | The Economic Times

The government is looking to free up the environmental clearance process for strategic nuclear power projects from the purview of the union environment ministry in view of the high confidentiality and national security interests involved.

It is examining ways to delegate the green clearance process specifically for these projects to the Atomic Energy Regulatory Board (AERB) instead, ET has learnt.

Highly placed sources in the environment ministry confirmed that a proposal to secure the nuclear and strategic project processes is under consideration and various modalities are being examined to delegate the Environmental clearance process to the AERB instead. AERB responded to ET queries, saying it has not yet set up any committee on this issue.

“There is already a special committee in the environment ministry which looks at strategic projects of this nature and keeps the details off public domain in view of the high levels of sensitivity involved. However, it is felt that even in such a dedicated process, full security of the data and other details may be at some risk. Since this is a national security matter, it is felt that it may be best to delegate the full EC process to AERB with all required assistance from Environment ministry and its experts”, the official told ET.

The move will have significant implications for India’s nuclear energy programme. The country currently has 23 nuclear reactor and seven nuclear plants in operations. It has collaborations in place with several foreign nations to expand its nuclear power programme and is looking to ramp up the network significantly over the next few years.

The concern is around the various levels of file movement involved in an environmental clearance process and how this may open the confidential data to a possibility of leakage.

The environmental clearance process is mandated by the Environment Impact Assessment notification, 2006 and is required by most new large-scale projects or expansion of existing projects.
This is not a short process either.

It comprises of four stages – Screening, Scoping, Public Consultation and Appraisal by an Expert Appraisal Committee.

There is a dedicated Expert Appraisal Committee on Nuclear Power Projects and Strategic Defense projects but the government is now looking to tighten this process further and regulate the levels of file movement.

It is, therefore, felt that AERB is best equipped to address the green clearance process given it is India’s regulatory body for all nuclear plants and already works closely with the environment ministry on various aspects like site selection and effluent discharge limits from nuclear power plants.

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