Corporate media have hailed a deal between the US and India promoting Indian nuclear power as a “breakthrough.” However, members of India’s civil society and some nuclear experts remain disapproving of the agreement. Some critics note that specifics of the deal are still vague and no system is in place to compensate victims in the event of a potential nuclear disaster.
At present India’s Nuclear Liability Act provides civil liability for nuclear damage and encourages reparation for victims of an incident. Yet there is no indication if the law will be amended in light of the agreement.
The question of liability for industrial accidents by foreign corporations remains especially pressing after the 1984 Bhopal disaster, in which thousands of Indians were killed and disabled after poisonous gas leaked from the American Union Carbide factory. Three decades later some victims have yet to be compensated.
“Our main concern is that victims of nuclear accidents will not be fairly compensated if this deal goes through,” said Jogendra Sharma, a senior member of the Communist Party of India Sharma. “We want strict laws that will hold US companies accountable to pay compensation to the victims in the event of a nuclear accident.”
Robert Alvarez, a former senior policy adviser to the US Secretary of Energy, pointed out that such procedural safeguards are essential in India. Even in the US private insurers won’t write coverage for nuclear power plants. “In a developing nation such as India,” Alvarez notes, “fear of liability from nuclear accidents is much greater than in the U.S. due to the lack of a robust nuclear safety infrastructure.”
Geopolitical concerns and US hegemony are also central to the nuclear deal. In contrast to the US, which is a signatory to the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, India, Pakistan and Israel have never signed the NPT. Thus the Obama administration is violating America’s treaty obligations by encouraging nuclear technology in India.
Mohd Abdul Alam, “Critics Question India-US Nuclear Breakthrough,” Al Jazeera, January 26, 2015, http://www.aljazeera.com/indepth/features/2015/01/150126111229674.html.
Institute for Public Accuracy, “US-India Nuclear Deal Subsidizes Industry, Leaves Victims Vulnerable, Violates NPT,” January 26, 2015, http://www.accuracy.org/release/u-s-india-nuclear-deal-subsidizes-industry-leaves-victims-vulnerable-violates-npt/.
Student Researcher: Alexander Adams (Florida Atlantic University)
Faculty Evaluator: James F. Tracy (Florida Atlantic University)