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  • India, China, Pakistan review nuclear safety

[NEW DELHI] India has announced that it will review its nuclear safety standards in light of damage to the Fukushima nuclear reactor in Japan, while one of its former nuclear safety chiefs has made scathing criticisms of India's nuclear safety capacity.

The news comes as China announced today (16 March) that it was suspending approval for all new nuclear power plants until the government issues revised safety rules, and that it will conduct safety checks of the country's existing nuclear facilities and those under construction.

India's prime minister, Manmohan Singh, told parliament this week (14 March) that he has ordered a  review of the ability of the country's nuclear plants to withstand the impacts of large natural disasters.

And a former Atomic Energy Regulatory Board (AERB) chairman, Adinarayana Gopalakrishnan, said that India's disaster preparedness "is mostly on paper".

"A captive AERB, which reports to the Department of Atomic Energy, makes nuclear safety management in India worthless," he told SciDev.Net.

"There needs to be a total re-organisation of the AERB, making it totally independent … and technically much stronger.

"It is unlikely that the kind of devastating earthquake and tsunami which hit Japan would strike any of the Indian nuclear plants. But the earthquake–resistant designs and tsunami abatement measures in Indian nuclear plants need a high-level, in-depth review by an independent expert group, predominantly consisting of non-DAE (Department of Atomic Energy), non-NPCIL (Nuclear Power Corporation of India Limited) experts."

But the NPCIL — which oversees India's nuclear power generation — said that the Kakrapar Atomic Power Station in Gujarat operated safely when an earthquake struck the region in January 2001; while the Madras Atomic Power Station in Tamil Nadu withstood the December 2004 tsunami and safely shut down.

It said that the AERB had reviewed the safety of the two Indian plants that contain boiling water reactors — the same technology used in the Fukushima plant — a few years ago, and subsequently upgraded them with additional safety features.

In Pakistan, the country's Nuclear Regulatory Authority spokesperson, Zaheer Ayub Baig, said the agency was reassessing the seismicity of earthquake-prone Karachi, where a boiling water reactor is based.

It was the failure of the stand-by diesel power back-up, due to its submergence in water, that left the Japanese plant without cooling ability.

Elsewhere, in Bangladesh — which will formally ink a deal with Russia in April to build a nuclear power plant at Rooppur — Farid Uddin Ahmed, chairman of the Bangladesh Atomic Energy Commission, said he was confident that the proposed plant site would withstand cyclones, floods and earthquakes.

In Vietnam, Tran Thanh Minh, former director of the country's Institute for Nuclear Science and Technology, told the Financial Times blog beyondbrics: "I'm concerned about what's happening in Japan but, like most nuclear scientists, I'm not that concerned".

He said that the risk from earthquakes and tsunamis to future nuclear power plants in Vietnam was likely to be minimal, given that the country is not very close to Asia's most seismically active areas.

Meanwhile, in the Philippines, two politicians who were behind a bill to rehabilitate the US$2.3 billion Bataan Nuclear Power Plant — which has lain unused since its construction in the late 1970s — announced that they were suspending their efforts because of the Japanese-inspired safety concerns.

With additional reporting by Suhail Yusuf, Joel D. Adriano, Pinaki Roy and Kafil Yamin.

Read all our coverage about the Japanese earthquake, tsunami and nuclear disaster here.

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