Lawmakers approved a bill Monday that would cap the liability of foreign nuclear firms doing business in India, a crucial step toward attracting enough atomic reactors to meet the country's burgeoning energy needs.
India's potential nuclear energy market has been pegged at $150 billion, but some private firms, especially those from the U.S., have been reluctant to set up nuclear power plants in India without a law that would limit their compensation payments if there is a nuclear accident. The bill caps liability at $320 million in the case of an industrial accident and was passed by the upper house of Parliament Monday following earlier lower house approval.
Such a cap stirred strong opposition in India, where victims of the 1984 gas leak at a Union Carbide plant in Bhopal are still seeking increased compensation for their suffering. That leak, the world's worst industrial disaster, killed 15,000 people.
New Delhi has been keen to expand its nuclear power generation capacity because it desperately needs more energy — 40 percent of households don't have electricity, according to the government — but is concerned about the environmental impact of coal-based plants and large dams. At present, nuclear energy forms only 3 percent of power available in the country.
Prithviraj Chavan, India's junior science and technology minister, sought to quell concerns about the bill Monday, saying it provided for prompt compensation to victims in case of a nuclear accident.
The bill now requires the approval of India's ceremonial president to become a law — a step considered to be a formality.
The international community had barred India from the trade in civilian nuclear technology after the country conducted nuclear tests in 1974 and 1998.
In 2008, India emerged from its nuclear isolation after it signed a landmark civil nuclear cooperation agreement with the United States. The 45-nation Nuclear Suppliers Group then lifted a three-decade global ban on nuclear trade with India.