27 July 2015

Sunday Times (Sri Lanka): Govt. frames rules on use of radioactive material

Govt. frames rules on use of radioactive material

Sunday Times Sri Lanka, 26 July 2015

By Namini Wijedasa

The Government has promulgated regulations to streamline the use of radioactive material in industry, medicine and teaching. Two rules and one order, together comprising around 90 pages, have been sent to the Government Printer for publishing. They introduce a method of licensing based on the scientific levels of radioactive material that are permitted for use in specified sectors, said Anil Ranjith, a director at the Atomic Energy Regulatory Council (AERC).

There is also provision to exclude from licensing those companies that use radioactive material below certain scientific levels. There are no stipulations, however, for production of nuclear energy. “Nobody has started it and there are no requests for it,” Mr. Ranjith said.

“The rules only pertain to use of radioactive material in industry, medicine and teaching,” he explained. “They are intended to set up a proper licensing system that meets international standards.”

The Atomic Energy Act, passed last year, provides for rules to be issued for, among other things, the “categorisation of radioactive material that takes into account the potential hazard posed by types, quantities and activity levels of such radioactive material.” Sri Lanka’s moves towards better governance in the use of radioactive material come amidst reports that Asia has the fastest developing nuclear energy industry in the world, with India among the top nations.

The ‘World Nuclear Industry Status Report’ (WNISR), released in Britain on July 15, reveals that all 40 nuclear reactors that were started up within the past decade are in Asia or Eastern Europe. “With 18 units, China started up by far the largest fleet, followed by India (7) and South Korea (5),” it states.

Earlier this year, Sri Lanka and India signed an agreement for “Cooperation in the Peaceful Uses of Nuclear Energy”. It did not provide for compensation in the event of accidents. Despite the heavy—and growing—prevalence of nuclear reactors in India, there are currently no discussions between the two countries on contingency measures.

The report observes that international nuclear assistance has been “practically impossible” for most countries, given that Pakistan, like India, has not signed the Nuclear Non -Proliferation Treaty (NPT) and “does not accept full -scope safeguards”. The report is produced annually by Mycle Schneider, an independent international consultant on energy and nuclear policy, and Antony Frogatt, an energy policy consultant. The 2015 WNISR has contributions from other renowned international experts.

“As of the middle of July 2015, 62 reactors are considered here as under construction, five fewer than WNISR reported a year ago,” the report says. “Four -fifths of all newly -built units (50) are in Asia and Eastern Europe, of which half (24) are in China alone. Over 60 percent (38) of the units under construction are located in just three countries: China, India, and Russia.”Despite its ambitions, however, India has faced considerable challenges in the nuclear energy sector, the report states. There are 20 functioning nuclear power reactors in the country, one less than last year. In 2014, only 3.5 per cent of India’s electricity was from nuclear sources. Six units are under construction.

Pakistan operates three reactors that provided 4.3 per cent of the country’s electricity last year. The first unit at the Karachi site was first connected to the grid in October 1971 and is one of the oldest operating reactors in the world. Experts have also observed a declining international trend in nuclear plant building; construction plunged from 15 in 2010 to just three last year. Most countries, including India, now generate more electricity from renewable sources, such as wind, than nuclear.

The report concludes that, “as evidence of the multiple problems associated with nuclear power becomes clearer to the public around the world, there is socially generated pressure to alleviate if not eliminate these problems, including radioactive waste generation, linkage with nuclear weapons, and risk of catastrophic accidents”.

But none of the SMR (small modular reactor) designs so far can address all these problems simultaneously,” it states. “Indeed, attempts to tackle one of them can make other problems worse.”

WNISR notes that the world’s nuclear statistics “remain distorted by political choice.” Four years after the Fukushima events started unfolding on March 11, 2011, all official references continue to misrepresent the real and very concrete effects of the disaster on the Japanese nuclear programme: its entire nuclear reactor fleet (with the exception of the six units at Fukushima Daiichi and an additional five units recently officially closed), that is 43 units, are still considered “in operation” or “operational”.

“In reality, no nuclear power was generated in Japan since September 2013 and many of the “operational” units will likely never generate any power again…” the report states.