24th August, 2010
Justice Shri K.G. Balakrishnan
National Human Rights Commission (NHRC)
Faridkot House, Copernicus Marg, New Delhi
Sub: Human rights violations from nuclear damage – its impact on human life and enviro-occupational health
This Hon’ble Commission has been seriously pursuing the problem of “enviro-occupational health”, and has been taking “preventive” as well as “remedial” measures. It is humbly brought to your notice that there is another equally serious enviro-occupational hazard which is exposure from radioactive radiations and wastes. The issue of liability for nuclear damage is directly linked to it. The grave problem of diseases caused to present and future generations by radiation exposures is required to be addressed as it affects environment and human health and violates Article 21 of the Constitution, Directive Principles as well as “human rights” as defined under the UDHR, ICCPR and ICESCR.
2. That at the outset, the Applicant wishes to refer to the problem of exposure from radioactive radiations. The Supreme Court has looked at the entire issue, keeping in view the Directive Principles as well as Article 21 of the Constitution, and held that “life” includes right to health and medical care etc. There is no database on the records of the Government to show, to the best of Applicant’s knowledge, as to what actions the Government has taken, namely, how many persons have been reported to be suffering from exposure to radioactive radiation? How many have died? Did they receive any compensation? How many persons suffering from it are receiving treatment?
3. That the Applicant is an environmental health researcher who was invited to make submissions before the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Science & Technology, Environment & Forests following a written submission on Civil Liability for Nuclear Damage Bill, 2010 which is meant to pave the way for India to sign International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA)’s Convention on Supplementary Compensation (CSC) for Nuclear Damage, 1997.
4. That in its 25 page report on Civil Liability for Nuclear Damage Bill, 2010, Parliamentary Standing Committee on Science & Technology, Environment & Forests which was tabled in the Rajya Sabha and Lok Sabha on 18th August, 2010.observes, “When the Committee inquired from the Secretaries of Ministries/Departments of Government of India who appeared before the Committee as to whether the draft nuclear liability Bill was referred to them for their views/comments, some of them viz. Ministries of Health & Family Welfare, Agriculture, Labour & Employment, Food & Public Distribution, etc. replied in the negative. The Committee is of the opinion that Government must have sought the opinion of Ministries which are even distantly related to any provision of the legislation. The Committee, therefore, recommends that in future Government should consult all such Ministries/ Departments which are even remotely concerned with the provisions of a proposed legislation.” This Hon’ble Commission may take cognizance of the submissions of these Secretaries and direct the concerned authorities to internalize their suggestions in the text of the Bill to protect the human rights of Indian citizens and safeguard intergenerational equity.
5. That, in view of the facts mentioned above, the applicant humbly submits that the Hon’ble Commission may kindly initiate appropriate proceedings and issue directions to all the concerned Secretaries of the Central Government and relevant States/UTs with regard to the following :
1. How would they respond in the event of a nuclear disaster?
2. Do they know as to how many industries/factories exist in the States/UTs where radioactive material is used? Is there an inventory of products wherein the said material is used?
3. What is the total number of workers employed in the nuclear power industries and other nuclear installations?
4. Whether there is regular medical check-up and whether medical facilities exist for workers and communities in the vicinity of nuclear installations?
5. Whether there is any record of persons who died because of radioactive radiation?
6. How many persons suffer from radioactive radiation and whether they are receiving regular treatment for the said disease?
7. What steps States/UTs have taken to check/prevent occurrence of radioactive radiations and how many hospitals dealing with the enviro-occupational diseases exist in the States/UTs.
8. How many institutions in the country have the competence to decontaminate and how many medical, occupational health and scientific institutions can diagnose radiation exposure?
9. What action has been taken by the central government and the State Governments/UTs have taken to protect exposure from radiation in the future?
6. That it is submitted that this Hon’ble Commission for the purpose of collecting the above information, may also take the benefit of its experience in the case of enviro- occupational diseases which are preventable but incurable. By giving medicines, impact of radioactive radiation can be reduced and life span can be prolonged but ultimately fate of the affected person is painful death. A brief note on the issue of liability from nuclear damage and the submissions of the concerned Secretaries of the central government is enclosed as Annexure A
7. That the applicant wishes to bring to this Hon’ble Commission’s notice that India has ratified Radiation Protection Convention, 1960 of the International Labour Organisation (ILO) but its provisions have not been complied with. India is yet to ratify ILO’s Occupational Cancer Convention, 1974 which is concerning Prevention and Control of Occupational Hazards caused by Carcinogenic Substances and Agents took cognizance of the Radiation Protection Convention and Radiation Protection Recommendation. It refers to the work done by International Agency for Research on Cancer and The International Commission on Radiological Protection (ICRP) that provides guidance on all aspects of protection against ionising radiation. Article 6 of the ILO’s Radiation Protection Convention with regard to “Maximum permissible doses of ionising radiations which may be received from sources external to or internal to the body and maximum permissible amounts of radioactive substances which can be taken into the body” has been ignored. Article 7 of the Convention calls for “Appropriate levels” be fixed in accordance with Article 6 for workers who are directly engaged in radiation work and are (a) aged 18 and over; (b) under the age of 18, No worker under the age of 16 to be engaged in work involving ionising radiations and Article 8 that seeks “Appropriate levels (to be) fixed in accordance with Article 6 for workers who are not directly engaged in radiation work, but who remain or pass where they may be exposed to ionising radiations or radioactive substances.” Drafters of the Nuclear Liability Bill appear to have ignored their recommendations.
8. It is humbly prayed that this Hon’ble Commission may enquire /investigate into the problem of radioactive radiation and issue necessary directions/recommendation for its prevention and appropriate remedial steps to the Central Government/State Governments and UTs.
Brief Note on the issue of liability from nuclear damage & Submission from Secretaries
While deposing before the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Science & Technology, Environment & Forests, K Sujata Rao, Secretary, Ministry of Health and Family Welfare mentioned that “while drafting the Bill the Dept. of Atomic Energy did not consult them. Since the response system to deal with any kind of emergency of such type, the hospitals are not well-equipped, it is natural that mortality and morbidity due to multiple burn, blasts, radiation injuries and psycho-social impact could be on very high scale and medical tackling of such a large emergency could have enough repercussions in the nearby areas of radioactive fallout. She also mentioned that in the entire Bill, there is not a single clause which speaks about taking health care during radiological emergencies. It reflects only about payment of compensation due to health impacts of such radiation. She suggested while setting up nuclear plants consideration may also be given to the fact that there should be hospital having trained doctors near such establishments and arrangements should also be made for free treatment of people who are affected by serious nuclear fallout.” She confessed that her Ministry is nowhere to meet an eventuality that may arise out of nuclear and radiological emergencies. Present and future generation of India would appreciate Sujatha Rao’s exemplary conduct to safeguard her compatriots. This Hon’ble Commission can take cognizance of her submission and direct the concerned authorities to internalize her suggestions in the text of the Bill to protect the human rights of Indian citizens and safeguard intergenerational equity.
Clearly, the objectives of Health Ministry and Department of Atomic Energy (DAE) are at loggerheads in the same way as objectives of World Health Organisation (WHO) and International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) are. The former is dedicated to promoting health and the latter exists to promote nuclear commerce. Under the agreement between WHO and IAEA, the two agencies must “keep each other fully informed concerning all projected activities and all programs of work which may be of interest to both parties”.
In such a context it is germane to recollect that more than 51 years ago, on 28 May 1959, the World Health Organisation (WHO)’s assembly voted into force an agreement with the IAEA, a UN agency that prevented the WHO from investigating, warning and revealing the dangers of nuclear radiation on health.
There is lack of openness and access to information about nuclear radiation from nuclear substances and installations. The concerned agencies seem to hide these problems to be solved by the future generations. For instance, the current draft of the Nuclear Liability Bill is leaving the nuclear waste problems for future generations. This is illustrated by what Alka Sirohi, Secretary, Department of Food & Public Distribution informed the Parliamentary Standing Committee, while explaining the functioning of her Ministry, “she emphasized the ill-effects of nuclear radiation on food items and its subsequent repercussions on human health and safeguards to be taken to prevent nuclear contamination of food during radiological accidents. She further mentioned although radiological damage to food items may fall within the generic definition of the property as mentioned in Clause 2f (ii) of the Bill, it would be better if the said Clause could provide a separate definition food grains along with of storage of foodgrains. Additionally she also mentioned that safety norms, distance, location and operating procedure, which should be defined in the Bill during the construction of the warehouses for foodgrains storage to be followed, near a nuclear facility. She also mentioned about the establishment of laboratories for the standard testing of food articles to ascertain radiation levels.” Sirohi’s submission before the Parliamentary Standing Committee has not been incorporated in the Bill although it is mentioned in the report of the Committee that was tabled in the Rajya Sabha and Lok Sabha on 18th August, 2010.
The Nuclear Liability Bill remains silent on the grave issues raised by Prabeer Kumar Basu, Secretary, Agriculture who mentioned before the Committee that “unfortunately the disaster management structure in the country, as per his opinion, is not well tailored in meeting radiological fall out and more unfortunate to mention that even educated section of the people is not well aware about the implications of a serious nuclear disaster. He therefore, felt that more public awareness needs to be built in respect of nuclear disaster and its hair-raising impact on biological population. He further pointed out that as a consequence of a nuclear disaster of the Chernobyl type, it is quite possible that agricultural crops around 30 to 100 kms. from the site of the incident could be wiped out total. This may affect seriously the biodiversity of the crops in the radiation area and the farmer may loose their traditional variety of crops. In this connection he mentioned that the National Bureau of Plant Genetic Resources and Gene Bank in the country who are keeping a sample of each variety of crops can preserve these varieties which could be planted for further production if a variety of crops is entirely lost due to radiological emergency. He however, mentioned that there should be suitable rules, regulations and guidelines and compensation model for agricultural damage that could be inserted at an appropriate place in the legislation which may work after a radiological eventuality takes place.” These suggestions have not been incorporated in the Bill. This is an evidence of how human rights of present and future generations have been infringed. The Hon’ble Commission may direct the concerned government agencies to undertake pre-emptive measures to protect the health rights of citizens in the vent of a nuclear disaster.
It is frightening to know that “any nuclear incident may induce radioactive contaminations in surface, ground water bodies, and other water resources.” U N Panjiar, the Secretary, Water resources was of the opinion that the Water Resources “Ministry does not have any facility for testing water quality, from point of view of nuclear contamination because this work has been done by the Department of Atomic Energy.” The efficiency of Department of Atomic Energy gets routinely revealed in issues ranging from radioactive steel, ship breaking industry, Mayapuri scrap market, Kaiga incident etc. AERB did reveal its competence when it declared Mayapuri scrap market radiation free when it was proven later that the radiation still existed in the area. It did the same after inspecting the obsolete ship radioactive material laden Blue Lady which was dumped in India.
While Secretary, Department of Atomic Energy responded by saying that Ministry of Water Resources has not been involved in checking and monitoring the quality of water because this job is done by the Environmental Survey Laboratories of the Department of Atomic Energy, the fact remains the Bill should have been sent to the Water Resources Ministry as well because Department of Atomic Energy deals with point source of radioactive pollution and not with non-point source of pollution. It is saddening that Ministry of Water Resources conceded that since expertise is available in DAE alone, the Ministry need not be consulted. Panjiar rightly stressed upon the need “to study the impact of nuclear contaminated water on human beings, animals, plants and crops.” The Bill does not make any provision for such efforts. This unacceptable indifference is rooted in the questionable agreement between IAEA and WHO. Neither the concerned authorities nor the parliamentary committee has factored in the implications of the agreement on the health rights of Indian citizens.
It may be noted that probe into the health impacts of the Chernobyl nuclear accident in Ukraine on 26 April 1986 was taken over by IAEA and dissenting voices were suppressed. The health effects of the nuclear accident were the subject of two major conferences, in Geneva in 1995, and in Kiev, Ukrain in 2001. The full proceedings of those conferences remain unpublished.
The Kiev Conference on the nuclear disaster was organised to communicate and discuss research, based on results arrived after the Chernobyl accident, on medical consequences which were to serve as a basis for future decisions by the national and international organisations with emphasis on Medical consequences in the Republic of Belarus, Russian Federation, and Ukraine; International co-operation in studying health effects; Radiation doses and risks of radiation-induced effects; Stochastic effects of ionising radiation (with emphasis on thyroid cancer and leukaemia); Genetic effects of radiation; Non-cancer effects; Rehabilitation and treatment of the affected population; Psychosocial effects and mental health of the affected population and Strategy of countermeasures after a large-scale radiation accident. The Kiev conference was organised by WHO Association of “Physicians of Chernobyl” in co-operation with UN agencies.
The Chernobyl accident was a catastrophe which affected the lives of millions of people. It resulted in significant exposures to substantial numbers of the populations of the Republic of Belarus, Russian Federation and Ukraine and to parts of some European countries. The largest individual doses were received by clean-up workers, especially those who worked during the first year after the accident within a zone of 30 km around the Chernobyl nuclear power plant. Large numbers of people are still living in contaminated areas where they receive elevated radiation exposure. Authorities in India and our legislators need to be sensitized about the lessons from nuclear accidents before they pass the proposed Nuclear Liability Bill for IAEA’s Compenstation Treaty.
The conference on the nuclear accident noted the health effects of the Chernobyl accident which included stochastic radiation effects. It observed, “There is no doubt that the incidence of thyroid cancer has substantially increased in children who were 0-18 years old at the time of the accident and that this is related to radiation from the accident. An increased number of cases of thyroid cancer among liquidators who worked in 1986 is expected to occur. There is a tendency of an increase of leukaemia among liquidators who worked on the site in 1986 and 1987 and who received significant doses. Chernobyl accident led to deterministic radiation effects. Various somatic disorders, including delayed neuropsychiatric complications and radiation skin damage, have been observed in survivors of bone marrow syndrome. Cataracts are seen in survivors at a level related to dose. It is anticipated that information on the development of cataracts in clean-up workers and others who may have received significant exposures will soon be available as well. This information remains suppressed. There are indications that the incidence of cardiovascular, cerebrovascular and thyroid diseases in clean-up workers and possibly other non-cancer conditions may be increased; radiation exposure or other factors may play a role in this increase. Further investigations are needed but it has not proceeded apparently because of the disproportionate influence of the nuclear industry over governments.
The conference observed how years after the nuclear accident other types of health effects seem to have emerged. These are primarily neuropsychiatric and cardiovascular diseases, but also include Deteriorating health of liquidators; Increasing invalidity among liquidators; Decreased birth rate; Diminished health of new-borns; Increased pregnancy complications and Impaired health of children. A number of factors inherent to the Chernobyl accident, including worsening socio-economic conditions, continuing residence in contaminated territories, diminished food supply, vitamin deficiency, relocation, and psychological stress, may contribute to these effects.
The conference noted the “Medical lessons learnt from Chernobyl”. The radiation protection of the population in the early period after the accident was inadequate, notably in relation to prevention of the intake of radioiodine. Dosimetric monitoring of clean-up workers in 1986 was not properly organised leading to significant gaps in data on individual doses of this category of affected population. Deficiencies in providing objective and timely information about the accident and its possible consequences contributed to development of psychosocial disorders. Increased incidence of various diseases was identified following the accident by intensive medical examinations and improved diagnostic capability. These increases may have been caused by a combination of radiation, non-radiological factors, and a deteriorating social and economic situation. Most practicing physicians had insufficient knowledge of the effects of radiation and how to advise the population to protect themselves.
If a nuclear accident happens in India, there is no reason to infer that it would not follow the same pattern. There is no evidence to suggest that our Department of Atomic Energy or the Parliamentary Standing Committee had accessed the documents of these conferences and drew lessons from it.
In this regard ICRP’s 78 page ‘Draft Report for Consultation – Environmental Protection: Transfer parameters for Reference Animals and Plants’ dated July 2010 merits attention wherein a Reference Animal and Plant is defined as:‘a hypothetical entity, with the assumed basic biological characteristics of a particular type of animal or plant, as described to the generality of the taxonomic level of Family, with defined anatomical, physiological and life-history properties, that can be used for the purposes of relating exposure to dose, and dose to effects, for that type of living organism.’ There is no evidence on record to show that DAE has factored in the impact of nuclear disaster on Reference Animals and Plants while drafting the Nuclear Liability Bill.
The question that stares citizens in the face is: whether or not the proposed Nuclear Liability Bill and the pre-existing IAEA’s compensation treaty in the supreme interest of present and future generation of Indians? The submission of several Secretaries of the central government indicates that it is not in the interest of Indians and their right to a safe ecosystem.