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Risks not a ground for closure of n-plants: court

By Our Legal Correspondent

NEW DELHI, FEB. 29. The Supreme Court has held that the risks associated with sensitive chemical and public utility nuclear plants could not be a ground for ordering their closure or relocation.

"Sabotage, attack by terrorists, earthquake etc., are all unforeseeable events,'' a three-Judge Bench, comprising the Chief Justice V. N. Khare and Justice S. H. Kapadia, observed.

``We have to strike a balance between the existing utilities which exist in public interest on the one hand and human safety conditions on the other."

"In modern times, we have nuclear plants which generate electricity. Their structural integrity and operations are vulnerable to certain risks. However, generation of electricity is equally important and, within the prescribed limits, society will have to tolerate existence of such plants."

The Bench gave this ruling while setting aside a Kerala High Court judgment on a public interest litigation petition directing the Fertilizers and Chemicals Travancore Ltd (FACT) to close its 10,000 tonne ammonia plant in Wellington Islands near Kochi.

The High Court had observed that a major leak would result in the event of an air crash near the tank — as there was an airport nearby — an act of sabotage or an earthquake. This could lead to loss of human life on a tragic scale.

The FACT Employees Association filed a special leave petition in the Supreme Court seeking to quash the judgment. While hearing the appeal, the court appointed Engineers India Ltd. (EIL) to re-examine all issues concerning the plant's safety and submit a report.

The EIL felt that the ammonia tank could continue to be operated, subject to the company taking up increased safety measures.

Accepting the report, the Bench noted that the company had taken the necessary safeguards and precautions to minimise the risk factors.

"If the arguments of the original petitioner, Law Society of India, is accepted, then no such utility can exist, no reservoir can exist, no nuclear reactor can exist. We do not discount such risks, but we have to live with such risks which is counterbalanced by services and amenities provided by these utilities," the Bench said.

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