The Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombings 1945 created a widespread fear of the misuse of atomic energy and its consequences. Over the years, nations have taken various legal steps to ensure the proper use of nuclear energy.
The first Atomic Energy Act came into force in 1948, and it aimed to encourage atomic energy research and increase government control over minerals like thorium and Uranium. The 1948 Act laid down a basic framework for regulating the use of nuclear energy in India. Following this, the Atomic Energy Commission was established to promote research on nuclear energy through mineral surveys and scientist training.
The 1962 Act replaced the Act of 1948 and has a wider scope than the old legislation. The 1962 Act enabled the Government to regulate and develop the use of nuclear energy and implement its benefits for the public welfare. The Act received assent from the President on 15 September 1962.
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Objective of the Act
The Act aims to develop nuclear energy use and train scientists to promote further complex research for the public welfare. The Act extends to all the potential problems that arise while working in the places where atomic energy is produced, developed or disposed of.
It aims to establish criteria for regulating radioactive materials and plants. It provides for peaceful usage of radioactive substances for public welfare and relevant peaceful purposes.
General powers of the Central Government
Power to produce, manufacture, use and dispose of radioactive substances
The Central Government can produce, manufacture, use and dispose of nuclear or radioactive materials under the Atomic Energy Act 1962. The Government or an authority on its behalf can research nuclear energy and relevant subjects. The Government can manufacture and dispose of any object and the radioactive material necessary to produce, develop and use nuclear energy.
It can buy, acquire, store and transport a radioactive substance or an object necessary for producing, developing or using atomic energy.
Power to restrict information
The Government can declare anything as restricted information if it is not published or circulated among the public. Restricted information includes
- the place of production, quantity and quality of the substances, relevant transactions for acquiring them or disposing them;
- information on the processing of the substances and production or extraction of fissile materials;
- Theoretical and practical information like the functioning of the plant that treats and produces relevant substances;
- theoretical and practical information on nuclear reactors and
- Relevant research and technological work.
Power to declare prohibited Areas
The Government can declare any area where research, design and development concerning the production, treatment, use and disposal of nuclear energy or relevant substances to be prohibited.
Power to control radioactive materials
The Government can lay down provisions to control the radioactive materials to avoid radiation hazards, protect the public and the individuals dealing with radioactive materials and the plant, and safely dispose of the radioactive waste.
Power to provide electricity
The Government can lay down provisions for producing and supplying electricity from nuclear energy and take the required steps to facilitate the same.
The Government can do any other necessary or expedient act to exercise the above powers.
Control over mining or concentration of Materials Containing Uranium
If the Government is satisfied that anyone is mining or about to mine material that could yield Uranium or such person is treating or concentrating any material from which Uranium is reasonably expected to be extracted or isolated:
- It can give written notice to such persons and order them to follow specific rules and processes the Government decides while mining or treating those substances.
- The Government decides if the person should be compensated depending on the conditions imposed.
- If the Government grants compensation, the amount is determined under Section 21 of the Act, and the Uranium value is not considered while calculating the compensation.
- The reasons must be recorded in writing if the government does not grant compensation.
- It can also prohibit the individual from mining or treating that substance. The Government will compensate the individual, and the amount is determined according to section 21 of the Act. The Uranium value is not considered while calculating.
Powers under the Atomic Energy Act 1962
The Government can issue a written notice to an individual asking them to disclose information related to the following under section 7 of the Atomic Energy Act 1962:
- Any substance in their possession or control, in any mine they own or occupy, which the Government thinks could be a potential source of the substance;
- A plant they possess or control, which is meant for mining and processing of mentioned minerals;
- Any contract they enter into or licence they grant for prospecting or mining of specified minerals or for producing or using nuclear energy or research in incidental matters;
- Any other information they have on their work on atomic energy production, use or research.
An individual authorised by the Central Government can enter a mine, land or premises after showing authenticated documents in the following cases:
- The individual has a reason to believe that the work there is being done for producing and processing a substance
- Any place where the plant under section 7(b) is located;
- They can inspect the mine, premises or land and any objects in such a place.
The Government can work above or below the land surface of any land if it is necessary to discover prescribed substances in their natural state or waste deposits.
Before beginning the work, the Government must issue a written notice to the land owner, lessee and occupant.
The written notice specifies the nature of the work and the area of the affected land. The notice also mentions when it invites objections, which should be at least 28 days. The Government cannot exercise more powers or less apart from those mentioned above.
The Government hears the individual objecting and considers it along with the report of an appointed individual. It passes appropriate orders but cannot increase the area of affected land. According to section 21 of the Act, it must compensate such individuals for diminishing property value.
The central Government can make rules to carry out the objectives of the Act. These rules could be the following:
- Declaring restricted information;
- Declaring prohibited area;
- Report on discovering Uranium and other radioactive substances;
- Controlling mining and concentrated substances with Uranium;
- Regulating by licences and encouraging by giving concessions for mining prescribed substances;
- Regulating the manufacture, production, use, custody, transfer, refining, ownership, and sale of any object, including radioactive substances;
- Regulating the transportation of substances hazardous to health;
- Development, control, supervision, and licensing of nuclear energy production, application and use.
- Acquiring prescribed substances compulsorily;
- Encouraging cooperation among stakeholders for the production, application and use of nuclear energy;
- Fees for issuing licences and notices under the Act.
The rules can also mention that violating the rules would lead to the imposition of a fine of up to Rs. 500.
The Parliament brings the above rules into effect after discussing it over thirty days in one or more continuous sessions. The Houses can also modify any rule or render any rule to be ineffective. The rules will be effective after the modifications.
Offences and penalties
The Atomic Energy Act 1962 provides the framework for offences and penalties under section 24.
- The following acts are offences for which imprisonment up to five years or a fine or both are imposed:
- Anyone violating orders under section 14 or a condition based on which a licence is granted under section 24;
- Anyone violating rules made under section 17 or a requirement, prohibition or restriction under the said rules;
- Anyone hindering a government-authorised individual under section 17(4) from exercising their powers;
- Anyone violating section 18(2) of the Act.
- The following individuals are punished with imprisonment up to one year or a fine or both;
- Anyone who does not comply with a notice prohibiting or restricting mining under section 5;
- Anyone who does not abide by the notice to make statements or disclose relevant information in general or intentionally makes any false statement upon receiving the notice;
- Anyone obstructing an authorised individual or body from exercising their powers under sections 8 or 9;
- Anyone violating the Act’s provisions or any order made under the Act.
The Act addresses every possible step involved with working on radioactive materials, from the production to the safe disposal of radioactive substances. Although the Atomic Energy Act is comprehensive about the government control over radioactive substances, it does not elaborate on the manner of production, use or disposal. The Act merely mentions the term “regulating”, which is not elaborated further.
Radioactive substances are a bio-hazard that need proper regulation for usage, transport and disposal. This is why a supplementary provision is necessary in the form of structured rules based on field experts’ recommendations. The Atomic Energy Regulatory Board (AERB) rules fulfil that requirement and provide rules for radiation protection, factories, safe disposal of radioactive wastes and working of mines, minerals, and handling prescribed substances. Despite this, the Atomic Energy Act 1962 was enforced during a time of necessity and has achieved its objectives.
FAQs on the Atomic Energy Act
What are prescribed substances under the Act?
Prescribed substances are those defined by the Government by notification if it thinks that such substances can be used to produce or use atomic energy or conduct relevant research.
Has the Atomic Energy Act gone through any amendments?
The Act was amended in 1987, and it inserted the definition of plant and substituted provisions under section 5 of the Act. Parliament amended the Act in 2015. The 2015 Amendment Act inserted 1A and 1B after section 14(1) of the Act.
What is AERB? Is it a statutory body?
AERB is the Atomic Energy Regulatory Board of India. It was formed based on the recommendations of the V.N. Meckoni committee. AERB can be considered a statutory body under section 27 of the Act, which allows the Government to delegate its powers under the Act.
Is the Atomic Energy Act restricted to regulating the use of Atomic Energy by the Government?
Yes. The use of atomic energy is reserved for the Public sector according to the Industrial Policy 1991.
What are the penal provisions under the Atomic Energy Act for violating rules set by the Central Government?
According to section 24, offences mentioned under that section could lead to the following:
- Imprisonment of up to five years or fine or both; or
- Imprisonment of up to one year or a fine or both.
Anyone infringing the rules set by the central Government must pay a fine of up to Rs. 500.