Nuclear and petrochem liability cap

India and some African countries plan to attract nuclear power developers and operators by limiting their legal liabilities, says David G Broadbent.

“I had difficulty in understanding the impetus for this policy conversation, in the country of the Bhopal disaster, during my working visit to India in March,” writes the Australian-based safety technologist on

“Bhopal’s fallout is still being felt. Union Carbide did a runner and Dow Chemicals did not come to the reparations party much either. My moral compass struggles with the relationship between states and big business.

“India is set on legislating nominal reparations amounts. The amount being reported in the Indian press during March was nominal indeed. Proponents said India had to offer these trade-offs to get investment.

“At what point may a government auction off health and safety legislation, and SHEQ values of their people, for the sake of a seemingly quick energy solution?

“Nuclear energy risks are large. Those inside the industry often speak to near misses that the public never hear about. If multi-billion dollar corporate entities enter a sovereign state with a product, they should be fully accountable to any liabilities that may arise as a consequence of that product. Health and safety should not be for sale.

“My message to the Indian Parliament is; do not behave like a country accountable to colonial powers. Assert independence on power and technology.

“Corporate rhetoric plays up ‘investment in the developing world’, but they merely want to hang on the tails of the eastern comet, and India is one of the comets of the world economy.

Texas Gulf liability

After the 2010 explosion and multiple fatalities on BP Deepwater Horizon platform, there have been similar noises about the need to ‘cap’ liability in the petrochemical industry.

Does anybody really think that BP, Trans Ocean and Halliburton should walk away with a capped liability after this destruction? Should the lid be at US$90 million? I do not think so.

Just as well that the US senate now search entrants for handguns. Considering the way that some senior executives now talk, a Texan gunfight could beak out in the corridors of power.

SHEQ management is not about fixing blame, as we always tell workers at an incident investigation; it is all about finding information and improving management. Yet legislation and the entire legal system are geared to fixing blame and deterring willful exploitation of safety, health and environment.

What behaviours do employees of the three Texan companies, and all big business, see being modelled before the world? They talk SHEQ, while ducking blame, not improving management, and ever planning to reduce SHEQ liabilities. There is a gap between corporate words and deeds.

•    PHOTO; David Broadbent is the founder of and he will address the International Congress of Applied Psychology, 11-16 July 2010, on ‘Development of Transformational Safety Culture Improvement System and its application to safety improvement in the petrochemicals industry’.

Job loss scare editor SHEQafrica comments; BP is spreading a rumour that itself and some major contractors may not survive the Texas Gulf Deepwater Horizon incident, in order to seek state sympathy in the USA and worldwide.

The rumour emanates from a recent petrochemicals process safety conference in the UK, Hazards XXI, or Hazards 21. Another rumour from that conference was planted in a piece of selective ‘new’ information about the BP Texas City refinery disaster.

The new Texas City disaster rumour goes that ‘investigators had suppressed the fact that refinery operators were frustrated by a long safety stoppage, and started up the fatal process without permission’.

I, for one, do not believe that the two sets of Texas City refinery investigators glossed over anything material. Nor could I believe that a supposed ‘safety stoppage’ applied.

If operators did not have ‘permission’, it was probably the rule, and not the exception, for employees to act as they believed they were paid to act.

I see a lesson in the retrospective distortion of one of the best documented incident investigations in the world; ‘facts’ are subject to context, ‘facts’ do not withstand the power of wishful interpretation, and interpretation, like attitudes and risk tolerance, is subject to change.

History, in one famous definition, is a fiction that we agree to tell one another. As a journalist, I have come to realise that the same definition applies to news. People would not believe what they are not prepared by their paradigm to assimilate, and changing a paradigm requires culture change.

One fact, incident, or investigation report does not change a coporate or cultural paradigm. –SHEQafrica

SA promises SHEQ diligence

Occupational and public safety, health and environment would be major considerations in licensing nuclear power stations, said South Africa’s National Nuclear Regulator (NNR) in June 2010.

SA is committed to building a ‘fleet’ of nuclear power plants to meet the country’s growing energy needs. The coutnry currently relies on coal for 80% of its electricity supply, making it Africa’s biggest polluter.

Addressing parliament, NNR strategy executive Joe Mwase said public objections to nuclear power plants would have to be based on proven threats to safety, health or environment. He noted that threats to ecosystems would be a  taken seriously.

Site safety considerations would include seismic issues and public health. The NNR expects to take about 40 months to process a nuclear power plant license application, though it would be “possible to fast track an application without compromising safety requirements”.

The SA state electricity generator Eskom, meanwhile, is doing environmental impact assessments for nuclear power stations, but the NNR would take ‘independent’ decisions on nuclear power plant siting.

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