How Indo-Russian сollaboration in nuclear energy has evolved

There is one more very important area of Indo-Russian cooperation where significant changes are taking place silently: civilian nuclear energy. Source: Getty Images / Fotobank

There is one more very important area of Indo-Russian cooperation where significant changes are taking place silently: civilian nuclear energy. Source: Getty Images / Fotobank

While the Indian scientific community has been hands-on, it also goes to the credit of the Russian experts that they have shown willingness to accommodate and adapt Indian ideas.

In the defence arena, the Indo-Russian relations have evolved from buyer-seller relationship to joint collaborators in such big-ticket projects as Fifth Generation Fighter Aircraft (FGFA) and BrahMos missiles. The biggest USP of Russia for India is while other countries are reluctant to transfer technology; the Russians do it without any fuss.

Similar close partnership is visible in such vastly different fields as space and agriculture as well. But there is one more very important area of Indo-Russian cooperation where significant changes are taking place silently: civilian nuclear energy. While the broad contours of this cooperation are very well known, the lesser known thing is how this transition is coming and in exactly what manner. The Russian-built Kudankulam Nuclear Power Project (KNPP) is an evidence of how the Indo-Russian synergy has blossomed and been qualitatively transformed over the past few years. My attempt in this article would be to give specific examples of this extremely complicated scientific cooperation in the lay man’s language because I myself have no pretensions of being an expert in the field of nuclear energy.

The Indian civilian nuclear energy programme goes back to the 1960’s and the Indo-Russian cooperation in this area is decades old. The Indian civilian nuclear energy programme is broadly classified as 1st, 2nd, 3rd and 3+ generations. The KNPP belongs to the 3+ generation. While even the 1st, 2nd and 3rd generation nuclear power plants are still functioning across the world without any hiccups, what makes the KNPP stand out from the previous nuclear power plants is the fact that it incorporates a number of additional safety features which were not a part of the first three generations.

Here is an explanation of the safety features installed in each of the four generations of nuclear power plants in India.

Generation 1 came up in the early 1960s where designs were not standardised and the accidents which were considered were not full spectrum of what is technically known as LOCA or Loss of Coolant Accidents. As a result, in the 1st generation of the nuclear power plants, many of the presently accepted standard practices of safety features were not fully implemented.

Generation 2 plants came up about one or two decades after the 1st generation of reactors and were the mainstay of the nuclear power industry in the world. These are standardised plants which are serially constructed in most of the countries. They have safety systems to cater to the full spectrum of LOCA which is the main type of Design Basis Accident considered in these designs. There is also a standard containment system in these types of plants and a standard set of regulatory guides was developed to control the safety requirements of these plants.

Generation 3 plants are of recent origin. After the Chernobyl accident in 1986 in erstwhile USSR, it became necessary to cater for Core Melt Type of accident also. These plants have greater resistance and safety system to cater to severe core damage or core melt type of accidents also, which is a major advantage over 2nd generation plants which can’t cater to core melt type accidents.

Generation 3+ type reactor plants, like the Russian-built KNPP, also have passive safety measures which are innovative in design. This is in addition to the safety features provided in the Generation 3 type nuclear plants. The passive heat removal system at KNPP is an example of such systems which can remove the decay heat from the secondary side to naturally air coolant heat exchangers placed over the containment. The Kudankulam plant also has an additional system for core passive flooding and a system for retaining and cooling of molten core.

It is at this point and stage that the Indo-Russian scientific cooperation in nuclear energy started coming of age. Here is how.

Between 1988 and 1990 a detailed specification for an advanced generation 3+ plant was worked out between the Indians and the Russians to prepare the specifications for the Kudankulam project. The Indian experts did not agree to adopt the then current Vodo-Vodyanoi Energetichesky Reactor VVER-1000 MWe reactor model V-320 and suggested improvements for VVER-1000 MWe units at KNPP. The Russians agreed to the Indian suggestions and the Russian designers worked upon the agreed specification to produce the advanced VVER-1000 Generation 3+ model named V-396. This mother version was adopted for Russia and India with some improvements. The Indian model is V-412.

It may be pointed out in this context that the Russians have credited and acknowledged on several occasions the improvements in their reactors which were recommended by Indian experts. Despite the Fukushima nuclear disaster in Japan, nuclear energy is the sunrise sector as nuclear power plants provide about 6 percent of the world’s energy and 13-14 percent of the world electricity.

This augurs well for the Indo-Russian collaboration in the civilian nuclear energy field. While the Indian scientific community has been hands-on, it goes to the credit of the Russian experts also that they have shown willingness to accommodate and adapt all ideas suggested by the Indians.

Clearly, the Russians have shown that they have open minds. Needless to say, minds are like parachutes; they function only when they are open.

The writer is a New Delhi-based journalist-author and a strategic analyst.

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