Kudankulam plant passes stress, endurance tests

India and Russia have ensured that the power station is equipped with the very latest safety systems. Source: Press Photo

India and Russia have ensured that the power station is equipped with the very latest safety systems. Source: Press Photo

The Kudankulam Nuclear Power Plant in Tamil Nadu has incorporated stringent safety requirements and the first unit will go live in April.

The safety of nuclear facilities in the wake of the Fukushima radiation disaster two years ago continues to be of enduring concern for nuclear operators everywhere, but especially in countries that are erecting new plants. The Kudankulam Nuclear Power Project (KNPP), built by Russia’s Rosatom in Tamil Nadu, has faced several delays due to protests, but is now poised to be commissioned by April.

“All efforts are being made to commission units 1&2 of Kudankulam Nuclear Power Project by April 2013 and October 2013 respectively,” Minister of State in the Prime Minister’s Office V. Narayanasamy told the Indian parliament’s lower house in a written reply recently. The minister added that the 2000 megawatts of electricity to be generated by the two units will be shared by Tamil Nadu (925 MW), Kerala (266 MW), Karnataka (442 MW) and the Union Territory of Pondicherry (67 MW). The safety concerns will, however, persist and need to be addressed upfront. According to experts, the Kudankulam plant is in full compliance with all safety standards and requirements set forth by the International Atomic Energy Agency after the earthquake in Japan. India and Russia have ensured that the power station is equipped with the very latest safety systems.

The plant is fitted with dual-action localising and protective shells which is able to withstand the impact of an airplane; hydrogen re-combiners prevent explosions from within (which is what occurred at Fukushima); the passive heat extraction system cools the reactor even in the absence of an external power supply, and a device to localise molten material in the active zone — the so-called “melt trap” — prevents the release of radioactivity beyond the unit even in the event of a hypothetical failure of the reactor vessel. In addition, the station will operate a desalination system in full compliance with all requirements. This has led to a rise in the project cost. The Nuclear Power Corporation of India Limited (NPCIL) has made maximum use of local building and construction organisations in the project. Indian firms now have expertise in the construction of nuclear power plants based on Russian technologies, which means that the next units will be built more quickly.

After the Japanese accident, all atomic stations worldwide underwent stress tests. Kudankulam was no exception. Despite the fact that the station was initially designed to comply with all safety requirements of the IAEA and the Indian and Russian oversight bodies, additional testing was carried out. The inspection found the station to possess a very high level of “endurance.” However, even if all the power and water supply systems were to malfunction for an extended period of time, the station could still stop the nuclear fission reaction, withdraw residual heat, and ensure all necessary safeguards in offline mode. If this station had been on site at Fukushima in March 2011, it would have withstood the impact of the disaster. There is now a special post-Fukushima safety compliance directive. Moreover, as a result of the stress tests, a set of recommendations was developed for the Indian operator of the station and adopted.

Protests by local fishermen delayed the final commissioning of the unit. Kanyakumari is full of fishing villages, and rumours had circulated that the KNPP could lower their catches. This is, however, muddying the waters. These protesters need to see fishing competitions, which are held at the cooling ponds of nuclear power plants in Russia every year. The Russian Anglers’ Federation says that it’s a pleasure to fish at Rosatom’s reservoirs. Similarly, at the Russian-built Tianwan plant in China, the shrimp yield has not decreased. Incidentally, Rosatom arranged a fishing trip for Indian colleagues from Chennai to the Tianwan site to see it for themselves. Indian experts carried out similar research of their own in the vicinity of the NPP site at Kalpakkam with the same result: no negative impact on the local aquatic fauna.

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