Kudankulam-1 stoppage no cause for concern

Electricity from KNPP is fed into the southern electric power grid, in the states of Tamil Nadu, Kerala, Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka and the Union Territory of Puducherry. Source: Press Photo

Electricity from KNPP is fed into the southern electric power grid, in the states of Tamil Nadu, Kerala, Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka and the Union Territory of Puducherry. Source: Press Photo

According to preliminary estimates of experts, the unit could be placed back into operation by the end of November.

The first unit of India’s youngest nuclear power plant at Kudankulam has been producing energy for just over one year. However, in mid-October, the unit was temporarily shut down. This is due to necessary and planned in-depth inspection and diagnosis of the turbine generator systems. According to preliminary estimates of experts, this unit could be placed back into operation by the end of November.

The strength of any country’s economy depends on its energy supplies, and India is no exception. This country has a highly developed nuclear energy infrastructure, and not surprisingly, the most advanced nuclear power station in the country is the youngest – the Kudankulam Nuclear Power Plant (KNPP). However, despite its relatively young history, the Kudankulam-1 unit has already passed through several key milestones. Last October, it was connected for the first time to the Indian electric power grid. In January, it successfully passed the testing program at 50 percent power, and then in June – at 75 percent and at 100 percent power, that is, the unit had proven its ability to produce as much energy as its design capacity called for.

In mid-October, the first unit was stopped. The stoppage was for “an in-depth inspection and diagnosis of its turbine generator system,” independent nuclear power expert Alexander Uvarov said. “This is quite a routine step, often performed during placement of a unit into commercial operation, and before that, experts usually carry out the final testing stages, as they must feel confident that all equipment is working as it was designed.” Moreover, the turbine generator of a nuclear power plant is not part of the so-called nuclear island of the plant. It is an ordinary piece of equipment similar to that commonly used in other, non-nuclear power plant. There is no need to hurry this process, or to unduly delay it. According to the preliminary estimates of experts, the best-case scenario would be the return this unit into full operation before the end of November. For now, some equipment, with a turbine from the second unit, will be installed on the first block, and this, being a normal operation, has no impact on the timing or safety of the nuclear power plant.

Electricity from KNPP is fed into the southern electric power grid, in the states of Tamil Nadu, Kerala, Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka and the Union Territory of Puducherry. Since its first connection to the electric network, the unit has worked at full capacity for 4,700 hours. During this time, India received more than 2.8 billion kWh of electricity. Incidentally, these are the first kilowatt-hours developed in India using a block with pressurized light water reactors, that is, with the world’s most common type of reactor. Prior to launch of Kudankulam, India had no such reactors in service. The first unit has already developed so much power that it would be enough to burn a few million light bulbs during an entire year, or for more than two million refrigerators to operate for an entire month. The electric power already generated by the Kudankulam NPP would also be enough to fully power the metro in New Delhi for several months.

The well-known pressurized water reactors (PWRs), of Russian design, installed at KNPP can be, without exaggeration, called the most reliable in the world. “For almost eight years, similar power units with referential solutions, including equipment, have been recognized in China as the best, in terms of safety and capacity utilization factors,” said Andrey Komissarov, expert at the Environmentally Sound Energy Foundation. “Moreover, in India, more sophisticated power units have been installed, with deeply-echeloned additional passive safety systems.”

The foundation of the PWR is the principle of self-protection of the reactor plant, which is ensured by an assortment of neutron-physical characteristics of the reactor, providing independent termination of fission reaction in any emergency situation, regardless of the operator’s actions, triggering emergency protection using gravitational forces, through the use of passive elements, as well as limiting and waste devices. Electric power units of the KNPP are equipped with a full range of independent safety barriers, including double protection of the reactor shell – containment, which consists of two contours – the inner and outer shells. We should mention that the outer shell protects the reactor from external influences, and can withstand a plane crashing into it, as well as all natural disasters.

India today is a technologically advanced country, with vast experience in the construction and operation of nuclear reactors of different makes. The choice of the latest modern systems for the nuclear power plant, being built according to Russian design, was dictated by the desire of our Indian atomic energy colleagues to find an answer to a very important question: Would this electric power plant provide the maximum safety for the country’s population? As a result, Russian designers have done everything possible to ensure that Kudankulam became one of the most reliable nuclear power stations in the world, next to which people can live quite happily without any fears about their safety.  

The writer is an international nuclear power industry expert.

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