Kudankulam N-plant: Safety norms gains primacy over commissioning deadline


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Indrani Bagchi

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Posted on May 16, 2013 in THE TIMES OF INDIA.

Kudankulam Nuclear Plant
Kudankulam Nuclear Power Plant, Tirunelveli district, Tamilnadu, India

NEW DELHI: Regardless of the recent promise made by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin on the sidelines of the BRICS summit in Durban about the early commissioning of the Kudankulam nuclear power plant (KKNPP), the government has instructed the Atomic Energy Regulatory Board (AERB) that safety reviews of KKNPPshould be run with a “fine-toothed comb” without being pressured by commissioning deadline. In fact, the government had recently invited the Operational Safety Review Team of the IAEA to do an independent safety assessment of other Indian reactors, particularly RAPS (in Rajasthan).

Last week, the Supreme Court cleared the power plant, paving the way for early commissioning. Originally, the plant was scheduled to be commissioned in 2007.

A whole new set of safety checks were conducted by the AERB after four valves that came from a Russian supplier were found to be “deficient”.

Stung by a series of popular protests about safety issues in Kudankulam, which has inspired protests by a large number of NGOs, the government is keen that no stone is left unturned. If this means the Russians are less than pleased, sources said, so be it. They added that some of the supplies from Russian companies have been found to be below par.

NPCIL has that the commissioning of KKNPP would now happen only in June, after another set of checks are carried out. The company said the physical progress of the plant was 99.6% complete.

This week a group of 60 leading scientists wrote a letter to the PM, and chief ministers of Tamil Nadu and Kerala asking for more stringent safety checks of the KKNPP. They have sought “renewed study” of safety issues by an independent panel of experts. The scientists — most of them serving in state-run institutions — have expressed doubts, “particularly with reference to possible sub-standard components” used in the plant.

These are not scientists advocating against nuclear energy, but concerned about safety issues. “These safety concerns are compounded by the fact that Russian authorities arrested Sergei Shutov, procurement director of Zio-Podolsk, on corruption charges for having sourced cheaper sub-standard steel for manufacturing components that were used in Russian nuclear installations in Bulgaria, Iran, China and India,” they wrote in the letter, The arrest of Shutov, they cited, led to several complaints of sub-standard components and follow-up investigations in both Bulgaria and China.

While the AERB gave an in-principle clearance for fuel loading of the plant in April, hopes that it would be commissioned by May were dashed after faulty valves made news. In an effort to quell the protests and spiralling negative perception about the power plant, the government has been on an information overdrive to educate and be transparent. This week, minister of state V Narayanasamy said, “All nuclear power projects undergo an elaborate in-depth safety review during the consenting stages, like siting, construction, commissioning, etc. After satisfactory review during project stage, AERB issues operating licence to an NPP for a period of up to five years.”

Last week, responding to a question in Parliament, government assured that components supplied to KKNPP are “tested in an integrated manner during commissioning to verify their performance in accordance to design performance criteria. Any shortfall noticed in performance is addressed/corrected as a part of the commissioning programme”.

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Re-posted from THE TIMES OF INDIA

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