Kudankulam nuclear plant breakdown raises safety concern

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Kudankulam nuclear plant breakdown raises safety concern

Thursday, 06 June 2019 | Kumar Chellappan | CHENNAI

The 1,000 MW Unit-1 of the Kudankulam Nuclear Power Plant which resumed production on May 18 after a six-month long hiatus has been shut down for the umpteenth time on Tuesday night and his has caused apprehension in the minds of veteran reactor engineers about the safety and durability of the plant. The frequent break downs of the reactor has cast a shadow on India’s nuclear power programme.

The  unit-1 was shut down in November 2018 citing technical problems. The Nuclear Power Corporation  of India Limited (NPCIL) which  owns and operates the reactor had said at that time that rector would resume production ‘soon’.

“Works of this reactor began in 2002 and was commissioned in December 2014. But it  has been facing problems since the day it was commissioned and  had undergone many breakdowns and closures. The unit-one has been shut down for most of the time since its commissioning and this is a matter of serious concern,” said a NPCIL director with decades of experience in designing and commissioning nuclear power reactors.

Kudankulam Nuclear Power Stations, situated in Tirunelveli district of Tamil Nadu was built with technical collaboration of  Rosatom State Atomic Energy Corporation. The reactor was imported  from Russia in a knocked-down stage and assembled at Kudankulam by a team of Indian and Russian engineers. The second unit of 1000 MW of the KKNPS was commissioned  in 2016. It cost the exchequer Rs 17,270 crore  for building and commissioning the two reactors.

Construction of Units 3 and 4 (each of 1000 MW) are underway at Kudanulam even as the first unit has conked out.  The director , who did not want his name to be disclosed, said the unit-one has been described and projected by the Department of Atomic Energy as well as the NPCIL as a  state-of-the-art reactor belonging to the Third Generation category. “Since this was of 1000 MW capacity , we were under the impression that the reactor may take time to synchronise to the Indian situation and the project managers were operating it cautiously. It was considered a normal delay as the crew of this a new reactor, which is of the highest capacity to be installed in India , would take time to  familiarize with the system. But frequent shut downs are causing apprehension,” said this reactor engineer.

Dr M Srinivasan, former director, Theoretical Physics Group, Bhabha Atomic Research Centre, Trombay, the hub of the country’s nuclear energy programme, said that the matter was serious. “The frequent shut downs  and break downs by a new reactor is a matter of concern,” he told The Pioneer.

The Kudankulam Nuclear Power Station has  been mired in controversy even as works of the unit-one were progressing . The period 2011 to 2014 saw anti-nuclear activists sponsored by various NGOs and religious organisations staging demonstration in front of the  site orcing the NPCIL to stop the works.

Kamlesh Nilkanth Vyas, chairman, Atomic Energy Commission, had told reporters in April this year that there were some problems nagging the Kudankulam  nuclear reactors. “We are trying to address the problems,” Vyas had said . He also said that there was something unusual with the multiple breakdowns and the resultant shut downs of these reactors.

“You may realise that Kudankulam was the first 3+ generation plant, possibly in the world. There were initial problems. Even in Tarapur, there were similar problems initially. I feel definitely NPCIL is putting in tremendous amount of work and they will be able to overcome the difficulties,” he had said.

According to details collected by a NGO from the NPCIL under the Right to Information Act , unit-one had tripped 11 times since March 2016 and the  unit-2 had tripped 19 times since March 2016.

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