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Kudankulam unlikely to go on stream in April

Thursday, 28 March 2013 05:51

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh may have told Russian president Vladmir Putin that the first unit of the Kudankulam Nuclear Power Project will be commissioned in April, but the Nuclear Power Corporation's website says it will go on stream in May. Plant officials refused to set a timeframe for commissioning the unit.

The much-delayed project has seen several deadlines go whizzing by since the original date of commissioning in December 2007. The Prime Minister also told Putin about the internal sanction for units 3 and 4 at Kudankulam during the ongoing BRICS meet in Durban, South Africa.

Besides the prolonged protests by locals against the project, the unit has also been hit by technical snags. Though officials are tight-lipped about the causes, alterations to the original design to add another safety mechanism, consisting of valves, are said to be the main ones.

Till January 2013, the government has spent Rs 15,454 crore on the two units, which are being constructed at Kudankulam. Though many thought the first unit would start commercial production from August 2011 and blamed the protests for the delay, even after 13 months after the protests were quelled, unit 1 is yet to go on stream. If the two units are commissioned, Tamil Nadu, currently facing a huge power crisis, will get 925MW.

"The Russian-made VVER (reactor) is a new one in the country. This is also the first nuclear reactor with a capacity of 1,000MW. At each stage, we need to fine-tune the reactor, which is the reason for the enormous delay in commissioning of Unit 1. We are very close to attaining criticality," Atomic Energy Regulatory Board (AERB) chairman S S Bajaj told TOI.

The agreement was signed in 1988, but ran into problems over the rupee-rouble exchange rate, the break-up of the USSR, and the economic crisis in India during the 1990s. After work started in 2001, protests and other technical problems have plagued the project.

"We sought an additional safety mechanism well before the Fukushima disaster. The safety mechanism consists of valves. The original reactor design had to be altered and I feel this is the basic cause for delay," said M R Srinivasan, former chairman of Atomic Energy Commission. The valves were designed partially in India and Russia and compatibility with the reactor led to some hiccups, he said.

Plant officials seeking anonymity said AERB is conducting tests but refused to set a deadline for commissioning unit 1.

The VVER (Voda Voda Energo Reactor) water-cooled, water-moderated energy reactor is being used in Ukraine, China and a few other nations. In Ukraine alone, there are six units of 1,000MW capacity. "I have inspected the plant in Zaporizhzhia in Ukraine. The units are similar to the one at Kudankulam," said Srinivasan.

Mar 28, 2013

The Times of India

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