Koodankulam calling

Published : Oct 14, 2000 00:00 IST

A delegation of Russian officials and nuclear scientists visits the Rajasthan Atomic Power Station, signalling Russia's eagerness to continue its cooperation with India in the field of nuclear power generation, including at Koodankulam in Tamil Nadu.

ON September 29, E.A. Reshetnikov, the Russian Federation's Deputy Minister for Atomic Energy, pushed a nuclear fuel bundle of natural uranium rods into a tube in the fuel vault of the fourth reactor at the Rajasthan Atomic Power Project (RAPP). V.K. Ch aturvedi, Chairman and Managing Director, Nuclear Power Corporation of India Limited (NPC), and K.P. Ojha, Station Director, Rajasthan Atomic Power Station (RAPS), followed suit.

The fourth reactor of the RAPP at Rawatbhatta, near Kota, is all set to reach criticality in the third week of October. The fuelling of the reactor was the first important step towards commissioning it. RAPP-4 is to be the 14th reactor in the country to become operational. On September 26, the 13th reactor, the first unit at Kaiga, Karnataka, reached criticality. The second unit at Kaiga was started up on September 24, 1999. These units at Rawatbhatta, Kaiga, Kalpakkam (Tamil Nadu), Kakrapar (Gujarat) a nd Narora (Uttar Pradesh) are Pressurised Heavy Water Reactors (PHWRs) of 220 MW. They use natural uranium as fuel, and heavy water as moderator and coolant.

The arrival of the Russian delegation, which included some of "the world's best nuclear scientists and technologists", at RAPS, ahead of President Vladimir Putin's India visit was significant, for the Russian Federation has made it clear that it would li ke to firm up its cooperation with India in the field of nuclear power generation. Russia had signalled that it would like to go beyond the construction of two Russian VVER type reactors of 1000 MW capacity each at Koodankulam, near Tirunelveli in Tamil Nadu. After visiting the sophisticated facilities at RAPS, Reshetnikov spoke to the media of action being taken with regard to four more units at Koodankulam. "From the economic point of view, it is viable to have six units at the same site, or at least four units," he said.

Reshetnikov and Chaturvedi are the co-chairmen of the coordination committee on Koodankulam which met on September 28 in New Delhi. The meeting had to do with the preparation of a Detailed Project Report (DPR) on Koodankulam, which would be ready by Apri l 2001. Chaturvedi said that the coordination committee met in order to assess the progress on the DPR and to chart the progress of the project.

According to Chaturvedi, work would start at Koodankulam next year on the first phase, consisting of residential quarters, a hospital and a market. Earth work for the first unit would begin in March 2001. One year later, a similar cycle of work would beg in for the second unit. "By July 2001, after seeing the DPR and the techno-commercial offer, the general agreement for the implementation of the project will be arrived at. But this does not come in the way of the schedule of the work which we have up to March 2002," Chaturvedi said.

Reshetnikov said that in December 2000, Russia would submit the technical and commercial offer, with the cost of the project.

The Inter-Governmental Agreement on the project was signed on November 20, 1988 by Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi and Soviet President Mikahil Gorbachev. The project was in limbo for 10 years. On June 21, 1998, a supplementary agreement was signed by Russia n Minister for Atomic Energy Yevgeny Adamov and Atomic Energy Commission Chairman Dr. R. Chidambaram, who is also Secretary, Department of Atomic Energy.

Under the first Agreement, Koodankulam was to be a turn-key project, with the NPC providing the site. The Soviet Union was to provide the design of the VVER-1000 type Pressurised Water Reactors (PWRs), bring the fuel, equipment, components and spares and build the reactors. Under the supplementary agreement, which is a technical one, Russia will give the NPC the design and bring most of the equipment and the NPC will build the two reactors. Russian personnel at the site will train the NPC personnel in o peration and maintenance procedures. Russia will supply enriched uranium fuel for the life of the reactors. Light water is the moderator.

According to the NPC Chairman, the Russian delegation was briefed about how the NPC had handled repair work on RAPS-1 and 2 to extend their life.

The visitors watched a video presentation on how NPC technologists plugged the leak of helium and heavy water from the first reactor's over-pressure relief device (OPRD) and carried out en masse coolant channel replacement (ECCR) in the second rea ctor. The first unit had been given up as being beyond repair and the NPC had considered sealing it in a sarcophagus. The leak was stemmed at a cost of only Rs.1 lakh, which was spent on developing tools, tackles and remote-controlled manipulators. The u nit is now generating electricity.

As for ECCR, NPC engineers, with the help of personnel from the Bhabha Atomic Research Centre (BARC), performed a "transplant" by removing the 306 channels and retubing the second unit with coolant channels made of zirconium niobium. This procedure cost Rs.84 crores. Chaturvedi led the teams. Two other leading players were R.K. Gargye, now Chief Engineer, Nuclear and Conventional Systems, Tarapur Atomic Power Project (TAPP)- 3 and 4, and D.K. Sisodia, Maintenance Superi-ntendent (Mechanical), RAPS.

Referring to the Koodankulam project, Reshetnikov said that India and Russia were in a new phase of cooperation. Chaturvedi added that the construction of the Koodankulam reactors, with the help of the Russian Federation, would improve electricity genera tion and availability. "We are going to have an extended cooperation which will help Indian people," Chaturvedi said.

The Russian team included Director-General, ZAO Atomstroyexport, V.V. Kozlov; Deputy Director-General G.O. Kumani; Director, VVER Centre, RSC Kurchatov Institute Dr. G.L. Lunin; and Director, Atomenergoproject. A.B. Malyshev Atomstroyexport handles the e xport of Russian reactors, components and fuel. Lunin, a nuclear scientist, has worked on the core physics of every type of reactor. Malyshev was in charge of the overall design of 1000 MW reactors.

At Rawatbhatta, the delegation visited the control rooms of the first three units, the spent fuel inspection and storage bay, maintenance shops and service buildings.

Malyshev said that the VVER-1000 type reactors planned for Koodankulam would have many additional safety features compared to the prototype made in Bulgaria. The features included double containment. According to Reshetnikov, Russian nuclear power statio ns could be rated third in the world in terms of safety - after Japan and Germany. According to him, the United States ranked fourth in this respect. He said Russia was building two VVER type reactors (1000 MW) in China and in Iran.

Chaturvedi expressed his confidence in the level of safety of the VVER-1000 reactors. The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), after studying VVER type reactors, had come up with a list of 35 possible improvements. At Koodankulam "these 35 improvem ents will be made", he said.

Answering a question, Chaturvedi said that the original plan was to take spent fuel from Koodankulam to Russia, to be reprocessed into plutonium and uranium and retained while returning the waste to India. But shipping the spent fuels from Koodankulam to Russia would have proved expensive. Now the plan is for India to undertake the reprocessing and keep an inventory of plutonium and residual uranium. The Koodankulam reactors as also the reprocessing plant would come under IAEA safeguards.

A RATHER unusual aspect of President Putin's visit to India was his trip to the Bhabha Atomic Research Centre (BARC) at Trombay, Mumbai, on October 5.

Dr. R. Chidambaram and Dr. Anil Kakodkar, Director, BARC, took Putin round the Dhruva research reactor building at BARC. Putin later addressed the scientific community at the central complex auditorium here. Putin was surprisingly soft on India's stand o n the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) but queered the pitch on the advantages of building two Russian VVER reactors of 1000 MW capacity each at Koodankulam. "I would like to see India participate in the CTBT," he said, but quickly tempered it by add ing, "However, we realise that the signing of the CTBT should be based on strategic vision and interest of India and the local populace."

Putin, who spoke without a prepared text for seven minutes, described BARC as "a temple of science and technology in the 21st century". He praised the wide-ranging capabilities of BARC and its scientists for their "amazing" work. He paid tributes to Dr. Homi J. Bhabha, the founder of India's nuclear energy programme.

The Dhruva reactor occupies the pride of place among the country's family of research reactors; the others being APSARA, Zerlina, CIRUS, Purnima 1 and 2 (all at BARC, Trombay) and Kamini at Kalpakkam, Tamil Nadu. Dhruva generates 100 MW of thermal power. It is fuelled by natural uranium, and is moderated and cooled by heavy water. The first large research reactor, entirely designed and built by BARC, Dhruva is used in research for the development of power reactor technology, and for isotope production. Isotopes are used in medicine, agriculture, industry and other fields.

Putin said it was a special honour to visit BARC because he was the first Russian President to do so. (Only two other foreign dignitaries - Chinese Prime Minister Zhou-en-Lai and British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher - have visited BARC earlier.) Puti n said the cost of production of electricity from the two Russian reactors to be built at Koodankulam would be economically competitive. Russia and India had started collaborating in the peaceful uses of nuclear energy in the 1970s.

Putin went around science and technology exhibition that featured high technology developments engineered by the DAE family, mostly by BARC, and by the Centre for Advanced Technology, BARC, nuclear power generation by Nuclear Power Corporation of India L imited, strides in heavy water production by the Heavy Water Board and so on.

In his welcome address, Dr. Chidambaram said that Dr. Bhabha and Jawaharlal Nehru had perceived the crucial role nuclear electricity would play in the development of India. India now had a self-reliant nuclear power programme based on indigenised Pressur ised Heavy Water Reactors (PHWR). It was keen on developing Fast Breeder Reactors (FBRs) and thorium utilisation in a closed nuclear fuel cycle. "We intend to build up our nuclear generating capacities based on the above programme," he said. "We would al so like to build Light Water Reactors (LWR) of modern design as we have done in the case of PHWRs and are doing for Fast Breeder Reactors. The decision to join hands with Russia in technical cooperation in setting up two VVER 1000 MW Light Water Reactors in Tamil Nadu is a step in this direction", Dr. Chidambaram said.

Dr. Chidambaram later told Frontline that India's target was to generate 20,000 MW of nuclear electricity by 2020. While 13,000 MW would be generated by the PHWRs and FBRs, the remaining would be from imported LWRS and fully indigenised LWRs.

Dr. Chidambaram presented Putin with miniature models of CIRUS and Dhruva contained in a transparent box.

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