Way ahead at Koodankulam

Published : Feb 27, 2004 00:00 IST

WHEN the Union Power Ministry asked S.K. Jain, Chairman and Managing Director of Nuclear Power Corporation of India Ltd, if the company could double its fresh contribution of nuclear electricity to 2,600 MWe during the Tenth Plan (2002 to 2007), he readily "accepted the challenge". It was to the Koodankulam Nuclear Power Project (KNPP) that Jain turned. The construction of two Russian reactors of 1,000 MWe each (VVER-1000) under the project began on March 31, 2002. The construction of the first reactor is progressing ahead of schedule by nine months and that of the second by 15 months.

S.K. Agrawal, Project Director, KNPP, is confident of the first unit reaching criticality in March 2007. The second reactor will follow in September 2007. Originally, they were scheduled to reach criticality in 2008/2009.

The Inter-Governmental Agreement on the Koodankulam project, signed on November 20, 1988 by Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi and Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev, failed to take off on account of the break-up of the Soviet Union. The project received a fresh lease of life through a supplementary agreement signed on June 21, 1998, by Russian Minister for Atomic Energy Yevgeny Adamov and Atomic Energy Commission Chairman Dr. R. Chidambaram. There has been no looking back since. Under the agreement, Russia would supply the reactors' design, drawings, huge components, equipment and systems, and the NPCIL would build the reactors. Russia would supply the enriched fuel for the entire life of the reactors. Light water will be both moderator and coolant.

There are 51 VVER units in operation in various parts of the world - VVER or "Voda Voda Energo Reactor" is the Russian for "water cooled and water moderated reactor". The number 1,000 stands for 1,000 MWe, which the reactor generates. The first VVER became operational in 1964 in the then Soviet Union, and the reactor has an evolved design and sound safety features.

Said Agrawal: "We started on March 31, 2002. In the 18 months till now, we have completed two lakh cubic metres of concreting (in both the units), which is equivalent to the amount of concrete we use to build fully two reactors that generate 220 MWe each."

The construction of a jetty at the site on the Bay of Bengal, in Tamil Nadu's Tirunelveli district, will speed up work further from January.

Until December 2003 five shiploads of equipment and material, weighing about 8,000 tonnes, have arrived at the site. They were transferred to barges and unloaded at the site. The equipment included the core catcher vessel, tanks, hermetically sealed doors, pipeline blocks and liner plates.

The 110-tonne core catcher vessel is erected below the reactor pressure vessel. If all the safety systems of the VVER-1000 fail, which, according to Agrawal, is "a very, very remote possibility", the core (the fuel) will melt and fall. The core catcher vessel, which will be installed in another three months, would receive the highly radioactive molten core through a funnel from the reactor pressure vessel and prevent it from falling on the ground and polluting the environment.

Erection of the turbine building for Unit-1 is under way. An important activity is the construction of the pump house and offshore structures to draw the cooling water from the sea for the condenser and discharge it back. The building of underground structures and tunnels for cables and pipelines is nearing completion.

Agrawal said a team of about 60 Indian engineers is receiving training at Russian nuclear power stations to operate and maintain the two Koodankulam units.

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