`Criticality by March 2007 is our aim'

Published : Apr 23, 2004 00:00 IST

Interview with S.K. Jain, Chairman and Managing Director, NPCIL.

S.K. Jain, Chairman and Managing Director, Nuclear Power Corporation of India Limited (NPCIL), is proud that the Union government has made a budget outlay of Rs.1,700 crores to the Kudankulam Nuclear Power Project (KKNPP) for the financial year 2003-04. This means an additional Rs.600 crores to the original outlay of Rs.1,100 crores. "This is a big indication of how fast the work is going on at Kudankulam," said Jain. The first unit is six months ahead of schedule in construction activities. Construction of the second unit is also racing ahead of schedule.

Jain, 55, took over as the CMD of NPCIL on January 3 from V.K. Chaturvedi, who was instrumental in starting the simultaneous construction of nine nuclear reactors in different parts of the country. NPCIL is a public sector enterprise of the Department of Atomic Energy (DAE) and is responsible for setting up nuclear electricity stations. NPCIL at present operates 14 nuclear reactors in the country, which together generate 2,770 MWe. These reactors worked at 90 per cent capacity in 2003-04. NPCIL plans to add about 4,000 MWe to the national grid by 2008.

Before taking over as the CMD of NPCIL, Jain was its Senior Executive Director (Light Water Reactors) and was responsible for the construction of the two Russian reactors at Kudankulam. Excerpts from an interview he gave T.S. Subramanian on March 30:

You had said, in an interview to Frontline in January, that the Kudankulam project is close to your heart. How do you assess the work going on there?

The work at Kudankulam is progressing fast. The Government of India had made a budget outlay of Rs.1,100 crores for the Kudankulam project for the financial year 2003-04. I have just received the news that the government has allotted Rs.1,700 crores for the project for 2003-04 - this is 50 per cent more than the budget outlay. At the beginning of every financial year, we prepare a budget (for each nuclear power project under construction), and it is approved by the Government of India. If the project goes fast and uses up the allotted funds, the Government of India allots more money. At the mid-way planning review for the Kudankulam project we found that we were progressing fast. So we approached the government to allocate additional funds. We had already spent Rs.1,700 crores. Today is the penultimate day of this financial year. So in 2003-04, as against the budget outlay of Rs.1,100 crores, we have been allocated Rs.1,700 crores. This is a big indication of how fast the work is going on at Kudankulam. The government has sanctioned Rs.1,700 crores because the project is going on really fast.

How much money have you asked for the Kudankulam project for the financial year 2004-05?

I am looking for Rs.2,000 crores for 2004-05.Are you confident you will get it?I am confident.

How fast is the work progressing at Kudankulam?

On the construction front, we are moving fast. The amount of concrete used in the project itself is an indication of how fast the work is progressing. In our PHWR (Pressurised Heavy Water Reactor) construction projects, we use about 10,000 cubic metres of concrete in a month. At Kudankulam, we use about 30,000 cubic metres. We want to continue at this speed and would like to do 45,000 cubic metres of concreting a month. This is a phenomenal rate of progress.

On the equipment side, the manufacture of the reactor equipment is going on in the Russian Federation. I am happy to share with you the information that the manufacture of all components for the nuclear steam supply system (NSSS) is nearing completion. All the components of the NSSS will be ready by October.

As far as the turbine is concerned, it has been assembled on the test bed and rolled with steam. This is the Russian practice. They assemble the turbine on the test stand, roll it with steam and check whether it meets all requirements (such as vibration, bearing temperature and the alignment of the shaft). We do it in a different way in India. We don't roll the turbine. It was test-rolled in the Russian Federation in the first week of March. It is being assembled and it will be despatched to Kudankulam. This is a milestone in equipment fabrication. The company that manufactured the turbine is Leningradsky Metallichesky Zavod. It is in St. Petersburg.

The condenser and other equipment are in an advanced stage of fabrication. We are prepared to receive all the equipment at Kudankulam. The core-catcher has already arrived and it has been erected in the reactor building of the first unit. It was a thrilling moment for us.

The Kudankulam project is a landmark agreement between India and Russia. For the Russian Federation, the schedule is to be completed in 67 months, that is, in five years and seven months. But we are making all serious efforts to see that the first unit reaches criticality in five years (from the first pour of the concrete, that is, in March 2007). So far, things are moving towards the target. The project team at Kudankulam is highly motivated.

Our civil contractors are facing a difficult time because of a phenomenal increase in the price of steel. In the last one year, steel price has gone up by 40 per cent. Owing to increased industrial activity, the availability of skilled manpower has become difficult. Cement prices have gone up. Our contractors such as Hindustan Construction Company, Larsen and Toubro, and Simplex Concrete Piles (India) are doing a good job against all odds. We are seeing whether we can compensate them.

The Environmental Survey Laboratory (ESL) was inaugurated at the Kudankulam township on February 29, 2004, by Anil Kakodkar, Chairman of the Atomic Energy Commission. I was present on the occasion. The ESL at Kudankulam has started doing its work three years before the first unit is to reach criticality. They are doing an extensive study of the flora, flauna, soil, water and so on over a 30-km radius around the Kudankulam plant for radioactivity content.

When will the 4th unit (540 MWe) at Tarapur start generating electricity?

We have reached the milestone of commissioning the water systems for condenser cooling, reactor auxiliary cooling and balance of plant systems. The entire electrical system in the control room has been commissioned and is operational. Integrity tests of the primary heat transport equipment are going on to see that the design requirements are met. We had planned to do the hydro-testing of the primary heat transport circuit in the third or fourth week of April. We shall do it in the first week itself. This is a clear signal for hot-commissioning of the equipment. This will give us the real feel for going ahead with criticality.

The fourth unit at Tarapur, which will generate 540 MWe, will reach criticality in September or October. (The third unit, also of 540 MWe capacity, will be commissioned later).

Have you decided on the location for 700 MWe reactors? The site selection committee has finalised its report.

We are clear that the 700 MWe indigenous PHWRs will come up only on the inland sites. The 1,000 MWe units will come up on coastal sites. The 500 MWe indigenous breeder reactors will come up mostly on the inland sites. We want to maximise the potential of the existing sites. They (the existing sites) have enough space to accommodate units with a total installation capacity of 15,000 Mwe.

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