WORK on the Koodankulam Nuclear Power Project (KKNPP), at what was once a deserted coastal site in Tirunelveli district, is racing ahead of schedule. The Rs.13,000-crore project, the first of its kind in India, has two Russian VVER-1000 reactors, each to generate 1,000 MWe. (While the first unit will go critical in 2007, the second will do so in 2008. Each reactor will have a life of 60 years.)
The construction began on March 31 and the raft, or concrete foundation, of the reactor building of the first unit was completed in 93 days instead of the scheduled seven months. S.K. Agrawal, Project Director, KKNPP, told Frontline: "We are pressing ahead of schedule with the construction of Unit I." Although the construction of the raft of the reactor building for the second unit was to start only a year later, work on it has already begun. "We have already completed 35 per cent of the raft construction of unit II. We plan to complete this raft quickly - in less than 93 days," said Agrawal.
On August 1, Nuclear Power Corporation of India Limited (NPC), which is constructing the project, performed the "bhoomi puja" for the construction of the turbine building of unit I in the presence of its Chairman and Managing Director, V.K. Chaturvedi.
The reactor building and the turbine building are two separate structures. While the 70-metre tall reactor building will house the reactor, the huge turbine will be installed in the turbine building. The rafts for the two units run to a depth of nine metres. Work is about to begin on the cylindrical double containment in the reactor building of the first unit. Workmen are busy providing waterproof bitumen mats to the foundation, which will prevent sub-soil water from rising up. The double containment dome will rise, from the reactor building, 43.9 metres above the ground level. The dome will prevent radiation from escaping into the atmosphere in the event of an incident/accident.
Chaturvedi also inaugurated a desalination plant at the township for KKNPP employees. The plant, with two units that can produce 50,000 litres of potable water every hour, uses the reverse osmosis method to convert sea water into potable water. The township is coming up at Chettikulam, about 12 km from the project site. It will have about 1,000 houses and associated facilities. Of these, 88 houses are ready and NPC employees living in Nagercoil have moved in. Two primary schools have started functioning in the township.
SEVERAL Russian institutions are involved in the work of designing the nuclear power plant. Russia will supply all the major equipment for the project. For this, a separate contract was signed between the NPC and the Russian company Atomstroyexport in Moscow in February 2002. Agrawal said that the design and manufacture of equipment such as reactor pressure vessels and steam generators had begun in selected Russian companies. He said that equipment that will be installed in the initial phase of construction will reach Koodankulam by sea by the end of the year. According to S. Kalirajan, Engineer-in-Charge (turbine building and safety related structures), a team of NPC specialists has been stationed in Moscow and St. Petersburg to ensure the quality of the equipment at the manufacturing point itself.
According to M.I. Joy, Site Planning Engineer, KKNPP, about 50 per cent of the Rs.13,000 crores needed for the project will be funded through Russian State Credit extended by the Russian government on soft terms for the supply of equipment and services.
The NPC has awarded four contracts in the form of packages for the construction of the project. The first package, for the construction of the two reactor buildings of the two units, was awarded to Hindustan Construction Company Limited. The second, for the construction of the turbine buildings and safety-related structures, was awarded to Simplex Concrete (Pile) Limited. The third contract will involve the construction of the breakwater and sea-water intake structures. Agrawal said, "This is a very big civil construction package of Rs.600 crores. Perhaps for the first time for a power project in India, a hydro-technical (breakwater) work is being taken up at Koodankulam." The sea-water intake structure will include the construction of a massive pumphouse. Excavation of earth for the construction of the pumphouse is under way. The pumphouse will pump water from the sea and it will be used for condenser cooling. The fourth package is for the construction of auxiliary buildings.
Kalirajan said that the breakwater structure was being constructed because there was a proposal to build a jetty at Koodankulam to enable heavy equipment to be brought there directly from Russia. The equipment, which will weigh 120 tonnes, will be transferred to barges off Koodankulam and brought ashore. The Tamil Nadu government has declared Koodankulam a minor port from January 2001 and extended to it the provisions of the Indian Ports Act, 1908.
Essential infrastructure for the project, such as warehouses, roads, lighting, office buildings, meteorological tower, concrete testing station, domestic water supply and sewerage system, and guardhouses, have been built. The Central Industrial Security Force (CISF) has been deployed.
The NPC has taken up the work of planting trees at the project site. About 15,000 saplings have been planted. A master plan has been worked out for the greening and landscaping of the township, where about 4,500 saplings have been planted. The NPC has made it obligatory for big contractors to plant thousands of saplings and maintain them.
Recruitment is being done in a phased manner. Jobs in the first phase of recruitment will go exclusively to those who gave their lands for the project. Where those who gave land were found not suitable, they were given special training and used in the NPC's work indirectly. About 2,500 workers, the majority of them from nearby villages, are engaged in construction work at Koodankulam.
The NPC has given Rs.11 lakhs to the Tamil Nadu government for relaying the roads at Anjugramam near Koodankulam. The roads at Chettikulam wear a new look now.