Nuclear energy

Power from Kudankulam

Print edition : November 15, 2013

A view of the switch yard at the Kudankulam Nuclear Power Project. Photo: A.SHAIKMOHIDEEN

The turbo generator of unit one of the Kudankulam Nuclear Power Project. Photo: A. SHAIKMOHIDEEN

IT is a cheery mood that prevails on the premises of the Kudankulam Nuclear Power Station after electricity from the first unit started flowing into the southern grid on the night of October 22. The unit (1,000 MWe) had reached criticality on July 13 after a long delay due to a sustained agitation against the plant by the residents of the local villages, especially Idinthakarai, the nearest village to the station.

The Kudankulam plant has two units, each with a capacity of 1,000 MWe. While Russia has supplied the reactors, called VVER-1000, it is the Nuclear Power Corporation of India Limited (NPCIL) which has built them.

R.K. Sinha, Chairman, Atomic Energy Commission (AEC), told Frontline: “We have completed the task given to us. It is a great milestone in our nuclear power programme and the electricity generated by the sustained operation of the plant will be of great benefit to the region.”

R.S. Sundar, Site Director, Kudankulam 1 and 2, was a greatly relieved man. He called the wheeling of electricity from Kudankulam’s first unit to the southern grid “a really positive development”. He added: “It is a relief that after all the criticism levelled against us that we would not be able to generate power from the unit, we have proved ourselves.” Sundar praised the collaboration between Russia’s Atomstroyexport and the NPCIL, which made the station a reality, and recalled the contribution made by former NPCIL top brass, including V.K. Chaturvedi, the late S.K. Agrawal and S.K. Jain, and M.K. Balaji, Executive Director (Operations, Light Water Reactors), NPCIL, to the realisation of the plant. “The project has reached fruition thanks to the hard work of hundreds of Indian workers, including the NPCIL personnel and the Russian engineers,” Sundar said.

N. Nagaich, Executive Director (Corporate Planning and Corporate Communications), NPCIL, said the event was “a proud moment because it is the single largest nuclear power reactor in the country. It marked a new era in India’s nuclear power programme because it is the harbinger of the light water reactor technology here.”

Power generation from Kudankulam’s first unit will be increased in stages to 200 MWe, 300 MWe, 500 MWe, and so on until full power generation is reached by the end of November or in December. By the morning of October 25, about 200 MWe to 300 MWe had started flowing into the grid.

Out of the 2,000 MWe to be generated from the two units, Tamil Nadu will receive 925 MWe, Karnataka 442 MWe, Kerala 266 MWe and Puducherry 67 MWe, and 300 MWe remains as yet unallocated.

R.K. Sinha, who is also Secretary, Department of Atomic Energy (DAE), said: “There is a set of steps and tests, prescribed by the regulatory authorities, to be done before full power generation is reached. Every reactor has its own issues. We will make the first unit as robust as possible through the entire range of tests and verification.”

Meanwhile, work is proceeding apace on the second unit, with the civil works already completed. Plans are under way to conduct containment leak tests for the unit. “Equipment erection, in general, is well on its way. With the experience gained from the first unit, the second unit will take less time for commissioning,” the AEC Chairman said. The second unit may reach criticality in the second half of 2014.

In another development related to Kudankulam, the NPCIL and Atomstroyexport have already come to an agreement on the commercial cost of the third and fourth Russian reactors (each 1,000 MWe) to be built at Kudankulam. The cost is around Rs.39,000 crore for both units. Asked whether the cost was too high, Sinha claimed that it was still economical in terms of per unit energy cost. He was confident that the sticking points between India and Russia on liability issues regarding the third and fourth units would be resolved soon. “We are quite close to a formulation acceptable to both the sides,” he said.

While NPCIL would pay the reparation in case of any accident in the first two Kudankulam units, it is the supplier of the equipment, Atomstroyexport, that should pay damages in case of accidents involving the third and fourth units, as entailed by India’s Civil Liability for Nuclear Damage Act, 2010. But Russia insists that it is the NPCIL which should pay for damages in case of accidents involving the third and fourth units also.

T.S. Subramanian