20 Jul 2013

Kudankulam Nuclear Power Plant : An Analysis !!

‘Economic growth will need massive energy.  Will  we  allow  an  accident  in  Japan,   in  a  40-year-old  reactor  at  Fukushima,   arising  out of   extreme  natural  stresses,   to  derail  our  dreams  to  be  an  economically  developed  nation?'-  Dr. APJ Abdul Kalam.


What is Nuclear Power?

Nuclear power, or Nuclear energy, is the use of exothermic nuclear processes, to generate useful heat & electricity. The term includes the following heat producing processes – nuclear fission, nuclear decay and nuclear fusion.

Uses –
  • Nuclear power is a low carbon method of producing electricity & in 2011 nuclear power provided 10% of the world's electricity.
  • Many military and some civilian (such as some icebreaker) ships use nuclear marine propulsion, a form of nuclear propulsion.
  • A few space vehicles have been launched using full-fledged nuclear reactors: the Soviet RORSAT series and the American SNAP -10 A.
  • Both Fission and fusion appear promising for space propulsion applications, generating higher mission velocities with less reaction mass. (Due to the much higher energy density of nuclear reactions: some 7 orders of magnitude (10,000,000 times) more energetic than the chemical reactions which power the current generation of rockets).
  • International research is continuing into the use of nuclear fusion, and additional uses of process heat such as hydrogen production (in support of a hydrogen economy), desalinizing sea water, and for use in district heating systems.
What is Nuclear Reactor?

A nuclear reactor is a device to initiate and control a sustained nuclear chain reaction.

Nuclear reactors are used at nuclear power plants for generating electricity and in propulsion of ships. Heat from nuclear fission is passed to a working fluid (water or gas), which runs through turbines Nuclear generated steam in principle can be used for industrial process heat or for district heating. Some reactors are used to produce isotopes for medical and  industrial use, or for production of plutonium for weapons.

Just as conventional power-stations generate electricity by harnessing the thermal energy released from burning fossil fuels, nuclear reactors convert the thermal energy released from nuclear fission.

Nuclear Power in India –

Nuclear power is the fourth-largest source of electricity in India after thermal, hydroelectric & renewable sources of electricity.
As of 2012, India has 20 Nuclear reactors in operation in six nuclear power plants, generating 4,780 MW while seven other reactors are under construction and are expected to generate an additional 5,300 MW.

Indian Nuclear Power Program:

The Indian nuclear program was conceived based on, unique sequential three-stages and associated technologies essentially to aim at optimum utilization of the indigenous nuclear resource profile of modest Uranium and abundant Thorium resources. This sequential three-stage program is based on a closed fuel cycle, where the spent fuel of one stage is reprocessed to produce fuel for the next stage. The closed fuel cycle thus multiplies manifold the energy potential of the fuel and greatly reduces the quantity of waste generated.

The first stage comprises of Pressurized Heavy Water Reactors fuelled by natural uranium. Natural uranium contains only 0.7% of Uranium235, which undergoes fission to release energy (200Mev/atom). The remaining 99.3% comprises Uranium238 which is not fissile however it is converted in the nuclear reactor, to fissile element Pu 239. In the fission process, among other fission products, a small quantity of Plutonium239 is formed by transmutation of Uranium238.

The second stage, comprising of Fast Breeder Reactors (FBRs) are fuelled by mixed oxide of Uranium238 and Plutonium239, recovered by reprocessing of the first stage spent fuel. In FBRs, Plutonium239 undergoes fission producing energy, and producing Plutonium239 by transmutation of Uranium238. Thus the FBRs produce energy and fuel, hence termed Breeders. FBRs produce more fuel than they consume. Over a period of time, Plutonium inventory can be built up by feeding Uranium238.

The third stage, A Stage III reactor or an advanced nuclear power system involves a self-sustaining series of thorium-232-uranium-233 fuelled reactors. This would be a thermal breeder reactor, which in principle can be refueled – after its initial fuel charge – using only naturally occurring thorium.

India’s three stage nuclear power program -

India's three-stage nuclear power program was formulated by Dr. Homi J Bhabha in the 1950s to secure the country’s long term energy independence, through the use of uranium and thorium reserves found in the monazite sands of coastal regions of South India. The ultimate focus of the program is on enabling the thorium reserves of India to be utilized in meeting the country's energy requirements. Thorium is particularly attractive for India, as it has only around 1–2% of the global uranium reserves, but one of the largest shares of global thorium reserves at about 30% of the total world thorium reserves.

Kudankulam Nuclear Power Plant 

Kudankulam Nuclear Power Plant is a nuclear power station in Koodankulam in the Tirunelveli district of the southern Indian state of Tamil Nadu. The first reactor of the plant, which is also India's first 1,000MW pressurized water reactor, attained criticality on 13 July 2013 at 11.05pm IST. The plant was commissioned six years after the scheduled date. It is expected to begin power generation before the end of August 2013.

The two reactors that have been built at Kudankulam are advanced models of the Russian VVER-1000 MW Pressurized Water Reactor which is a leading type of reactor worldwide. VVER is a Russian nomenclature for water-cooled and water-moderated reactors. Each reactor at Kudankulam will generate 1000 MW. It uses low-enriched uranium fuel in oxide matrix, housed in sealed zirconium-niobium alloy tubes. KKNPP VVER 1000 adopts the basic Russian design with enhanced safety features to make it in line with IAEA GEN III reactors. 


History –
·         An Inter-Governmental Agreement on the project was signed on November 1988 by then Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi and Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev, for the construction of two reactors. 
        The project remained in limbo for a decade due to the dissolution of the soviet union & objections from the United States, on the grounds that the agreement does not meet the 1992 terms of the Nuclear Supplies Group (NSG)
·    Construction started March 2002 but the plant missed several deadlines since it was originally scheduled for December 2011.
      This delay is believed to have been caused by the 500-daylong Anti-nuclear protests by the locals, led by People’s movement against nuclear energy.

Protests (causes and consequences)-

Thousands of protesters, belonging to the vicinity of the plant, have used various means to protest against the plant fearing a Fukushima like disaster. The protesters base their objection on the "more than 1 million people live within the 30 km radius of the KKNPP which far exceeds the AERB (Atomic Energy Regulatory Board) stipulations. It is quite impossible to evacuate this many people quickly and efficiently in case of a nuclear disaster at Koodankulam", etc. According to S P Udaykumar, of the voluntary People’s movement against nuclear energy, "the nuclear plant is unsafe".  And, various reasons given by them in support of their movement are as follows-
·         “Area between 2 to 5 km radius around the plant site, [would be] called the sterilization zone.” This means that people in this area could be displaced.
·   More than 1 million people live within the 30 km radius of the KKNPP which far exceeds the AERB (Atomic Energy Regulatory Board) stipulations. It is quite impossible to evacuate this many people quickly and efficiently in case of a nuclear disaster at Koodankulam.
·   The coolant water and low-grade waste from the KKNPP are going to be dumped in to the sea which will have a severe impact on fish production and catch. This will undermine the fishing industry, push the fisher folks into deeper poverty and misery and affect the food security of the entire southern Tamil Nadu and southern Kerala.
·  Even when the KKNPP projects function normally without any incidents and accidents, they would be emitting Iodine 131, 132, 133, Cesium 134, 136, 137 isotopes, strontium, tritium, tellurium and other such radioactive particles into our air, land, crops, cattle, sea, seafood and ground water.
·  Already the southern coastal belt is sinking with very high incidence of cancer, mental retardation, down syndrome, defective births due to private and government sea-sand mining for rare minerals including thorium. The KKNPP will add many more woes to our already suffering people.
·  The quality of construction and the pipe work and the overall integrity of the KKNPP structures have been called into question by the very workers and contractors who work there in Koodankulam. There have been international concerns about the design, structure and workings of the untested Russian-made VVER-1000 reactors.
·  Natural disasters feared in the Koodankulam area- wave  run-up,  storm  surge,  tide  variation , tsunami , earthquakes
·  The atomic establishments continue to remain prime targets of the terrorist groups and outfits.

·   The March 11, 2011 disaster in Fukushima has made it all too clear to the whole world that nuclear power plants are prone to natural disasters and no one can really predict their occurrence. When we cannot effectively deal with a nuclear disaster, it is only prudent to prevent it from occurring. Even the most industrialized and highly advanced country such as Germany has decided to phase out their nuclear power plants by the year 2022.Switzerland have decided to shun nuclear power technology. Both the United States and Russia have not built a new reactor in their countries for 2-3 decades ever since major accidents occurred at Three Mile Island and Chernobyl.
·   The disposal of nuclear wastes from the plant – a big issue , as these wastes take hundreds of years to get decomposed.
· Fear of radiation breakout by any fault in working of the reactors.

Response from officials-

  1.) Former Indian President Dr. Abdul Kalam had expressed satisfaction about the safety of the Kudankulam Nuclear Plant after having detailed discussion with KNPP officials and inspecting the safety features of the plant.
 2.) According to Former chairman of Atomic Energy Commission of India Srinivasan ,one should never compare the Fukushima plant with Kudankulam
· The Fukushima plant was built on a beachfront, but the Kudankulam was constructed on a solid terrain and that too keeping all the safety aspects in mind. Also, we are not in a tsunami prone area.
· The plants in Kudankulam have a double containment system which can withstand high pressure. At least Rs140 billion has been spent. If we don't operate the plant immediately, it will affect the economic stability of our country.
  3.) A central panel constituted by the Government of India, which did a survey of the safety features in the plant, said-
·  The Kudankulam reactors are the safest and fears of the people are not based on scientific principles.
·  Nuclear scientist and principal scientific adviser to the federal Government of India Rajagopala Chidambaram has said “We have learnt lessons from the Fukushima nuclear accident, particularly on the post-shutdown cooling system,” and also added Fukushima nuclear accident should not deter or inhibit India from pursuing a safe civil nuclear program.
  4.) The Supreme Court  said  there  is no basis  to  the  fear  that  the  radioactive  effects of  the Kudankulam nuclear power plant, when  commissioned, will be  far  reaching. A Bench of Justices K.S. Radhakrishnan and Dipak Mishra  said:
·  “We are  convinced  that  the KKNPP design incorporates advanced  safety  features  complying with the current standards of  redundancy,  reliability,  independence and prevention of  common  cause  failures  in  its  safety  systems.
·  Design also  takes  care of Anticipated Operational Occurrences  (AOO), Design Basis Accidents  (DBA) and Beyond Design Basis Accidents  (BDBA)  like Station Black Out (SBO), Anticipated Transients Without Scram  (ATWS), Metal  Water  reaction  in  the water  core and provision of  core catcher  to  take  care of  core degradation.
· The design also  includes  the provisions  for withstanding  external   events  like earthquake,  tsunami/storm,  tidal  waves,  cyclones,  shock waves, aircraft  impact on main buildings and  fire. The 17 recommendations were made after the Fukushima accident, which was caused by a natural phenomenon.
·   The  facts would  indicate  that  the  tsunami -genic  zone along East Coast of  India  is more  than  1,300 km away  from  the nearest NPP  site  (Madras/Kalpakkam) and about  1,000 km away  from Kudankulam. The possibility of hitting tsunami at Kudankulam, as the one that hit Fukushima, seems to be very remote.”

Safety at the core of Kudankulam nuclear reactors-
            KKNPP  is well  protected  from a possible  rise  in  sea  level  by  locating  the  entire plant  site at a higher  elevation. The  safe grade  elevation of KKNPP  site has been kept at 7.5 metres above  the MSL(mean  sea  level ) and a  shore protection bund has been  constructed all  along  the  shore  to a height of + 8.0 metres  to the MSL.

·         KKNPP  is  located  in  Indian Seismic Zone  II, which  is  the  least  seismic potential region of our  country. The plant's  seismic sensors  safely  shut down  the  reactor  in  case  the  seismicity  exceeds  the preset value. Thus, despite KKNPP being located  in a  very  low  seismic  zone,  it is adequately designed  to withstand  the  seismic  events.

·         Certain additional  safety  features were  incorporated  like passive heat  removal   system and  core  catcher,  taking  it to GEN  III+category.

·         Control  of  the Reactivity  (control  of  fission  chain  reaction),  removal  of heat  from  the  fuel   core and  confinement of radioactivity, for  this, control  rods are provided, which will  ensure  the  shutdown of  the  reactor,  there by terminating  the  chain  reaction, whenever  the action  is  called  for. The control   rods are designed to fall by gravity to shut down the reactor.

The salient safety features of KKNPP
  •     Passive heat removal system to provide cooling for the removal of decay heat using atmospheric air.
  •     Higher redundancy for safety system.
  •     Double containment.
  •    Additional shut down systems like quick boron and emergency boron injection systems to ensure absolute safety for shut down of the reactor, when needed.
  •    Core catcher to provide safety in the unlikely event of fuel melt-down
  •     Passive hydrogen re-combiners which do not need any power supply to absorb any hydrogen liberated inside the containment.

The above systems have been developed based on extensive R & D and simulated testing by the Russian design institutes. The functional performances of these systems have been established during the commissioning stage.
The confinement of radioactivity is achieved by the principle of defense in depth. This concept provides a set of barriers, one after the other, so as to contain radioactivity within the reactor building.
The reactor building has double containment structure. The primary or inner containment is a pre-stressed concrete structure, with the thickness of 1.2 metres. This inner containment is provided with leak-tight inner steel liner. 

The outer containment known as secondary containment is a reinforced concrete structure with thickness of 0.6 metres. The multiple barriers, as including the containment structure, ensure that no radioactivity reaches the public domain. The double containment structures also protect the plant from external hazards like hurricane, shock waves, air attacks, seismic impact, floods, etc

The hydrogen re-combiners are passive devices. Hydrogen, if generated during any accident conditions, is recombined in the passive hydrogen re-combiners to convert it to water. This prevents any hydrogen explosion within the containment as happened at Fukushima in Japan in March 2011. There are 154 hydrogen re-combiners at various locations within the containment.

The core catcher is a special feature of KKNPP. It is a huge vessel weighing 101 tons. In case of an extreme hypothetical case, wherein an event causes damage to the fuel core resulting in partial core damage, the core catcher will collect the molten core, cool it and maintain it in sub-critical state.

A fish protection facility is provided in the intake of sea water. This facility assists juvenile fish, which drift along with the flow of cooling sea water, from not getting trapped in the machinery. The fish are helped in getting back to the sea and the fish population is thus conserved.

The product water and domestic water requirement of KKNPP are fully met by a desalination plant at the KKNPP site, based on Mechanical Vapour Compression technology.

    The reactors at KKNPP are the built with the state of the art technology, with the best safety features that will ensure safe operation of the reactors, without any impact to the environment and the public.

     Energy is the most fundamental requirement of every society or nation as it progresses through the ladder of development. Of course, once it reaches a relative degree of development, the energy demand becomes more stable. 

     There is a distinct and categorical correlation between the energy consumption and income of a nation — each reinforcing the other. Look around you: every step into progress comes with an addition of demand for energy — cars, ships and aircraft to move, hospitals to give quality healthcare, education, as it follows the model of e-connectivity, production of more and better goods, irrigation for better farming. In fact, every element of our lives is increasingly going to become energy-intensive — that is a necessary prerequisite for development. This is clearly reflected in the average energy consumption per person across nations
    Today, India finds itself going through a phase of rapid ascent in economic empowerment. Industries are evolving at a significantly higher rate since liberalization. Our focus for this decade will be on the development of key infrastructure and the uplifting of the 600,000 villages where 750 million people live, as vibrant engines of the economy. In 2008, we crossed the trillion-dollar mark, and it took more than six decades for us to reach that milestone. However, it is predicted that the Indian economy will double again, to reach the $2-trillion mark by 2016, and then again redouble, to reach the $4 trillion milestone by 2025. All this economic growth will need massive energy. It is predicted that the total electricity demand will grow from the current 150,000 MW to at least over 950,000 MW by the year 2030.
    The greenest sources of power are definitely solar and wind. With abundant sunshine and places of high wind velocity, the nation definitely has potential for these forms of energy. But solar and wind power, despite all their advantages, are not stable and are dependent excessively on weather and sunshine conditions. Nuclear power, on the other hand, provides a relatively clean, high-density source of reliable energy with an international presence.

Abstinence from nuclear power is an incomplete response without the logical alternative. If we look at the complete picture of alternative measures, we will have to endorse the fact that our current and future energy demands have to be met. In economics, there is a concept called “opportunity cost,” which refers to the cost incurred when one chooses the next alternative. So what happens if we pronounce a total ban on nuclear energy generation? Some part of the future need, although only a small fraction, would come from solar and wind sources, with great unpredictability as pointed out earlier. A part would be offset by hydro-power too. But in all probability we will continue to increase our reliance on fossil-based fuel power generation methods, at least in the near and mid-term future. And that is where the problem lies. Unclean fossil energy is definitely not sustainable in the future. Moreover, fossil-based fuels are fast depleting, and their scarcity is inspiring geopolitical instabilities around the world. That the changing climate patterns will carry a costly adaptation price tag in the future — an enormous $300 billion every year, which will be a huge drain on the global GDP.

What is your view for the Kudankulam Nuclear Power Plant? Is it right move of government to commission it?

What measures can be taken to address the concerns of local people?

What do you think about the necessity of Nuclear power plants throughout the power-starved regions and developing country like India?

Please comment your views and opinions as comments…

(Written by  Dr.Jot Brar)



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