Friday, March 4, 2016

Koodankulam kaput

Sam Rajappa

On 30 January, Alexander M Kadakin, Ambassador of the Russian Federation to India, conveyed to RS Sunder, Director of Koodankulam Nuclear Power Plant project, “President Vladimir Putin by his decree No. 29 dated 29 January 2016 has awarded you the Order of Friendship for your great contribution to the implementation of KKNPP project.” Sunder said in modesty, “The credit should go to Russian scientists as well.” Buoyed by the award, Sunder worked through day and night and re-started the 1,000 MW first unit of the plant, shut down since 24 June 2015 allegedly for annual maintenance, at 3 am on 31 January generating 7 MW of power which peaked to 252 MW at 11.44 pm. It worked in fits and starts for the next three days. On 4 February Sunder said the plant was generating 715 MW power and would hit the full capacity of 1,000 MW “in a day or two.” The plant went kaput at 10.34 pm the same night. 
The brand new Russian plant was erected jointly by the Nuclear Power Corporation of India Limited and Atomstroyexport of Russia. It was connected to the grid on 22 October 2013 and commercial operation began on 31 December 2014. During the 800 and odd days of grid connection the reactor worked for 372 days, tripped 20 times and was off the grid for about 470 days. The actual power produced is 3,222 million units, just 18 per cent of its rated capacity. The reactor was commissioned for one year’s warranty period operation on 30 December 2014 but was shut down on 24 June 2015, much before the expiry of the warranty period.
The original agreement for two 1,000 MWe VVER reactors between India and the USSR was signed in November 1988 and a supplemental agreement with Russia was signed in June 1998. The two reactors were taken up as a single project and evaluated as such. Work on the project began in March 2002 with the construction of the twin domes and a small port on the Koodankulam sea-front. Reactor and other core equipment arrived at the site by mid-2005 and both units were to begin commercial operation in December 2007. Not much progress was made in the next four years. Although the people in general and the fishermen’s community in particular were opposed to the project right from the beginning, active public protest at Idinthakarai, adjacent to the project site, began only in August 2011 after the Fukushima disaster and lasted about 11 months. It hardly hampered the project work and cannot be blamed for the inordinate delay in commissioning the plant.
When the Atomstroyexport formally handed over the KKNPP-1 reactor to NPCIL for one-year warranty operation on 30 December 2014, there was no mention of the second unit. Construction of the two units was taken up simultaneously but because of the supply of sub-standard equipment by Russia and both the governments’ eagerness to show some result before signing an agreement for the third and fourth units, the second unit was canibalised to make the first unit work. In the process, the second unit has been virtually abandoned. The government has so far spent about Rs 25,000 crore on the first phase of KKNPP. At full capacity, the plant should have been producing 48 million units of electricity a day. The actual production so far has been less than 20 per cent of the rated capacity. If this is the result in the first year of operation of a brand new plant when production should be at its optimum, it only shows that KKNPP, besides being an ecological catastrophe, is also an economic disaster. Units 3 and 4 are estimated to cost Rs 45,000 crore.
Studies conducted by non-governmental agencies show that almost all components of the reactor were manufactured in the 1980s and rendered surplus due to post-Chernobyl cancellation of orders for more than two dozen reactors. The Russia made turbine had to be overhauled surreptitiously by a Hyderabad-based private contractor two years before its grid connection because it was found faulty. Even after the overhaul the turbine failed within hours of grid connection and kept the reactor shut for 59 days during August-September 2014. Normally a turbine is overhauled after working for five to 10 years. During the 365 days the turbine remained connected to the grid, there were 14 trips (shutdowns), two outages and one major accident in the fuel-water system which kept the reactor idle for 175 days. Non-performance of Unit 1 is causing production loss of 24 million units of electricity a day, financial loss of Rs 10 crore daily, besides the interest on the capital invested.
In an article published on 4 February, A Gopalakrishnan, former chairman of the Atomic Energy Regulatory Board, said, “In the Koodankulam case, there are serious flaws of one kind or other. The lack of transparency certainly raises doubts that the Department of Atomic Energy, NPCIL and the AERB together may be hiding some serious deficiencies from the public. This impression needs to be removed by honestly answering the doubts and questions raised by the public regarding the plant.” The DAE and the NPCIL have repeatedly denied the issue of sub-standard and counterfeit components in KKNPP. Gopalakrishnan said a large amount of public funds had been spent on this reactor with very little benefit to people in return. “The reactor is known to have suffered continuous and unprecedented problems during the construction, erection and commissioning phases as well during the current operational period.” Yet the NPCL serenades it as a great success and has signed for units 3 and 4, with units 5 and 6 in the pipeline. The tragedy is the AERB has approved it.
The growing travails of the nuclear power industry world-wide show that it is not the answer to India’s energy needs. While countries like France and Germany are phasing out their nuclear power plants and other advanced countries have stopped constructing nuclear power plants, former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh of the UPA government, after signing the Indo-US nuclear agreement, set out to make India the world’s largest importer of nuclear power reactors. Without waiting for competitive bidding process, he reserved three coastal nuclear power parks for three foreign suppliers of reactors: Jaitapur in Maharashtra for Areva of France, Mithi Virdi in Gujarat for Westinghouse of the USA and Kovvada in Andhra Pradesh for GE, also of the USA, and signed Memorandum of Understanding with them. Areva is yet to build the EPR reactor contracted for which is still in the drawing board stage and the French regulator, ASN, has threatened to decline approval. How can India having an Atomic Energy Commission and AERB commit itself to a reactor that has never been built? asks Gopalakrishnan. Koodankulam has been kept for Atomstroyexport of Russia to expand it to the level of the other three nuclear parks yet to take shape. The justification for the Indo-US deal was that America would transfer nuclear technology to India which lacks expertise in enrichment of uranium. Within two months of the deal the USA informed the Nuclear Suppliers Group that uranium enrichment technology should not be shared with nations that are not party to the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty. India which steadfastly opposed NPT found itself hoodwinked. The NDA government of Narendra Modi with its emphasis on “Make in India” policy has a golden opportunity to reconsider the Indo-US Nuclear Agreement and scrap the MoUs. With its abundant wind energy and solar power potential, India can well afford to keep Made in Russia and Made in USA reactors at bay and save the coastline for the future generations.