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Solution for Kudankulam project agitation

The Kudankulam Nuclear Power Project has a chequered history. It is situated on the Gulf of Mannar coast,25km from the Pilgrim town of Kanyakumari ,2.5km north-north east of the project site. On November 20,1988, prime minister Rajiv Gandhi and Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev signed an Inter-Governmental Agreement(IGA) to construct two VVER-1000units at kudankulam. But the project was a limbo for 10 years because of the disintegration of the Soviet Union.

The project came back to life when a supplementary agreement to the earlier IGA was signed in New Delhi on June 21, 1998 by the Russian Minister for Atomic Energy, Yevgeny Adamov, and the AEC chairman, R.Chidambaram. Russia was to provide the design and supply all equipment and subsystems for the two reactors. NPCIL was to build them. The fuel for the reactors is enriched Uranium and Light water functions as both moderator and coolant. India received a "binding commitment" from the Russian Federation that it will supply enriched fuel for lifetime of the reactors. The Estimated project cost was 13,171 crore.

After 9 years of cutting-edge civil and engineering work with no protests from nearby villages the first unit was ready for commissioning. Dummy fuel was loaded into the reactor and a hot run completed. The hot run entailed operating the entire reactor systems at the temperature at which the reactor would operate. After the hot run, the reactor was "cooled down". After this, plans were afoot to remove the dummy fuel, load the reactor with real fuel assemblies and start the unit in December.

Incipient signs of protests were evident in August when the first unit was undergoing hot run. With the Fukushima accident fresh in their minds, residents of coastal villages, mostly fisherman, were perhaps nervous about the increased activity that the hot run entailed. What could have unnerved them, said KKNPP officials, were the blasts of steam released when the relief valves were being tested during the hot run. Besides ,NPCIL announced an evacuation drill of nearby villages in case of an emergency. In the meantime, the People's Movement Against Nuclear Energy (PMANE) began an indefinite fast with 117 people at Idinthakarai. The core demand of the agitation was the closure of the Kudankulam project. S.P.Udayakuumar ,its coordinator and M.Pushparayan, a steering committee member, both of whom took part in the fast, said separately, "we have only one demand", that is scrap the project.

Although Fukushima Daiichi nuclear accident in Japan in march was in the back of the minds of the protestors , what fueled the agitation was the apprehension about a scheduled a scheduled mock exercise of evacuation in case of an emergency. Many feared that this was a cloak for a permanent eviction of thousands of people living in a 30kms radius of the project. Fisher man, who formed the majority of the protestors, feared that the condensed water, which would be let into the sea once the first reactor attained criticality, would affect the fish yield and harm marine life. What worried them further was the security ring over a distance of 500mts from the beach preventing them from fishing there.

S.K.Jain, Chairman and Managing Director, NPCIL said he was confident that "despite the heightened apprehensions" of the villagers around Kudankulam after the nuclear disaster at Fukushima, "they will see reason and we will be in a position to convince them and allay their fears" about the Kudankulam VVER-1000 reactors. He said they were among "the best reactors in the world" and belonged to the latest generation 3+ of Light water reactors.

The reactors are in operation in Russia, Finland,Hungary and Ukraine. They are now under construction in China and Iran. Besides the indigenous reactors operating in India "have an impeccable record of safety, which id there for all to see." Jain said there had been no agitation at all those fishing in the sea around nuclear power stations on any Indian coast, including kalpakkam and Tarapur. He asserted that the Russian VVER-1000 reactors, built by NPCIL in Kudankulam, were among the best in the world.

Each unit has a capacity of 1000MWe. Tamil Nadu's share from this 2,000MWe would be 925MWe, Karnataka's 442MWe, Kerala's 266MWe and Puducherry's 67MWe , 300MWe is unallocated .NPCIL will charge only Rs 2.50 a unit from the state utilities.

The VVEER-1000 reactors had many active and passive systems to cool the reactor core, that is prevent the fuel from melting and ensure that no radioactivity is released into the atmosphere. The reactor plant is placed inside the primary containment, whose wall is 1.20metres thick and made of reinforced, pre-stressed concrete. It is lined with leak-proof steel plates on the inside. The primary containment with a dome is encased in the secondary containment, of thickness 0.60m of reinforced concrete.

Besides, the Kudankulam site is in seismic category zone II and an expected effect of the rising water level I the Gulf of Mannar due to any tsunami activity, the ground elevation of all buildings at the plant starts at 7.5m above mean sea level (MSL), which is much above the expected tsunami levels. Each reactor building at Kudankulam has 154 hydrogen recombiners , which will absorb any hydrogen that would emanate in the reactor building from any possible electrolysis of water and prevent a hydrogen explosion from taking place.

The double-containment's leakage rate was much better than what was specified. The Kudankulam reactors are safe and they go beyond what happened in Fukushima. The radiation will be confined within the containment because it has many features for cooling the core including absorbing the hydrogen. Recently, the government had appointed a team of specialists from all departments to check everything and to spread awareness among people and leave no stone unturned to allay the people's fears about the project's safety. The massive shortage of power in India can be exterminated by starting this project.