India is set to cross a major hump in its nuclear power programme with the Kudankulam plant expected to begin generating power within a month after it goes critical in the next 10 days, marking an end to prolonged delays due to local protests and anti-nuclear activism. The first unit of the Russian-built nuclear plant is close to a landmark moment after post-Fukushima public unease over atomic power and a powerful alliance of church groups and activists threatened to thwart India’s ambitious plans to build 20 plants in the 12th Plan.
With Tamil Nadu CM J Jayalalithaa backing the project that will ease the state’s power deficit and having faced a Supreme Court scrutiny of the $3 billion plant’s safety features, the government is anticipating a Kodak moment when turbines begin to turn at Kudankulam. Successful commissioning of the Kudankulam unit will help translate the promise of power into tangible benefits that the government hopes will help sway public opinion, particularly in the plant’s neighbourhood. It will also pave the way for faster work on nuclear plants planned at Maharashtra’s Jaitapur and Haryana’s Fatehabad.
India hopes to generate 63,000 MW through nuclear power by 2032 with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh giving a big fillip to the atomic component in electricity generation in the wake of the Indo-US nuclear deal and lifting of trade sanctions by the Nuclear Suppliers Group in 2008. Apprehensions of the plant’s environmental impact among local fishing communities will need to be further assuaged but the plant is inching towards completion after activists, opposed to nuclear energy in totality, held the project hostage for months. Official sources said protests delayed operations by around six months but criticality is likely in around 10 days as reviews are almost complete.
The reactor will now be closed and pressure tests conducted. Loading of enriched uranium fuel was completed earlier in the month and once criticality is achieved, the controlled fission will begin heating water to produce the steam that will drive the turbines. The project has cleared several hurdles after the initial agreement was signed in 1988 with the blockade of the plant after the March, 2011, Fukishima disaster in the wake of the Japanese tsunami being the most serious.
Paradoxically, the Fukushima events also convinced several nuclear skeptics about the reliability of nuclear plants as there was no large radio-active leakage despite primary and back-up power being knocked out.
News source: TimesofIndia