It has been a long wait for the power starved state of Tamil Nadu to get uninterrupted electrical power throughout the day 24×7. Against its requirements of 12000 MW to achieve this, state can procure at most about 8000 MW, leaving a big gap of 4000 MW, which has led to blackouts and power outages on regular basis. The Tamil Nadu Generation and Distribution Corporation (TANGEDCO) cites the delay in the commissioning of power projects executed in joint venture with Central agencies as a reason for this shortage of 4,000 MW of electricity faced by the State.
Even though, TANGEDCO does not admit it, one of the principal causes for this hopeless situation, has been the delay in commissioning of the Kudankulam Nuclear power plant. This plant, when completed, is supposed to generate more than 4000 MW, wiping out the total deficit of power in Tamil Nadu. An agreement between India and Russia was signed almost 24 years ago between the then Indian Prime Minister, Rajiv Gandhi and Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev, to build two reactors at Kudankulam. The political upheaval in Russia soon afterwords and the Soviet breakup, put the project in Limbo. US also came up with objections, as they felt that the project did not meet the 1992 terms of Nuclear supplies group, for which Russia is a signatory. Eventually the construction began, finally in 1997.A small port was built near the project later, to transport over sized light water reactor equipments from Russia. The materials for the project were brought in from Tuticorin port earlier, but faced the risk of being damaged in further land transportation.
In 2008, India began negotiations with Russia to build at this site, additional 4 reactors of 1200 MW each, taking the total capacity of the generating station to 6800 MW. In the same year, a memorandum of intent was signed, under which Russia agreed to supply to India four third generation VVER-1200 reactors of 1170 MW. However, India’s new and tough Nuclear Liability Law has become a dampener on most of the new projects and progress on addition of these 4 reactors at Kudankulam has also slowed down. The first two reactors as per original agreement of 1988 of VVER model and with 1000 MW capacity have been built by Nuclear Power Corporation of India Limited or NPCIL with technical help from Atomstroyexport from Russia, who has provided all equipments including the reactor pressure vessel, steam generators, and turbines and will supply the fuel for the life time of the reactors. The first reactor was scheduled for start of operation in December 2009 and the second one in March 2010.
As the work on reactors was nearing its completion, all hell broke loose when thousands of protestors living in the vicinity of the plant started an agitation to get the project shelved. There were demonstrations, Public Interest Litigation at the Supreme court of India against the nuclear programme. As a result, the work was suspended on the project, when the Tamil Nadu Government asked the federal Government to halt all operations till the protesting agitators would be reassured, that there would be no danger to them. In February 2012, Indian Government found out that the agitations were in fact instigated by some American and Scandivanian NGO’s, who were found to have used foreign funds received for social and religious purposes to fuel the protests, violating foreign exchange regulatory rules. Finally, following a series of meetings and reports by experts committees, the State Government of Tamil Nadu, gave its final nod for resumption of work at Kudankulam in March 2012.
The work resumed and gathered at fast pace. By August 2012, the main contractor, Nuclear Power Corporation [NPCIL] submitted various documents concerning fulfillment of all pre-requisites to the regulatory body, The Atomic Energy Regulatory Board (AERB) carried out a detailed review of the safety analysis reports based on the documents submitted to them.
Based on this review, AERB has now issued its approval on 10th August 2012 to start loading of fuel in the first unit of the Kudankulam nuclear power plant and first approach to criticality; In plain and simple words, this means a green signal for the reactor to go critical or commencement of the controlled nuclear fission process in the unit. This initial fuel loading would naturally means the full core loading of the reactor, which would require 80 tons of low enriched Uranium fuel bundles to be loaded in 163 fuel assemblies in the reactor. This is expected to be completed over next few days and after several rounds of tests and final approval of AERB, the unit could go into operation; by middle of October.
It has been a long beginning for Kundankulam atomic power project, stretching to almost 24 long years. Finally, the end of the beginning seems to be in sight.