Atomic energy regulator satisfied with Kudankulam plant's safety

Chennai, July 11 (IANS) India's atomic energy regulator Thursday gave its nod to the Kudankulam Nuclear Power Project (KNPP) to start the fission process after being satisfied with the plant's safety, said its chief.

"We have filed our report with the Supreme Court last week. Only after that, we gave our sanction to KNPP to go critical - commence the fission process," Atomic Energy Regulatory Board (AERB) chairman S.S. Bajaj told IANS over phone from Mumbai.

According to AERB's secretary R. Bhattacharya, the report was filed with the apex court last week

Queried about the alleged spurious signals from the instrumentation cables due to electro-magnetic interference, Bajaj said: "The plant has been under our observation for several years. The issues relating to cabling have been resolved or else we would not have given our nod for KNPP's first unit to go critical."

Asked when the first KNPP unit would go critical, both AERB officials said it is for the plant operator, the Nuclear Power Corporation of India Ltd (NPCIL), to decide on that based on the clearances it has obtained.

The NPCIL is setting up the project in Kudankulam in Tirunelveli district, around 650 km from Chennai, with two Russian-made reactors of 1,000 MW each.

Bajaj said the reactor going critical does not mean power will be generated.

"The unit will have to go in phases to generate power and also to reach the maximum power," he said.

Bajaj said after the commencement of the fission, the reactor will operate on low power and then slowly increase the power output.

AERB had earlier granted the final permission for initial fuel loading in September 2012.

KNPP director R.S. Sundar told IANS that the plant may go critical this week or the next.

"We are reviewing the clearances. The reactor may go critical this week or next week. We have all the clearances from all the authorities," R.S. Sundar, site director, told IANS.

The KNPP is an outcome of the inter-governmental agreement between India and the erstwhile Soviet Union in 1988. However, construction began only in 2001 but was delayed mainly due to non-sequential supplies of components from Russian vendors.

Fearing for their safety in the wake of the nuclear accident at Fukushima in Japan in 2011, villagers in the vicinity of the Kudankulam plant, under the banner of People's Movement Against Nuclear Energy (PMANE) have been opposing the project.

City-based environmental activist G. Sundarrajan had filed a case in the apex court demanding the KNPP be scrapped. The court dismissed the case in May and laid down 15 directions for the NPCIL, the AERB, the union environment and forest ministry, the Tamil Nadu government and the state pollution control board to follow.