It is not a car factory where you can switch off the systems: NPCIL chairman

The Kudankulam Nuclear Power Project (KKNPP) ran the risk of being seriously damaged with blockades creating a major impediment in ensuring that the plant systems functioned at a minimal level, scientists warned on Friday.

“In a recent road blockade, work on the plant was halted. It is not a plant which can be just switched on and off,” Chairman of the Atomic Energy Commission (AEC) and Secretary of the Department of Atomic Energy (DAE) Srikumar Banerjee said.

“We have done the hot run. We can't go from hot run to a freeze condition. It is not possible. We have to have a minimal operational system. A plant cannot have a stagnant water cooler system. Therefore, we have to run the plant in a manner which is completely safe. There is a serious concern about the damage to our programme,” he told journalists here on the sidelines of the Founder's Day of the Bhabha Atomic Research Centre (BARC).

Terming the protests “unfortunate,” especially at a crucial stage of the plant's processes, Dr. Banerjee expressed the hope that the plant would be made functional at the earliest. “We can recover even now. A delay of a month can cause a [setback] of several months. But even now we are hopeful that we will be able to push it and make the plant operations as fast as possible.”

Chairman of Nuclear Power Corporation of India Limited (NPCIL) S.K. Jain also underscored the plant's vulnerability.

He said:

“Because of the blockade, we are not in a position to reach the site and maintain the systems. This may cause serious damage to the computer, electronic and ventilation systems. Though work on the plant has been stopped, you need maintenance and surveillance staff. The systems have to be kept running. In the last six to seven days, we have not been able to send people to the plant. If there is damage, the NPCIL might have a big penalty to pay.“It is not a car factory where you can switch off the systems and close the gate. You have simulators, ventilators, computer and electronic systems. Once you have installed all these, you have to maintain the surrounding system. You cannot switch off. We were ready for the fuel loading in September. We had mobilised large numbers of our engineers to do the work.

“Many government staff have duty at the site, for which they get salaries. There are local contractors employed for maintenance work. We have 800 people on the rolls and they would be affected.”

Mr. Jain alleged that local sentiments were exploited by the “Greens” or environmentalists from Finland, Australia, France, and the United States. “Foreign nationals are simply sitting there. They, along with a splinter group led by Uday Kumar, are exploiting the sentiment created by a rumour of evacuation. There are 27 villages in Kudankulam and 22 villages have not participated in the protests. We have their total support,” he said.

Stress on outreach

Both Dr. Banerjee and Mr. Jain stressed on need to strengthen ties with the communities and allay their fears over safety and other aspects of the plant.

Speaking of his anticipated meeting with Tamil Nadu Chief Minister Jayalalithaa, Dr. Banerjee said: “The Chief Minister has said we must allay fears. From our side, most of these are not based on scientific facts, but on sentiments. So we have to go step by step. The one-on-one contact is not happening at Kudankulam. We are surprised [by the sudden opposition] as Kudankulam was our best example. We are trying to re-establish contact. We have all the answers on radiation, safety, livelihood and other aspects. Each of these areas has been well-studied and well-documented.”

While steering clear of commenting on “foreign elements,” Dr. Banerjee said there was a “collective reasonability” to address issues and concerns of the people.

Mr. Jain said a Russian team of experts, who left the Kudankulam site, were “in disbelief by the sudden change.”

“They said it was a beautiful design. They were integrated with the neighbourhood. Kudankulam was our showcase. We hade virtually adopted the neighbourhood. We were taking people from Jaitapur and Haripur to show them the plant,” he added.