Based on ground-level report of the 7-member AERB teams carrying scrutiny at the plant

The Atomic Energy Regulatory Board (AERB) on Thursday said the fuel loading at the first 1000 MWe unit of the Kudankulam Nuclear Power Project (KKNPP) had not yet begun owing to last minute checks.

The AERB would give the final clearance for fuel loading only after a review of the ground-level report of its seven-member team carrying out the scrutiny, S.S. Bajaj, Chairman of AERB, told reporters on the safety measures at the KKNPP. He added that it was the responsibility of the Nuclear Power Corporation of India Limited (NPCIL) to meet the necessary regulatory parameters.

The AERB had given its nod for loading of fuel in August.

Mr. Bajaj strongly objected to the popular sentiment that ‘critical safety requirements’ were not met at the KKNPP.

The ‘additional features’ recommended by the AERB committee were only ‘abundant precaution’ measures stipulated in the wake of the Fukushima-Daiichi nuclear calamity that struck Japan in March last year, he clarified.

The AERB committee had made 17 recommendations for incorporating additional safety measures in all Indian nuclear power plants following the Fukushima crisis.

Rebutting suggestions that the AERB had given the green signal to load fuel without considering the recommendations made by its own committee, Mr. Bajaj emphasised that the additional safety features were recommended for a remote possibility that would be met within a time frame that could be short-term (a period of 6 months) or a long-term one (a period of two years).

“All due regulatory processes have been complied with while evaluating the safety of the two 1,000-MWe Russian-aided VVER reactors,” he said, noting that the AERB and the Bhabha Atomic Research Centre (BARC), along with specialists from reputed academic institutions, had spent over 7,000 man-days in carrying out the safety review procedures of the Kudankulam reactors.

There were state-of-the-art provisions at the KKNPP facility in the event of a “Station Blackout” accident or loss of heat sink, said Mr. Bajaj, in a bid to assuage the anti-Kudankulam sentiment that intensified this week following the death of a fisherman in an incident of police firing against protesters.

“The possibility of a tsunami knocking out the plant was close to nil,” he said, citing that the two reactors featured some of the most advanced and sophisticated safety systems in the world today — installation of the Passive Heat Removal System (PHRS) and the installation of more than 150 Hydrogen recombiners to absorb any hydrogen leak and prevent formation of explosive mixtures.

Remarking that the AERB was not “a toothless body,” Mr. Bajaj stated that the country’s premier nuclear watchdog had complete autonomy in regulatory decision-making.

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