Ahead of a key government-level interaction with Russia here on Monday, India has sought to assure Russia that it is not deliberately delaying the startup of the Kudankulam plant with the motive of thrashing out liability issues in that project and others proposed elsewhere in the country. To show its sincerity, India is dispatching a key Nuclear Power Corporation of India Limited (NPCIL) official M. I. Joy from Moscow to the unit in Tamil Nadu before it goes critical.
Mr. Joy was the NPCIL point man here for tackling issues with regard to flaws detected during testing of Kudankulam I. The Russian fear was that India had deliberately put the brakes on the project either to bring it under the Liability Law or stall it till the French and Americans had finished grappling with the problems posed by the Liability Law to their plans for similar nuclear plants in India. In Kudankulam 1 & 2, Russian suppliers do not bear liability for any accidents, whereas foreign suppliers of new nuclear plants that come up in the future will have to bear a certain amount of liability as per new laws.
They accept the criticism of the mantra of “any time now” having been repeated several times including by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh when met Russian President Vladimir Putin last month on the sidelines of the BRICS summit in Durban.
Russian apprehensions were fuelled by two developments. First was NPCIL officials insisting that the reactor must be tested for hot conditions – 190 degrees centigrade – when it can work at 130 degrees. Second was the Indian government’s decision to release a few days ago the details of technical defects that were detected in January this year but corrected soon after. A team from the Atomic Energy Regulatory Board is at the site conducting calibration tests while the board’s headquarters is assessing a NPCIL application seeking its go ahead.
Mr. Joy is being posted to Kudankulam, one year before his tenure was to end, to take charge of the first-ever mega Indian nuclear power plant that might begin operations “any time now.”
In fact, a senior Indian official said technically units 3 and 4 should not come under the Liability Law. “We had to be even handed,” he said, explaining that if units 3 and 4 were kept out of Liability Law, the Government would have faced flak from anti-nuclear activists as well as the French and the Americans whose plans for similar plants have not taken off as they are wrestling with the implications of the law that puts the onus of an accident on equipment suppliers besides the operator.
Talking to The Hindu, External Affairs Minister Salman Khurshid also sought to allay Russian trepidation with respect to units 1 and 2. “There is no need to feel insecure. We are moving with care because it is important to gain people’s confidence and support. The people [agitators] are very active. So we are making sure everything is done in a transparent and sincere manner,” he said, adding that the second unit was 93 per cent complete. Protestors around Kudankulam have been insisting inferior sub-components have been installed in the first two units, a charge the Government denies. On units 3 & 4, he said that with the liability law coming into play, the units will have to be packaged in a different format. “I don’t think there is an impediment but we need a convergence of views [with the Russians] on that.” The Cabinet has approved a number of prerequisites for the next two units.