Dummy nuclear fuel assemblies will be loaded on Friday into the first reactor of the Kudankulam Nuclear Power Project in Tamil Nadu as a prelude to the eventual commissioning of the reactor. In preparation for this important event, the entire reactor system has been cleaned up.

The loading of the dummy fuel assemblies is “a major milestone towards the real fuel loading into the reactor and its ultimate criticality,” said S.K. Jain, Chairman and Managing Director of the State-owned Nuclear Power Corporation of India Limited. The dummy fuel assemblies were “geometrically and physically similar to the real fuel assemblies but they will not have enriched uranium inside,” he explained. They were “100 per cent identical to the real fuel assemblies.”

The dummy fuel loading will continue up to May 10. A couple of months later, the dummy assemblies will be removed and the real ones loaded into the reactor. Unit 1 is expected to be started up before the end of 2010. The second reactor will be commissioned six months later.

Two Russian reactors named VVER-1000, each with a capacity of 1,000 MWe, have been built at Kudankulam, near Nagercoil. While Russia has supplied the reactors including all their components and sub-systems, it is the NPCIL which has built the two units. The reactors will use enriched uranium as fuel, and light water as both coolant and moderator. Russia will supply the enriched uranium for the entire life-time of the reactors.

Mr. Jain said: “We have just completed the open-reactor flushing of the entire primary circuit which involves hydro-testing, that is, testing the systems for leaks and their strength. Whenever any nuclear reactor system is completed, in preparation for the fuel loading, we have to clean the system.” There were three steps in this: (1) open-reactor flushing where all the systems would be cleaned up; (2) hot commissioning when the reactor would be boxed up, the dummy fuel assemblies loaded into it, pumps run and systems heated up “where we get a chance to fine-tune them and verify their performance from the main control room;” and (3) opening the reactor again, cleaning the systems and going for the loading of real fuel assemblies.

About problems in land acquisition at Jaitapur in Ratnagiri district, Maharashtra, where reactors from France would be built, the NPCIL Chairman said: “The title is in our hands. The process of physical possession is being pursued. We are trying to win over the people and convey to them that, from an environmental point of view, we have a transparent approach.”

On the problems in acquiring land for building the Russian reactors at Haripur in West Bengal, Mr. Jain said if there were difficulties there, the NPCIL would go elsewhere.