The first 1,000 MW unit of the Kudankulam Nuclear Power Project in Tamil Nadu’s Tirunelveli district, which is just two steps away from reaching criticality, moved further ahead, with the Atomic Energy Regulatory Board early this week giving its nod for closing the reactor pressure vessel, which has already been loaded with 163 bundles of enriched uranium fuel.

“We are specially bringing in a world-renowned German expert on the subject to the project site to monitor and give suggestions on the operation to close the lid. It may be carried out in a 2 or 3 days. After that, it is only a matter of days for attaining criticality after doing pressure tests,” said Minister of State in the Prime Minister’s Office V. Narayanaswami.

Talking to The Hindu here on Thursday, the Minister said that once criticality was attained, the power generation would start in stages. Everything was going smoothly so far, he said.

Meanwhile, sources said it was possible the first unit could start generating power before the end of this year.

The loading of actual fuel (enriched uranium) began on September 19 and was completed on October 2.

During the pressure test, the pressure and temperature inside the reactor would be increased artificially in phases to rule out any discrepancies.