The Nuclear Power Corporation of India on Saturday took an important step towards the commissioning of the first unit of the nuclear power plant at Kudankulam, with the launching of the pre-service inspection of the reactor pressure vessel.

The reactor pressure vessel is the heart of the reactor, which houses the fuel assemblies. The inspection, which will take 10 to12 days, will provide the reference baseline date for the future, apart from validating the functioning of the automatic inspection machine.

Describing pre-service inspection of the vessel as an important activity in the run up to the commissioning of the unit, a NPCIL press release noted that the report of the inspection would be submitted to the Atomic Energy Regulatory Board for review, and for getting the clearance for the next stage of fuel loading.

It also noted that the vessel, manufactured in Russia, would be periodically inspected — once in four years during the lifetime of the plant — and that it had been subjected to rigorous inspection at various stages of its fabrication and installation, right from selection of the material.

After installation, it was tested to a pressure of 250 kg/sq.cm, as against the normal operating pressure of 160 kg/sq.cm, and during a hot run with dummy fuel, operating conditions were simulated, and the performance of the vessel met all the requirements, the release added.

Presently, there are 20 nuclear power reactors, with an installed capacity of 4,780 MW in the country, and they have registered more than 360 reactor-years of operation. The installed capacity is expected to go up to 6,780 MW by the end of the current financial year, as the Kudankulam plant, which has 2 units of 1,000 MW each, is expected to fully become commercially operational in another nine months. While the first unit is slated to begin its commercialisation operation in August, the second unit is expected to do so by March.