It could go critical by December-end when Putin is set to visit India

The Atomic Energy Regulatory Board on Thursday gave its clearance for the second heat-up of the first unit of the 2,000-MW Kudankulam nuclear power plant in Tamil Nadu, raising expectations that it could go critical (begin the fission process) around December 24, when Russian President Vladimir Putin is due to arrive here for the 13th annual India-Russia summit.

Speaking to The Hindu, AERB chairman S.S. Bajaj said the second heat-up of the unit, an important step towards its commissioning, would involve elaborate checking of the performance of various systems. The entire process could take 7-10 days.

The procedure would be followed by preparations for the first approach to criticality, which could commence a week later.

Achievement of criticality is the major penultimate step before a nuclear power plant goes on stream. After the achievement of criticality, some more tests would be conducted and then the plant would be ready to start generating power. Generation would be stepped up in phases interspersed with tests.

‘It may be coincidence’

“It is for the plant authorities to decide when to start the process of achieving criticality. But, the way the work is progressing, it could happen around that time [December 24],” Dr. Bajaj said, replying to a query whether the plant would go critical coinciding with Mr. Putin’s arrival.

The AERB chief noted that the authorities were not working with the aim of the plant going critical around the time of Mr. Putin’s visit. “If it happens, it would merely be a coincidence.”

Dr. Bajaj declined to specify when the plant was likely to get connected to the power grid. He would only say it could take some more weeks.

The plant, with two units of 1,000 MW each, has been built with Russian collaboration. It will use light water both as coolant and moderator. Russia has provided all equipment including the reactor pressure vessel, steam generators and turbines, and will supply the fuel for the entire life of the reactors.

The first unit was earlier scheduled to go on stream about a year ago. But, the process was halted after the Tamil Nadu government asked the Centre to suspend all operations until after local residents, who had launched a protest on safety aspects, were reassured that the plant would pose no danger to them.

Work was resumed in March this year after the State gave its nod following a series of meetings and reports by experts committees.

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