Twenty-five 1,000 MW VVER reactors are in operation in five countries. Kudankulam plants have more advanced safety features

The Unit 1 of the Kudankulam Nuclear Power Project (KKNPP) is under advanced stage of commissioning. Construction of Unit 2 is progressing well. In the meanwhile, sections of the public have expressed apprehensions about the safety of these reactors. Lack of understanding, misconceptions and misinformation contribute to this. Apparently, the Fukushima accident and other issues influence them.

Twenty-five VVER 1,000 MW reactors are in operation now in five countries. Nine more are under construction. The version offered to India is more recent and has more advanced safety features.

Satisfactory

Atomic Energy Regulatory Board (AERB) satisfied itself that the plant is of proven design. Indianspecialists visited Russia and had significant exchange of information from nuclear power plant designers. Indian engineers had completed licensing training process in either Balakova nuclear power plant (NPP) or Kalinin NPP.

The AERB and Bhabha Atomic Research Centre (BARC) and specialists from reputed academic institutions such as the Indian Institute of Technology, Mumbai, the Boilers Board and the Central Electricity Authority have spent over 7,000 man-days in carrying out the safety review and inspection of the Kudankulam reactors.

These system-wise reviews were comprehensive. AERB used relevant documents from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and IAEA's peer reviews of VVER for safety assessment of these reactors.

These reactors belong to the Generation 3 + category (with more safety features than Generation 3) with a simpler and standardised design.

The Kudankulam site is located in the lowest seismic hazard zone in the country. The water level experienced at the site due to the December 26, 2004 tsunami, triggered by a 9.2 earthquake was 2.2 metres above the mean sea level. The safety-related buildings are located at higher elevation (SafetyDiesel Generators,9.3 metre) and belong to the highest seismic category and are closed with double sealed, water leak tight doors.

The reactors have redundant, diverse and thus reliable provisions needed to control nuclear reactions, to cool the fuel and to contain radioactive releases. They have in–built safety features to handle Station Black Out.

Besides fast acting control rods, the reactors also have a “quick boron injection system”, serving as a back-up to inject concentrated boric acid into the reactor coolant circuit in an emergency. Boron is an excellent neutron absorber.

Retains radioactivity

The enriched uranium fuel is contained in Zirconium-Niobium tubes. It can retain the radioactivity generated during the operation of the reactor. The fuel tubes are located in the 22 cm thick Reactor Pressure Vessel (RPV) which weighs 350 tonnes. RPV is kept inside a one metre thick concrete vault.

The reactor has double containment, inner 1.2 metre-thick concrete wall lined on the inside with a 6 mm layer of steel and an outer 60 cm thick concrete wall. The annulus between the walls is kept at negative pressure so that if any radioactivity is released it cannot go out. Air carrying such activity will have to pass through filters before getting released through the stack. Multiple barriers and systems ensure that radioactivity is not released into the environment.

KKNPP-1&2 has many new safety systems in comparison with earlier models. The Four-train Safety-System instead of just one system leads to enhanced reliability. The reactors have many passive safety systems which depend on never-failing forces such as gravitation, conduction, convection etc.

Decay heat removal

Its Passive Heat Removal System (PHRS) is capable of removing decay heat of reactor core to the outside atmosphere, during Station Black Out (SBO) condition lasting up to 24 hours. It can maintain hot shutdown condition of the reactor, thus, delaying the need for boron injection.

It works without any external or diesel power or manual intervention.

The reactors are equipped with passive hydrogen recombiners to avoid formation of explosive mixtures .The reactors have a reliable Emergency Core Cooling System (ECCS).

Core catcher

Located outside the reactor vessel, a core catcher in the form of a vessel weighing 101 tonnes and filled with specially developed compound (oxides of Fe, Al & Gd) is provided to retain solid and liquid fragments of the damaged core, parts of the reactor pressure vessel and reactor internals under severe accident conditions.

The presence of gadolinium (Gd) which is a strong neutron absorber ensures that the molten mass does not go critical. The vessel prevents the molten material from spreading beyond the limits of containment. The filler compound has been developed to have minimum gas release during dispersal and retention of core melt.Rat

Fukushima plant spread gloom; the Onagawa plant close to it, in contrast, shut down safely; its gym served for three months as a shelter for those made homeless (Reuters, Oct 21). The plant showed that it is possible for nuclear facilities to withstand even the greatest shocks and to retain public trust.

Kudankulam reactors are more modern and safe. Exercising due diligence, AERB issued clearances to it at various stages. Public may rest assured thatIndian scientists and engineers will operate the reactor safely.AERB shall continue to enforce measures to maintain safe operation of these advanced nuclear power reactors.

The author is Raja Ramanna Fellow, Department of Atomic Energy and can be reached at ksparth@yahoo.co.uk

The byline for this article has been corrected

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