A detailed analysis revealed that a postulated fault at Kalpakkam did not exist

The AERB Code of Practice on Safety in Nuclear Power Plant Siting prescribes 48 criteria

The doses to public due to radioactive releases during normal operation are within AERB limits

While addressing a public meeting organised by the Rotary club in a metro city, one of the speakers asked the audience whether they prefer to have a cattle farm or a nuclear power plant in their backyard.

The voice vote clearly favoured a cattle farm! The reasons for the “Not In My Backyard (NIMBY) view” are not far to seek. Public distrusts nuclear industry.

Previous accidents

The accidents at the nuclear power station at Three Mile Island in the U.S. in 1979 and that at the Chernobyl nuclear power Station in Ukraine in the former Soviet Union in 1986 did not help.

The discerning public may blame the nuclear establishment, if the NIMBY attitude continues. NIMBY will become In My Backyard (IMBY), if the public realises the steps taken to ensure safety in nuclear power plants.

These include the choice of the right site; construction of reactors of proven technology; institution of sound quality assurance measures; provision of diverse and redundant reactor control and protection systems of high reliability; defence-in-depth philosophy; proven operating procedures by qualified and trained staff; continuous review and feedback of operating experience; well rehearsed emergency prepared plans among others.

The AERB (Atomic Energy Regulatory Board) Code of Practice on Safety in Nuclear Power Plant Siting prescribes 48 criteria; thirty of them are mandatory; seven are desirable. Eleven criteria belong to the rejection category.

The AERB reviews the effect of natural events such as earthquakes, winds, floods, tides, slope instability, etc and man-induced events such as air-crash, oil slick, blasting, mining etc. on the plant.

Outright rejection

A few seismic criteria prescribe outright rejection of certain sites. Other factors include prescribed grade elevation above tide level, location of airfields, military installations storing ammunition, architectural or historical monuments and pilgrimage or tourist centres. Sites will be acceptable only if they satisfy AERB Codal requirements.

The desirable parameters specified by AERB Code include distance from the site to the facilities, if any, handling/storing inflammable, toxic, corrosive or explosive material and any mining activities, the terrain features and the population density within specified distances.

A site selection committee of specialists appointed by the Central Government chooses the sites for locating nuclear power plants from the sites proposed by the State Governments.

AERB issues siting clearances valid for a specific period after reviewing the recommendations of its Site Evaluation Committee (SEC) and a senior level Advisory Committee for Project Safety Review (ACPSR).

Recently, the SEC recommended installation and operation of a five-station micro earthquake monitoring network at the Prototype Fast Breeder Reactor (PFBR). It is operational now. AERB recommended a detailed analysis and field check to ascertain the status of a postulated fault at Kalpakkam.

Coastline stable

The study revealed that the fault does not exist. On the recommendation of SEC, National Institute of Oceanography (NIO) studied the shore line stability at Kalpakkam. NIO found that the coastline was stable. A detailed study for evaluation of tsunami hazard in Kalpakkam area is in progress.

Nuclear power reactors produce large amounts of radioactivity during their operation.

Design features

Design features and safety measures ensure that the radiation doses to workers are well within the limits prescribed by the AERB. AERB may argue that there is scope for reduction.

The doses to public due to radioactive releases during normal operation are too low to be measured directly and are within AERB limits.

They are within the variations of the natural background radiation present everywhere even in the absence of nuclear power plants. The safety performance of Indian reactors is reassuring.

Recent survey

A recent survey in the U.S. organised by the Nuclear Energy Institute, a nuclear advocacy group, among 1,100 adults, revealed that 71 per cent would be willing to see a new reactor near them (World Nuclear News, August 21), a probable response in France, as it generates 78 per cent of its electricity from nuclear reactors.

The French are very proud of their nuclear programme. If the recent awareness on nuclear issues is an indication, NIMBY attitude among the Indian public will hopefully turn into IMBY during the next few years!

K.S.PARTHASARATHY

Former Secretary, AERB
ksparth@yahoo.co.uk