Special Correspondent

Speakers recall indigenous efforts behind its commissioning

CHENNAI: M.R. Srinivasan, a former Chairman of the Atomic Energy Commission (AEC), said on Wednesday that the 123 nuclear agreement between India and the U.S. provided India “an honourable entry into the international community” of nuclear countries, and asserted that those who raised doubts about the agreement had nothing to back them. “Instead of grabbing the opportunity, some of us are afraid and reluctant” to go ahead with the agreement, he said at Kalpakkam, 60 km from Chennai.

Dr. Srinivasan, who was speaking at a function organised to celebrate 25 years of the first reactor of the Madras Atomic Power Station (MAPS) at Kalpakkam being synchronised to the grid, said there was no reason to believe, consequent to the agreement, that India would compromise its independent foreign policy objective to the U.S. There was “a fear psychosis” in the country about the agreement. But “we should go ahead with a sense of self-confidence.”

The 123 agreement recognised India’s freedom to pursue its independent strategic programme and there was no mention in the agreement about the prospect of India conducting a nuclear explosive test, the member of the AEC added.

The global nuclear community felt that India had a contribution to make in fast breeder reactors, reprocessing and recycling the spent fuel, and utilising thorium. “There is, therefore, a genuine feeling that it is good for India to come back into the international nuclear community,” said Dr. Srinivasan.

He asserted that “India will not become a dumping ground” for light water reactors (LWRS) from abroad, consequent to the agreement. These LWRS to be imported were utility-friendly, easier to operate and did not trip.

Distinction

MAPS, as a nuclear power station, marked several firsts in India including an undersea tunnel, a pre-stressed concrete reactor building and indoor switchyard. MAPS led to the development of the Indian nuclear industry. It was “a saga of building confidence” in India’s ability to build nuclear power stations, Dr. Srinivasan said.

MAPS-1 reached criticality on July 2, 1983 and it was synchronised to the grid on July 23, 1983 in the presence of Prime Minister Indira Gandhi. The second unit attained criticality on August 12, 1985 and power flow into the grid began on September 20. The units were built at a total cost of Rs.231 crores. They have a capacity of 220 MWe each.

The MAPS units were designed, engineered, built and commissioned entirely as indigenous efforts. They laid the foundation for the indigenisation of India’s nuclear power programme.

M.H.P. Rao, whom several speakers praised as “the father” and “the architect” of MAPS, spoke about the heroic efforts that lay behind the first unit going critical. “MAPS employees erected the calandria without a scratch on it,” he said. “The world laughed at us” when 3.8 lakh railway sleeper [logs] brought from all over India were used to lift a 180-tonne critical equipment in the first unit, said Mr. Rao, who Project Director, MAPS. Substitution for all critical equipment was done in MAPS workshops themselves.