: The Russian-made reactor at the Kudankulam Nuclear Power Project (KKNPP) in Tamil Nadu was well on the way to attaining criticality around midnight on Saturday.

The boron solution that was controlling the emission of neutrons in the first of the two 1,000 MW reactors was gradually getting diluted, pushing the reactor closer to nuclear fission.

“The neutron multiplication in the reactor core started around noon today [Saturday] and is progressing well… the largest single nuclear power generation unit in the country will attain criticality around midnight,” Chairman of the Atomic Energy Commission and Department of Atomic Energy Secretary R.K. Sinha told reporters here.

As the construction group handed over the reactor to the commissioning group, experts of the Nuclear Power Corporation of India Limited (NPCIL), the Atomic Energy Regulatory Board (AERB) and Russian experts from Kurchatov Institute closely monitored the process.

Once the reactor starts generating 400 MW of power, possibly within 45 days from the date of criticality, it will be connected to the grid.

“At this stage, we will collect data from the reactor and forward it to the AERB for analysis. Only after getting their nod at this stage, we will increase the quantum of generation [gradually] to 50 per cent, 75 per cent, 90 per cent and cent per cent. Though every stage will consume two to three weeks for the AERB’s analysis, we will wait for their permission and move ahead,” the Chairman and Managing Director of NPCIL, K.C. Purohit, said.

The second unit of the Kudankulam project would attain criticality within eight months from now, he said.

Asked about the progress in its construction, he pointed out that 86 of the 163 dummy fuel assemblies were loaded into the reactor core. The ‘first pour of concrete’ for the third and fourth units of, also to be supplied by Russia, would take place “shortly.”

Mr. Sinha said the experience gained by NPCIL scientists and engineers in constructing the first reactor would certainly bring down the cost of the third to sixth reactors.

Allays fears

On the ongoing protests, Mr. Sinha said he could understand their apprehensions, which were being addressed and allayed by KKNPP and NPCIL experts through direct interactions and also through visits being made by the public living nearby.

“Once power generation starts, their apprehensions will vanish completely as they themselves will experience the facts behind nuclear energy,” Mr. Sinha said adding that the issue of nuclear liability pertaining to other units coming up at KKNPP would be smoothly sorted out.

KKNPP Unit I will add 1,000 MWe power to the southern grid and increase the contribution from nuclear power in the country 5,780 MWe.

Besides Unit II of KKNPP (1,000 MWe), NPCIL is constructing Kakrapar Atomic Power Project Units 3 and 4 (2X700 MWe) and Rajasthan Atomic Power Project Units 7 and 8 (2 X 700 MWe). On completion of these projects, the country’s installed nuclear power will reach 9,580 MWe.

Executive Director (Light Water Reactors-Operations) M. Kasinath Balaji; Director (Operations), G. Nageshwar Rao; Site Director, KKNPP, R.S. Sundar; and Project Director, Units 3 and 4, KKNPP R. Banerjee were present.