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When power generation becomes a problem

— A.Sudhakar
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India, the second most populous country in the world, currently having 16 per cent of the world population, generates only about 2.50 per cent of the global electricity

On steam:The nuclear plant at Kudankulam.— Photo: A. Shaikmohideen
On steam:The nuclear plant at Kudankulam.— Photo: A. Shaikmohideen

When India attained freedom from the Colonial rule in 1947, the quantum of electricity produced in the country was just 1,500 MWe. Even after being ruled by elected governments for about 65 years, the second most populous country in the world, currently having 16 per cent of the world population, generates only about 2.50 per cent of the global electricity though the face of India has undergone a profound transformation with the entry of thousands of heavy industries, lifestyle changes, sprouting of sprawling shopping malls, all consuming thousands of megawatts power.

During the last six decades, the country has reached a level of generating 2,11,766 MWe. However, the average annual per capita consumption of electricity in India is still very low – 800 units as compared to 7,000 units in Europe and 13,000 units in the US. At least, to achieve a modestly high level of economic growth, the domestic electricity generation capacity needs to be increased to 7.50 lakh MWe in the next 20 years.

Of the 2.12 lakh MWe generated, the country is getting 1,41,713.68 MWe, or 66.92 per cent of total power, from thermal plants, 39,416.40 MWe – 18.61 per cent – from hydro power plants, 4,780 MWe – 2.26 per cent – from nuclear plants and the rest – 25,856.14 MWe or 12.21 per – from various renewable energy sources.

More than 65 per cent of the power generated across the globe is from fossil fuel, and 27.340 billions of barrels of petroleum, 84.196 trillion cubic feet of natural gas and 4.740 billion tonnes of coal are being consumed annually for generating electricity, according to a white paper prepared by The Colorado River Commission of Neveda in March 2002. And it also has its own consequences on the environment.

Though utilisation of renewable energy sources ensures clean and green energy, it requires a vast area for a considerable power generation. For instance, for generating 1,000 MW solar power, it will require 20 to 50 square km of land and it will be 50 to 150 sq km in the case of wind power, while nuclear energy requires just 1 to 4 sq km land for setting up the reactor to produce the same amount of electricity.

To run a 1,000 MW thermal power plant for one year, 26 lakh tonnes of coal will be required and for the operation of an oil-based unit, the requirement will be 20 lakh tonnes of oil. At the same time, 30 tonnes of uranium will meet the requirement for producing 1,000 MWe nuclear power.

Hence, the Government of India, through its Nuclear Power Corporation of India Limited (NPCL), which is constructing and operating nuclear reactors across the country with a clean track record, has established 2 X 1,000 MWe nuclear reactors at Kudankulam nuclear power project (KKNPP) and has proposed to set up four more reactors at the same site.

The Pressurised Water Reactor or VVER reactors, being supplied by Russia for Kudankulam, will use enriched uranium as its fuel and light water will be the coolant and moderator. Its hermitically-sealed double containment, passive heat removal system that requires no power for operation, redundant safety systems, additional shut-down systems, core-catcher, etc., make these reactors the safest, claim NPCIL scientists.

The concept of defence-in-depth has been adopted in the design of these reactors, which means that multiple barriers are provided to prevent any leakage of radioactivity into the atmosphere and to ensure the safety of the plant personnel, the public and the environment, as a whole, they say. The steel-lined primary containment and the reinforced concrete secondary containment will protect the core from all natural and man-made events and ensure that no leakage of radioactivity takes place to affect the environment under any circumstance, they claim. The scientists say during power operation, reactor coolant pumps will transfer the heat from the reactor to the steam generator and during power cuts, four diesel generators will keep the coolant pumps alive. Though only one diesel generator is sufficient, four generators have been provided at the KKNPP.

To cool the reactor, 12 lakh litres of borated water has been stored in tanks, which can flood the reactor by gravity. The passive heat removal system will remove the heat from the reactor using atmospheric air, which is first of its kind in the world, the KKNPP engineers say.

“With its futuristic design and safety system, the KKNPP reactors are the best in the world, I can assure you,” says Site Director, KKNPP, R.S.Sundar.

Even as acute power crisis stares Tamil Nadu in the eye, the first unit of the KKNPP has attained criticality to infuse hope to the industrialists that the State’s share of 462 MWe will bail them out at least to some extent. The second reactor at the site is expected to reach criticality before April 2014.

— A.Sudhakar

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