‘Shut down Kudankulam till spent fuel facility is ready’

TIRUNELVELI, 06/08/2011: Reactor buildings one and two at Kudankulam Nuclear Power Project. Photo: A. Shaikmohideen   | Photo Credit: A_SHAIKMOHIDEEN;A_SHAIKMOHIDEEN - A_SHAIKMOHIDEEN

The Nuclear Power Corporation of India Ltd (NPCIL) should be directed to shut down the Kudankulam Nuclear Power Plant (KKNPP) units 1 and 2 for failing to set up an Away From Reactor (AFR) facility, the founder of an NGO has submitted in a counter-affidavit in the Supreme Court.

The NPCIL, in February, had filed an application before the Supreme Court seeking five more years to set up the AFR facility to store the Spent Nuclear Fuel (SNF) that is generated from the two plants.

In 2013, the Supreme Court granted five years’ time to the NPCIL, till July 2018, to set up an AFR.

However, the NPCIL submitted that it needed more time as setting up the AFR was a challenging task “on account of no previous experience with long-term storage requirements of high burn-up, Russian-type PWR fuel”.

G. Sundarrajan of the NGO Poovulagin Nanbargal, who is the petitioner in the case, has, in his counter-affidavit, objected to the NPCIL seeking more time to set up the AFR.

The NPCIL, in its application had said that the earliest the AFR facility of the KKNPP units 1 & 2 could receive the first lot of spent fuel assemblies would be on or after September 2020.

“It is submitted that continued operation of the Kudankulam reactors without a suitable and safe location to store the spent fuel would be hazardous and violative of the directions issued by this court,” Mr. Sundarrajan said in his reply to the NPCIL affidavit.

“The reasons assigned by the NPCIL for the delay in the construction of AFR cannot be accepted as it has not taken any step after the formation of committee in 2013. It was only in the year 2017 that the NPCIL restarted its activity on the AFR. Thus, the NPCIL has failed to safeguard people,” he submitted. In the event that the AFR was not completed by the time the ‘fuel pools’ of the two units were full, NPCIL would be forced to add more spent fuel to the fuel pools, a practice known as “dense packing”, which he said raised the risk of fires involving spent fuel and its zirconium cladding.

‘An alarming situation’

Mr. Sundarrajan added that since 2013, the units had tripped over 40 times. “Globally, a nuclear reactor, when shut down for maintenance, will be restarted within 45-60 days. But in the case of KKNPP Unit 1, it takes at least four months for the NPCIL to restart the reactor, which is an alarming situation,” the counter-affidavit claimed.

As per NPCIL’s submission, the SNF is required to be kept in the KKNPP plant site for a minimum of five years, before they can be shifted to the AFR for long-term storage.

Mr. Sundarrajan said that as per NPCIL’s submission, the plant commenced operation five years ago and the SNF was being stored for five years. “According to the NPCIL, even the consultative process with the Russian Specialists has not yet commenced,” he said.

The petitioner submitted that in view of the non-compliance of the court order that the construction of the AFR be completed by July 13, 2018, and violation of the undertaking given to the court by NPCIL and authorities, the court should reject the additional time sought to set up the AFR.

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Printable version | May 15, 2021 12:40:59 PM |

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