The Supreme Court on Monday rejected a plea to shut down the Kudankulam nuclear power plant until an Away From Reactor facility is built, and granted the Nuclear Power Corporation of India Ltd (NPCIL) an extension till April 30, 2022 to build the same.
A three-judge Bench led by Chief Justice Dipak Misra said public interest necessitates the court to agree to the request made by NPCIL for an extension in time to construct the Away From Reactor (AFR) facility to store spent fuel.
The court did not agree to a demand made by advocate Prashant Bhushan to shut down the nuclear plant till the AFR facility is ready. The court asked Mr. Bhushan to file an independent application and not mix the issue with the NPCIL’s current plea for extension of time.
Mr. Bhushan said the continued operation of the nuclear plant without a “deep underground repository” to store radioactive spent fuel is an open invitation to a catastrophe.
He argued that the AFR repository was supposed to be built in five years’ time, but this has not been done. In 2013, the Supreme Court had granted five years’ time to the NPCIL, till July 2018, to set up an AFR.
“I don’t want to stop anything... but how can they store spent fuel in the plant itself? What if there is an accident in the plant... spent fuel is radioactive and generates heat. In Fukushima, the spent fuel was stored in fuel storage ponds. Spent fuel was discharged into the atmosphere... Even now, after many years, the atmosphere remains contaminated there,” Mr. Bhushan submitted.
Mr. Bhushan said he was not against the NPCIL’s plea for extension of time to build the AFR facility. “But it is absolutely essential that the reactor is shut down for the time being till it is built... spent fuel cannot be stored in the same compound,” he submitted.
He said the running of the reactor largely depends on the storage facility. The Atomic Energy Regulatory Board had recommended cast-iron, fool-proof storage facility for spent fuel.
Mr. Bhushan said the reactor has been shut down on various occasions for about 70 times for operational reasons since October 2013. The Bench made it clear that the extension till April 2022 would be the last opportunity for construction of the AFR facility.
The construction of AFR facility would not be subject to any “further extension,” the apex court ordered.
The NPCIL, in February, had filed an application before the Supreme Court seeking five more years to set up the AFR facility to store spent nuclear fuel generated at the plant.