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Should The Koodankulam Power Nuclear Plant Be Commissioned Or Abandoned?

By Buddhi Kota Subbarao. Ph.D

08 March, 2012

Intense debate is going on in India at present on the following issues and questions:

•  Whether the Russian VVER 2 x 1000 MWe Koodankulam nuclear power plant in Southern India , which is ready for commissioning, should be abandoned or commissioned?

•  Whether country can afford to waste over Rs.14,000 crore and that too at a stage after completing the construction of the nuclear plant?.

•  When there is electrical power shortage, whether allowing the 2000 MWe power plant at Koodankulam to remain idle is prudent?

•  Whether it is necessary for India to invest any further in nuclear electricity? Whether it is in national interest to invest heavily and urgently on alternate and renewable energies?

•  Why the process of land acquisition for nuclear power parks at Kovvada and Jaitapur is being pursued in violation of the statutory provisions of the Environment Protection Act, 1986 and the Rules made there under? Whether the concerned public servants of the Central Government including Prime Minister and respective State Governments should be prosecuted for issuing orders in violation of law and causing injury to the people? Whether it is possible for these public servants to take shelter under the “good faith” clause?

Pennywise and Pound Foolish

Commissioning Koodankulam nuclear power plant on the east coast of India in Tamilnadu State , keeping in view Rs.14,000 crores, would create for India a situation where more than Rs. 5,00,000 crores would be committed for nuclear electricity. Commissioning Koodankulam plant is a green signal for other proposed Nuclear Power Parks at Jaitapur on the west coast in Maharashtra State , at Kovvada on the east coast in the State of Andhra Pradesh and other places in the country.

The proposed Jaitapur Nuclear Power Park in Maharashtra with six each 1650 MW e , European Pressurised Reactors (EPR), designed and manufactured by French nuclear company Areva is estimated to cost over Rs. 2,00,000 crores. Based on the latest cost of Finnish Olkilouto 3 “EPR”-reactor at 6.6 billion Euros ($9.1 billion) from an initial budget of 3 billion, the cost at Jaitapur would be more than Rs.21 crore per MW e .

The cost of the proposed Nuclear Power Park at Kovvada in Andhra Pradesh with six each 1000 MWe will not be less than Rs.1,20,000 crore .

Then there are more nuclear reactors proposed at other places in the country including some additional ones at Koodankulam.

Russia has been allotted two spots (Koodankulam in Tirunelveli district, Tamil Nadu; and Haripur in Purba Medinipur district, West Bengal), France one spot (Jaitapur in Ratnagiri district, Maharashtra), and the United States two spots (Kovvada in Srikakulam district, Andhra Pradesh; and Mithi Virdi in Bhavnagar district, Gujarat).

The total investment in all such proposed nuclear power plants would be more than Rs.5,00,000 crores. These are only the capital costs of installation and there are various other costs in operation and maintenance, let alone the huge costs of decommissioning the nuclear power plants and the cost of storing spent fuel. Then there are unavoidable huge costs if there are major accidents like the Fukushima D a ii chi nuclear disaster in Japan .

Therefore, venturing to commission Koodankulam plant for fear of wasting about Rs.14,000 crores, would be a venture to set the country on the way to spend over Rs.5,00,000 crores on nuclear electricity and it would be nothing but being pennywise and pound foolish .

It is true, there are power shortages in Tamilnadu and in rest of the country. The answer to that is not to crave for nuclear electricity but to invest heavily in alternate energy sources of energy and in measures to reduce power losses.

The cost of solar power has come down dramatically in the past ten years. It's cost is now estimated to be around Rs.10 crore per MW e or even less.

Given the advances in technology, hydropower holds the greatest potential for low cost, clean renewable energy without the down cycles of wind and solar. Small dams, current powered buoys and turbines are maintenance and pollution free. These projects deserve a greater push.

There is a powerful case to be made for the clean energy investments that will create real jobs and keep India competitive in a $5 trillion global market. The development of a clean energy economy will both create jobs and improve the environment. Nuclear power cannot be considered as clean energy.

Therefore, a clear foresight and a correct cost benefit analysis would show the need to do away with nuclear electricity and abandon the Koodankulam nuclear power plant and concentrate on alternate and renewable sources of energy.

As of now, the biggest nuclear disasters in the world are Chernobyl in 1986, Fukushima Daiichi in 2011 and Three Mile Island in 1979 in that order. The disasters at Chernobyl and Three Mile Island were caused by human error. The disaster at Fukushima was caused by a mixture of earthquake, tsunami and human error.

No matter how many levels of safety are built into the design of nuclear power plants, the human error can never be eliminated. Basically, nuclear power is just too dangerous for humans in more than one way.

The best sources of energy are the free ones like hydro, solar, wind, tidal wave, geothermal. They all produce very low levels of CO2 and other green house gases.

The nuclear power industry has proposed new safer (but generally untested) reactor designs but there is no guarantee that the reactors will be designed, built and operated correctly. Mistakes do occur and the designers of reactors at   Fukushima   in Japan did not anticipate that a tsunami generated by an earthquake would disable the backup systems that were supposed to stabilize the reactor after the earthquake. The   Fukushima nuclear accidents   have cast doubt on whether even an advanced economy like Japan can master nuclear safety. Catastrophic scenarios involving terrorist attacks are also conceivable.

Mismanagement & Cover-ups in DAE

Indian Prime Minister Dr.Manmohan Singh who is directly in-charge of the Department of the Atomic Energy (DAE) claimed that ‘thinking minds in the country are for nuclear power.” But all such thinking minds are shaped by the misinformation and partial information from DAE.

The people of India , if informed fully and properly, will not fail to see the grave nature of the following points which show the mismanagement and cover-ups in the DAE.

(i) In the year 2005, in a Public Interest Writ Petition before Bombay High Court, the nuclear scientists of DAE filed Affidavits confirming that there is radiation in the fish and marine organisms in the Thane Creek into which Bhabha Atomic Research Centre (BARC) in Mumbai has been discharging nuclear effluents for over 40 years. One of the Affidavits stated that the amount of radiation in the fish and marine organisms would not be disclosed in public interest. This writer being advocate appeared before the High Court for the Petitioners. Bombay High Court disposed off the Writ Petition with its order calling upon the Central Government (DAE) to look into and resolve the serious issues raised by the Petitioners, whom the High Court termed as “knowledgeable in nuclear matters,”. The High Court directed the Petitioners to deal with BARC directly to find solutions. But BARC refuses to interact with public on the nuclear radiation dangers in Thane Creek.

(ii) In 1996, a Public Interest Writ Petition was filed before Bombay High Court, by a social organisation named “Citizens for A Just Society” founded by noted Gandhian, Freedom Fighter, and Padma Vibhushan, Dr. Usha Mehta, seeking disclosure of at least the 90 nuclear issues concerning the nuclear power plants in India compiled by Atomic Energy Regulatory Board (AERB) in its Report titled “Safety Issues in DAE Installations” which listed 130 nuclear issues in all the nuclear establishments. There were six massive affidavits in reply filed by the Department of Atomic Energy (DAE) and Bhabha Atomic Research Centre (BARC) opposing the Public Interest Petition. An additional affidavit was filed by Dr. R. Chidambaram himself as the then Chairman of Atomic Energy Commission ( AEC ) and Secretary Department of Atomic Energy ( DAE ) claiming ‘secrecy' and ‘privilege' and blocked the disclosure of the AERB Report including the 90 issues pertaining to nuclear power plants. It is relevant to point out that the nuclear power plants are in the civilian sector and not in the defence sector. Therefore, Dr.R.Chidambaram misused his official position to block disclosure of even the 90 nuclear issues in our nuclear power plants which are in the civilian sector. This writer being advocate appeared for the Petitioners before the Bombay High Court. When the Petitioners persisted with their prayer for disclosure of 90 nuclear issues in our nuclear power plants, the DAE sought adjournment and on the next date, the DAE committed fraud upon the High Court, the facts of which are briefly described in the next point. Dr.R.Chidambaram is the present Indian Government's principal scientific adviser.

(iii) Fraud was committed upon Bombay High Court in January 1997 by the Department of Atomic Energy (DAE). A Memorandum, purportedly made under the purported instructions of the then Prime Minister Shri.Deve Gouda was submitted to the High Court in January 1997. Along with the Memorandum, an undertaking was given in the open Court and the High Court was made to believe that the high power committee constituted as per the Memorandum with Dr.Raja Ramanna as chairman of the committee and Dr.Abul Kalam, Mr.Anil Kakodkar and others as members, would submit a report in four months on all the issues raised in the Writ Petition. The Report of the High Power Committee would also deal with the 90 nuclear safety violations in our nuclear power plants, out of the total 130 nuclear safety violations in all our nuclear establishments compiled by the then chairman of Atomic Energy Regulatory Board (AERB) Dr.A.Gopalakrishnan in 1996. Believing in the contents of the Memorandum and the undertaking given in the open court that the High Power Committee headed by Dr.Raja Ramanna would look into all the issues including the 90 nuclear issues in the nuclear power plants, the High Court did not admit the public interest petition filed by People's Union For Civil Liberties(PUCL). But the Court was kind enough to keep the doors open with its order, if an occasion demands. The High Court also recorded in its order that information on the safety violations cannot be denied to the public for all times. It is not known whether the said Committee headed by Dr.Raja Ramanna submitted its report in four months (January to April 1997) as promised to the High Court. According to the information gathered, Committee headed by Dr.Raja Ramanna never met even once, let alone rendering its report in four months. True facts can be ascertained on necessary investigation. DAE does not hesitate to use people with face value to commit fraud even upon higher judiciary. This is a matter, where criminal cases can be filed against the concerned public servants. Prime Minister of the country should not take lightly, in matters where conclusive fraud was committed upon the Bombay High Court, by the scientists of DAE.

(iv) On March 31, 1993 there was a serious accident at Narora Atomic Power Station (NAPS) in Uttar Pradesh. India was close to repeating Chernobyl , in a nuclear disaster that could have changed the very face of the Indian subcontinent. That night, a fire broke out at NAPS and for several agonising hours the country's nuclear establishment feared the worst. Even the Parliament was misled on the facts of this accident, where criminal cases can be filed against the concerned nuclear scientists for knowingly, wilfully and deliberately ignoring and neglecting the warnings from the equipment manufacturers and causing over Rs.200 crore loss to the country.

Atomic Energy Regulatory Board (AERB) set up a Committee to investigate the NAPS accident and Nuclear Power Corporation of India Ltd (NPCIL) set up its own Committee for the same purpose. Neither of the Reports has been made public so far.

This will show that without any Tsunami, India is likely to face the very same disaster that occurred to nuclear reactors at the Fukushima Daiichi power station in Japan that were crippled by the March 11, 2011 earthquake and tsunami.

(v) To investigate the collapse of the containment dome of Unit-I of the Kaiga plant in 1994, one by the Committee was setup by AERB and another Committee by NPCIL. The two Committees rendered two separate Reports. Till now, neither of the two Reports has been disclosed to the public.

The collapse of the containment dome of Unit-I of the Kaiga plant in 1994 was unprecedented. In the more than six decades of worldwide nuclear power history, such a thing has never happened anywhere else. If such a collapse had taken place during operation of the nuclear plant, about 130 tonnes of concrete falling from a height of nearly 30 metres would have damaged the automatic control rod drives that lie below the crown of the dome, disabling them and making the safe shutdown of the reactor difficult. The massive weight of concrete might have led to damage to the nuclear coolant pumps and pipes, resulting in severe loss of coolant. This could have led to nuclear core meltdown and the escape of large amounts of radioactive substances to the environment, as it happened in the Fukushima Daiichi accident in Japan in March 2011.

(vi) In May 1998, while Shri.Atal Bihari Vajpayee was the Prime Minister, India carried out Pokhran-II nuclear test, where India attempted its first hydrogen bomb test. This writer used mathematical equations to calculate the yield of the test on the basis of the seismic recordings freely available from different countries of the world. The calculations showed that the first Hydrogen Bomb test of India failed. The conclusions from those calculations appeared in this writer's article in The Hindu published on May 20,1998 , in its nation page and the article appeared in all editions of The Hindu describing the failure of India 's hydrogen bomb test. On a request from the editor of The Frontline, this writer wrote a detailed article which was carried by The Frontline in June 1998 as a cover story with title “H-bomb Issue is Crucial.”

Based on these two articles in The Hindu and Frontline, some members of Indian Parliament raised questions in the Parliament. The then Deputy Minister for Atomic Energy replied in the Parliament stating that the scientist B.K.Subbarao mathematically calculated on the basis of the seismic waves that travelled through the earth, whereas the Department of Atomic Energy (DAE) and the Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) rigged instruments at the Pokhran test site and found on the basis the recordings in these instruments that the hydrogen bomb test succeeded.

Eleven years after the reply given in the Parliament, the very scientist from DRDO by name Dr.Santhanam who rigged the instruments at the Pokhran test site revealed publicly that the instruments did not record any evidence to conclude the success of the hydrogen bomb test. Santanam termed the hydrogen bomb test as ‘dud' and he also disclosed that the shaft in which the hydrogen bomb device was lowered did not even get damaged. It confirmed that this writer was correct in his mathematical calculations in 1998 concluding the failure of first Indian hydrogen bomb test.

The media asked Santanam why he kept silent for eleven years to reveal publicly the failure of hydrogen bomb test. Santham replied that that he was repeatedly prevented by Dr.Kalam who was the boss of Santhanam at the relevant point of time.

It clearly establishes that Dr.R.Chidambaram, the then Secretary DAE & Chairman of Atomic Energy Commission (AEC) and Dr.A.P.J.Abdul Kalam, the then head of DRDO, deliberately misled the then Prime Minister Shri. Atal Bihari Vajpayee and also the nation to believe that the hydrogen bomb test in Pokhran II test succeeded while they both knew that the hydrogen bomb test failed in May 1998.

(vii) Three is none in the Department of Atomic Energy(DAE), serving or retired, who is familiar with the design and operation of  a Pressurised Water Reactor(PWR) and can be considered as expert. The existing nuclear power plants in the country are all of Pressurised Heavy Water Reactor (PHWR) type which is a Canadian design.

The N-Plant at Koodankulam, and the proposed Nuclear Power Parks (NPP) at Jaitapur and Kovvada are all of PWR design.

Therefore, when the Prime Minister and the Union Home Minister and others in the Union Government say they rely on experts to commission Koodankulam nuclear power plant, they may or may not be aware there are no establishment experts in the country on PWR technology. True! the Russian experts may be at the Koodankulam site. But they are on the side of the supplier. No supplier will spell out fully and faithfully the shortcomings in the design and equipment he sells.

Russia and India

In the wake of Japan 's Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster, stress tests on Russia 's nuclear reactors have been conducted and a report was prepared by the state agencies concerned.

The report was presented to Russian President Dmitry Medvedev , at a state council meeting on June 9, 2011 . The report is remarkable for its extraordinary candour.

The report revealed that Russia 's atomic reactors are grievously under-prepared for both natural and man-made disasters ranging from floods to fires to earthquakes or plain negligence.

A copy of the report was obtained by Bellona Web and other environmental groups and distributed to Norwegian and Russian media. The following discussion is based on the contents of that report.

The findings in the report are ominous for the Russian VVER 1000 nuclear reactors at Koodankulam in Tamilnadu in India . The people's movement in India against Koodankulam nuclear plant should not be brushed aside on political grounds.

Some of the salient points of the report on Russian Reactors.

Among the more critical safety failings relayed to Russian President Medvedev in the report are:

(i) Russia 's plants do not have relevant regulations in place for personnel to know how to deal with large-scale natural disasters or other serious contingencies.

This point is a wakeup call for India also. Indian Nuclear Regulator, the present Atomic Energy Regulatory Board (AERB) should not pretend that the situation in India is any better than the situation in Russia and with Russian nuclear reactors.

(ii) protective shelter for workers would not accommodate the largest teams on any given shift in the event of an accident, and Rosatom does not keep records of previous accidents, meaning workers do not have the benefit of learning from previous mistakes or improving remedial measures, among other shortcomings.

This point is a lesson for India as well. Indian nuclear establishment does not keep proper and full records of previous accidents and does not afford any opportunity to learn from previous mistakes or to find better remedial measures.

(iii) electrical and safety-significant systems in Russian nuclear power plants do not receive the attention they need, resulting in a lack of required protection.

In India , inadequate attention to electrical and safety-significant systems was the main reason to transform the mechanical turbine blade failure to a serious nuclear accident. On March 31, 1993 there was a serious accident at Narora Atomic Power Station (NAPS) in Uttar Pradesh. India was close to repeating Chernobyl , in a nuclear disaster that could have changed the very face of the subcontinent.

The accident at NAPS was triggered by turbine blade failure. The spreading fire travelling through the duct burnt the bunched electrical cables carrying the safety control signals. It was a bad design to bunch the electrical wires for lighting along with electrical lines carrying safety control signals. The result was a total blackout of the station and also loss of control of reactor from the control room.

Two enquiry reports were obtained one by the Committee setup by the Atomic Energy Regulatory (AERB) and the other by the Nuclear Power Corporation of India Limited (NPCIL). Neither of them has been made public. In a similar fire accident on March 22, 1975 , at the Brown's Ferry Nuclear Plant near Decatur , Alabama , the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission published a detailed report on February 1976, marked it NUREG-0050 and is available on the web.

(iv) The report on the Russian nuclear reactors questioned the capability of reactors to remain safe for extended periods of time if cooling systems fail. There is no guarantee that power backup systems will be effective should this happen - the primary difficulty that beset Fukushima Daiichi when the quake and tsunami hit.

The Indian nuclear establishment also carried out stress tests on all of its 20 nuclear reactors, in the wake of Japan 's Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster. Interim Report concluded, as expected, “Present review and re-evaluations conducted indicate that adequate provisions exist at Indian nuclear power plants to handle station blackout situation and maintaining continuous cooling of reactor core for decay heat removal.” Interim Report also states that “to further augment the safety levels and improve defence in-depth” some salient recommendations have been made for short and long term implementation and they would be implemented in due course.

Indian public has no choice but be happy with such reports from AERB because only those who toe the line of the nuclear establishment are selected to author those Reports. The report was probably submitted to Prime Minister Dr.Manmohan Singh who holds direct charge of the Department of Atomic Energy (DAE).

(v) The report on the Russian nuclear reactors pointed out that the key equipment involved in the cooling process suffers from metal fatigue and welding flaws – yet another problem that was ignored at Fukushima Daiichi's reactor No 1 when regulators there agreed to give it a 10-year operational life span extension – which contributed to a total failure of cooling at the reactor.

In India , AERB which has only delegated powers under the Atomic Energy Act, 1962, keeps extending the life of aged nuclear rectors at Tarapur Atomic Power Station (TAPS) which were commissioned in 1969.

(vi) The report on the Russian nuclear reactors that the hydrogen control systems do not correspond to regulations, meaning Russian reactors are vulnerable to the kinds of hydrogen explosions that tore through three reactor buildings at Fukushima Daiichi.

(vii) The report on the Russian nuclear reactors, most importantly states that the risk of earthquakes has not been considered as a safety factor for Russian nuclear facilities. Furthermore, not all of Russia 's reactors have automatic shutdown mechanisms like the Fukushima Daiichi plant, should. an earthquake occur

This is a very relevant point for Koodankulam nuclear reactors, because the Russian Report says, the risk of earthquakes has not been considered as a safety factor for Russian nuclear facilities. .

(vii) The report on the Russian nuclear reactors states that currently, there are no clear guidelines or sufficient infrastructure for spent nuclear fuel (SNF) management, leading to fears of SNF leaks during a disaster – as also happened in Japan.

This point also should put India on the alert.

(viii) Reactor buildings at many of Russia 's nuclear power plants are also aged and susceptible to structural failure - meaning the buildings could collapse without the help of Mother Nature.

India too should be concerned with the aged nuclear power plants like the ones at Tarapur and Rajastan.

(ix) Further, Rostekhnadzor lacks safety inspectors, and there is a shortage of qualified maintenance workers at NPPs across Russia .

This point should be an eye opener for AERB in India since almost all AERB Inspectors are from the DAE pool. Independence of AERB is a myth.

(x) When Norwegian news outlets and Russian environmentalists had publicized the findings of the report on the Russian nuclear reactors, Rosatom Chief Sergei Kiriyenko was quick to say, it was just a matter of money to fix Russia 's shortcomings in the area of back-up power and coolant system deficiencies.

In the Vedomosti business daily, Rosatom Chief Sergei Kiriyenko cited a figure of 5 billion rubbles ($986 million) to bring Russia 's reactors up to specifications by enhancing their back-up power and coolant systems. To counter cost overruns, Kiryenko told the paper, Rosatom would rely on the government.

By the same logic, in order to fix the shortcomings in Koodankulam nuclear reactor in southern India , Rosatom Chief Sergei Kiriyenko is bound to count on Indian Government.

Vladimir Slivyak, co-chair of Russia's Ecodefence – one of the first Russian environmental groups to get hold of the report – was quick to point out the contrast between the Russian government's initial statements that what had happened at Fukushima could never be repeated in Russia, with the report which says that it could.

In India, to thwart people's fear generated by the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster in Japan, Prime Minister Dr.Manmohan Singh wrote to Tamilnadu Chief Minister Ms.Jayalalitha in September 2011, to assure her and the Indians in general and the people of Tamilnadu in particular, “ The safety track record of our nuclear power plants over the past 335 reactor-years of operation has been good. Nevertheless , after the Fukushima incident, the Central Government. had ordered technical reviews of all safety systems of our nuclear power plants, including the Kudankulam Nuclear Power Project. The interim reports of these reviews have been made public and are available on the website of the Department of Atomic Energy. While these safety reviews have reaffirmed our ability to handle emergency situations, further recommendations have been made to augment safety. All the recommendations are being implemented.”

With the assurance of Prime Minister Dr.Manmohan Singh, Indians are blessed to live in complete fantasy.

Buddhi Kota Subbarao is former Indian Navy Captain with Ph.D in nuclear technology from Indian Institute of Technology (IIT), Bombay and advocate of Supreme Court of India .

E-mail : bksubbarao@gmail.com


The following are earlier articles by Buddhi Kota Subbarao

(i)   Need To Revisit The Role Of Nuclear Power For India 's Energy Security

(ii)  Koodankulam Nuclear Power Plant Is Destined To Reset The Nuclear Priorities In India

(iii)  Indo-US Nuclear Deal- Some Unexplored Angles










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