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Security Of India Put At Risk In The Russian Roulette!

By M.G.Devasahayam

26 August, 2013

India in general and Indian Navy in particular were traumatized by the explosion of the Kilo-class submarine INS Sindhurakshak at Mumbai’s Naval Dockyard. This vessel was inducted in the Indian Navy in December 1997. This submarine was built in Russia at the cost $ 113 million. The 3,000-tonne vessel went through the "mid-life-medium-refit-cum-upgrade" between September 2010 and January 2013 at Severodvinsk in Russia and reached India on April 27. The refit-cum-upgrade cost at $156 million is more than that of the original price. Yet within months it has exploded causing death and destruction. This has provoked a normally reticent former Naval Chief, Admiral Arun Prakash to say: “This accident again raises questions about Russian standards of manufacture and repair. Russian equipment is not always the best, and it is prone to failures.”

On introspection it is increasingly becoming evident that Russians have been playing their specialized game of roulette on India for several years now. This is a ‘lethal game of chance’ in which a player places a single round in a revolver, spins the cylinder, places the muzzle against someone’s head, and pulls the trigger. This was the game that ‘dacoit’ Gabbar Singh played in the block-buster Sholay. Once the trigger is pulled life or death of the person is entirely a matter of chance.

First was the introduction of the unsafe Russian MiG-21 fighter aircrafts in the Indian Air Force. These aircrafts numbering around 900 are indeed lethal because half of them have been involved in fatal crashes resulting in death of pilots. IAF is still sticking to these ‘wings of death’ due to deliberate delays in the induction of the indigenous light combat aircraft. For all airmen flying MiG-21 and the soldiers they support, it would continuously be a ‘lethal game of chance’.

Admiral Gorshkov, an unsafe Russian second-hand aircraft carrier was renamed INS Vikramaditya in 2004 and contracted for around Rs. 4600 crores for refurbishing and retrofitting, to be delivered in 2008. It was still invisible in 2012, by which time the price had gone up to Rs. 12,000 crores. By the middle of that year when the aircraft carrier was put on sea trial ‘it spectacularly failed’ with eight of the nine boilers breaking down, with their firebrick insulations evaporating due to the high temperature generated. The ship had to be cut open to replace the boilers and other major repairs. This meant additional cost and the final delivery price (if at all delivered) could be a staggering Rs 16,000 crores!

On July 4th an announcement was made that final trials of the carrier was set to begin in Russia on 10th July. Media report quoting sources say that if all goes according to plan it could be delivered in another five months. Even then it would be no more than a floating junk masquerading as modern-day aircraft carrier. For the sailors who would man this carrier it could be a continuous ‘lethal game of chance’.

Almost to the day, a game far more lethal was played out on the southern tip of India when India’s nuclear establishment did the sriganesham for the Koodankulam Nuclear Power Plant (KKNPP) –making it go critical–on 12/13 July. This is the first of the two 1000 MWe  VVER nuclear reactors supplied by the  Russian atomic energy corporation, Rosatom, through its subsidiary, Atomstroyexport. Crucial materials and reactor parts including safety subsystems, equipment and components have been sourced from the ZiO-Podolsk, another Rosatom subsidiary.

The reactor and other core equipments had arrived at the site by mid-2005 and KKNPP was originally scheduled to start commercial operation in 2007. Active protest against the plant was short-lived and there has been no restraint order from the courts. Yet, despite announcing several datelines by the Prime Minister, Minister of State in PMO and nuclear bigwigs there was no sign of commissioning the plant for six long years. Repeated tests had failed and everything was kept under wraps!

Despite thick layers of secrecy, truth started surfacing when there were specific complaints on the quality of the components, systems and parts installed in KKNPP. In June, 2012, there were reports of welding in the core region of the pressure vessel which was against the original design specifications. At the beginning of this year, there were reports of Russian Federal prosecutors charging and arresting the procurement officers of Zio-Podolsk of corruption in connection with the supply of substandard systems and components to nuclear power plants including KKNPP. This included use of low quality steel in the fabrication of the Reactor!

What is worse, control and instrumentation system of the plant is suffering from serious flaws and has been getting tripped during tests after emanating spurious signal/noise creating panic in neighbouring villages. According to World Nuclear Association, an international body that promotes nuclear business around the world, the control system documentation for KKNPP was delivered late, and when reviewed by Nuclear Power Corporation of India (NPCIL) it showed up the need for significant refining and even reworking some aspects. Therefore containment structures of the Reactor pressure vessel were cut open and instrumentation /control cables laid in the same tray making the system unreliable. Experts are of the view that “if reactor is under operation and if the control and instrumentation systems is not reliable, then it would lead to a catastrophic release of energy in a short time interval. Or the fission process can become uncontrollable and the nuclear reactor will turn into a nuclear bomb.”

Yet, the Russians and India’s nuclear establishment have been brazenly playing the ‘lethal game of chance’ to get this substandard and risky nuclear power plant commissioned at any cost. Simultaneously contract has been negotiated to supply two more Russian reactors (1000 MW each) at the mind-boggling price of Rs. 40,000 crores which is 2.5 to 3 times of that of coal fired and wind/solar energy plants. Quantum of kick-backs can only be imagined! In the process PMO and India’s nuclear establishment have willingly defied the codes and canons of safety laid down by the International Atomic Energy Agency.

Air Force, Navy and now the mass of people themselves on whom the ‘Russian roulette’ is being played. Potential victims are soldiers, sailors, airmen and millions of farmers and fisher-folk living in the vicinity of KKNPP. The questions that arise are: who is spinning the cylinder, who is placing the muzzle and who is looting the exchequer even at the risk of national security and human lives? Also in the manner of Bob Dylan singing in ‘Blowing in the Wind’ one would ask: How many more men should die and billions looted before India stops becoming victim of Russian roulette?

M.G.Devasahayam is Convener, Experts Team of the Peoples Movement Against Nuclear Energy (PMANE)



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