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More On The Obsolete Reactor Pressure Vessel
At The
Kudankulam Nuclear Power Plant

By VT Padmanabhan, R Ramesh and V Pugazhendi

17 August, 2012

Our report on the Reactor Pressure Vessel at the Kudankulam Nuclear Power Plant, published in Countercurrents "Is The Reactor Pressure Vessel At Koodankulam Safe?" has been commented and criticized by several friends. (1) That paper was a summary of a bigger document and there were probably some ambiguities crept in the process of shortening. Here, we give the following clarifications.

The details of all the equipments installed at KKNPP are available in the Preliminary Safety Analysis Report (PSAR) and the Detailed Project Report (DPR). According to NPCIL, these are properties of Atomstroyexport (ASE), the Russian company and NPCIL is holding these documents in ‘fiduciary' capacity. NPCIL is yet to comply with the orders of Mr Sailesh Gandhi, the Central Information Commissioner of India dated 30 th April 2012 to release these documents. In his order, Mr Gandhi had observed that “the Respondent-public authority's unwillingness to be transparent is likely to give citizens an impression that most decisions are taken in furtherance of corruption resulting in a serious trust deficit. This hampers the health of our democracy and the correct method to alter this perception is to become transparent. Such a move would only bring greater trust in the government and its functionaries, and hurt only the corrupt ”. (2) We will share the drawings and other details with the Countercurrent community, within 10 days of receipt from NPCIL. (It has more than 10,000 pages we are told.)

So, all what we know about the reactor pressure vessel of VVER-1000 reactor at Kudankulam are from the following sources:

a)  A paper authored by S.K. Agrawal, Ashok Chauhan and Alok Mishra of NPCIL published in 2006.

b)  A brief mention in two sentences in the AERB silver jubilee book published in 2008.

c)  AERB's Reply to Right to Information request.

d)  NPCIL's reply to Right to Information request, also after the release of the report.

e)  Interview of S Sunder the current station director of KKNPP.

Items (c), (d) and (e) came our way only after we released our first report to the media on 16 Jun 12.

History of KKNPP

The agreement between the Governments of India and Russia for Kudankulam reactors (1 and 2) was signed in 1998. The Detailed Project Report (DPR) and Preliminary Safety Analysis Report (PSAR) were submitted to AERB in 2001. The ship loaded with RPV and other equipments arrived on 5 th Jan 2005 . It was installed in the reactor early 2007.

The first description of the reactor available in the public domain was given by Agarwal et al in their paper listed at (a) above. They said: “ Reactor pressure vessel is a vertical cylindrical container made of high purity and high strength 200mm thick low alloy ring forging, welded together. The pressure vessel has no weld joints in the core region and the inside surface has an austenitic stainless steel clad. It has a detachable top cover and sealing elements. The upper part of the reactor vessel has nozzles in two planes. In the upper plane, there are four reactor coolants outlet nozzles and in the lower plane four reactor coolant inlet nozzles. Each nozzle corresponds to one coolant loop. The reactor vessel houses the core barrel which in turn houses all core components including the fuel assembly. The core barrel has perforations at the bottom, which allow circulating water to enter the reactor core and perforations at the top for exit of hotwater from the core. All core components are made of austenitic stainless steel. (3) (emphasis ours)

S K Agarwal had held important positions in NPCIL/BARC. He was the chief-executive for light water plants, Director (Projects), Head,. Reactor Operations Division, NPCIL Director and as the top nuclear executive in charge of foreign collaboration. He became a Distinguished Scientist in 2007, a year before his untimely death at a young age of 55 years. The corresponding author of the paper Mr A shok chauhan is currently the Executive Director (Fuel Cycle Management & Safe Guards) at NPCIL. The wrong data in the papers stands uncorrected.

In their paper, Agarwal et al say that “the quality assurance wing of NPCIL is also established at Moscow and St. Petersburg for ensuring the quality of the equipment being manufactured in Russian manufacturing plants for the project.” RPV was fabricated at the Izhora plant in St Petersburg and the NPCIL officials should have seen the fabrication and also participated in the final examination of RPV before being shipped to India . We do not know why Agarwal et al were kept in the dark about the core region welds. The vessel arrived at Kudankulam in early January, 2005 and Agarwal et.al paper was published in 2006, a year after the arrival of the vessel. Strange that the three authors who were holding important assignments in the organization did not know that the vessel had weld joints in the core region. Incidentally, beltline weld is the number one safety concern for pressurized water reactor. We say they did not know because we do not expect a distinguished scientist to give false information in a journal article. The corresponding author of the paper who holds an important portfolio in NPCIL has not commented on this false information, even though the paper has been extensively quoted in the print and web media. (Their paper has been cited in three other papers during the six years since its publication)

The next source of information is chapter 5 of the Silver Jubilee book of the AERB, published in 2008. We quote: “the original design of RPV did not contemplate welds in the core region. However, the vessel now used has two welds in the core region”. (4)

The third source is an NPCIL's reply to a Right to Information (RTI) request. NPCIL says that “RPV consists of six forged cylindrical vessel and one forged ellipsoid bottom which are circumferentially welded together and have six number of welds.“ (5) NPCIL also does not explain the wrong information provided by its scientists in the article quoted above.

The fourth source is AERB's reply to RTI request. “The proposed reactor pressure vessel design was having weld joints in the core region. Committee was constituted to review the RPV material supplied by Russian organization and the acceptability of weld joints in the core region and the committee had submitted the report in 2001. The Safety Committee of AERB had reviewed the aspects of RPV and welds in the core region and found that the requirements of RPV related to resistance against brittle fracture and irradiation resistance of weld joints and base metal are adequately met” . “ Copies of the evaluation reports cannot be provided in public domain as it contains proprietary details.” (6)

Orientation of the weld joint –whether axial or circumferential- and the concentration of neutron-sensitive elements like nickel and manganese in weld metal and base metal are other crucial information needed for assessing the RPV integrity. NPCIL or AERB did not provide these information.

The fifth source is an interview of KKNPP Station Director RS Sundar to Reuters. Shri Sundar, says, “The original discussion between Indian and Russian governments on procuring reactor vessels without welds was based on futuristic thinking . But that was not possible technologically at the time of procurement. All the 400-plus light water reactors in operation across the globe [have] welds in the core zone .” (7)

Source: Mladen Pajnic, Krunoslav Markulin, Alojzije Matokovic, Hrvoje Franjic, 2010,

INETEC- Institute for Nuclear Technology, Zagreb , Croatia

Advanced Approach Of Reactor Pressure Vessel In-Service Inspection, 10th European Conference on Non-Destructive Testing June 7 –11, 2010, Moscow Russia

There is a diagram of VVER 1000 RPVIn a paper presented in a conference in Moscow in June 2010 by Pajinic and colleagues from INETEC- Institute for Nuclear Technology, Zagreb , Croatia – the company that specializes in VVER RPV inspection. (8)The drawing clearly shows that the typical VVER-1000 RPVs do not have weld joints in the core region. If the drawing represents the standard design of VVER-1000, the vessel without beltline welds is not a futuristic design as Shri Sunder the station director of KKNPP thinks.

AERB's letter reveals that they knew about the weld joints in 2001, itself and a committee examined its safety aspects and accepted it. That committee's report is a privileged document, like all other important documents pertaining to KKNPP.

Likewise, the chroniclers of AERB (Silver jubilee book- 2008) did not mention about AERB accepting the design of RPV with weld joints in the core region, which was studied and accepted by experts in their own organization, seven years before.

NPCIL is the owner of KKNPP and they paid for the equipments. In normal situations, it is the owner/importer who would know the details of the product and receive it from the manufacturer. Here, AERB knew all the details which were not shared by NPCIL

The pressure vessel determines the duration of construction of a nuclear power station. It takes about three years to fabricate one. KKNPP-1 RPV arrived in Jan 2005. AERB gave c learance for its installation on 30 th August 2006 , 17 months after its arrival.(9) This kind of delay between receipt and installation of RPV is unheard of.

In an interview with the Russian News Agaency, RIA Novosti, Dr SK Jain, CMD of NPCIL said in August 2009 that the first reactor at Kudankulam …has been delayed due to the need to make amendments to the project, along with a lack of equipment supplies from Russia. ”. (10)

Consequences of the Defective RPV

We believe that the five years delay in commissioning the reactor was due to the defect of the equipment(s). The other known consequences are (a) down-rating of the reactor (b) frequent outages (c) early retirement and (d) a high probability for catastrophic accidents. Commissioning of KKNPP-1 and 2 have been delayed by five years. The community blockade was responsible for just seven months. The losses NPCIL has experienced thus far is only the beginning. The design life of a modern reactor is 40 years and it is likely to be extended for another 20 years, if the RPV is intact. A catastrophic accident may be rare, but premature retirement is almost certain as the vessel is obsolete. We want electricity, but not at the cost of safety of people or the financial health of NPCIL which is a public sector undertaking.

Some of the commentators have labeled us anti-nuclear. This is not true. All what we have been doing is to raise the safety issues. We have not demanded closure of the unit either. All what we demand is a proper, scientific study of all these issues. Two expert committees and a couple of eminent scientists have certified the reactors to be the safest in the world. With due respect to these eminent scientists, we are sorry to state that they do not have the requisite expertise or experience in examining and certifying PWR RPV or many other safety lapses we pointed out.

Other safety issues raised by us so far

We have raised the following safety-related issues regarding KKNPP.

(a) The site is prone to volcanic eruptions and karsts, there have been five small volume volcanic eruptions between 1998 and 2003.

(b) Volcanic vents and slumps within the Gulf of Mannar and the Bay of Bengal can initiate a near zone tsunami. According to NPCIL, the source of tsunami is located in Indonesia and they have about three hours to take remedial measures.

(c) There is no secure source of freshwater and the reserve water available at the campus is only 20% the minimum reserve mandated by AERB.

(d) 220 hectares out of 770 hectares leased for KKNPP was sub-let for mining limestone. Mining was done even in Coastal Zone Regulation Area which is illegal. The reason given for this by the Expert Committee appointed by the Central Government is that the cement company had a superior technology for mining limestone without blasting or other violent methods. Then the cement company also planted 20,000 saplings. There is no mention about any royalty received against mining.

(e) Two health studies in proximate and distant villages of Kalpakkam nuclear complex reveals a statistically significant increase in eight diseases – diabetes, cancer, mental retardation etc in the proximate villages. The latest study was funded by DAE.

In the case of freshwater problem and limestone mining ((c) and (d) above), NPCIL refused to comply with the orders of AERB.

We are not anti-nuclear

We are not anti-nuclear as mentioned by some commentators. If your neighbor informs you of a gas leak in your kitchen or a crack on your wall, will you consider her as your enemy? All what we demanded was that these issues need be studied in detail by an independent group of experts, as is the practice in modern societies. Again, one of us (V Pugazhendi) is coordinating the People's Movement for Nuclear Safety (PMNS) which is spear-heading the safety campaign at the Madras Atomic Power Plant (MAPS) at Kalpakkam, near Chennai. That says everything. A large number of honest and straight forward scientists and officers of NPCIL do recognize this. Only the corrupt elements who may have a couple of skeletons in their cupboards are branding us as anti-nationals or anti-progress.

We are very grateful to Shri K Mohan for joining this debate in Countercurrents and correcting our statement on the number of reactors under IAEA safeguards. Among all the commentators, he alone seems to have access to the privileged documents which have not been placed in the public domain, in spite of the orders of the Chief Information Commissioner. He says that here is documentary evidence to show that the original document had welds in the beltline region. We hope he will be kind enough to share that document with the Countercurrents community and also explain the statement to the contrary in the Agarwal et al's paper and the AERB silver jubilee book .

We have no information about the Belene and the Kalinin reactors. We will be highly grateful for receiving those details.

We conclude this episode of debate with an analysis of design modifications made on VVER-1000 reactor supplied by Russia and commissioned at Temelin by the Czech operator in 2002. They list 73 design modifications, out of which 22 were due to low quality of original materials or loss of supplier”. The first three modifications thus undertaken were on (i) Instrumental and Control Systems, (ii) Nuclear fuel control clusters and (iii) Radiation monitoring system (RMS) (11)

NPCIL may at some point in future list the mid-way modifications they made during 2005-06 and explain the reasons five years delay in commissioning of KKNPP-1, though the key equipments were received as per original schedule.

We are in the process of publishing a detailed book (about 64 pages with over 60 references. The community will be informed about this.

Dr. V. Pugazhenthi is acclaimed for his rigorous and credible studies on health impact of radiation around Kalpakkam nuclear site. He is an activist belonging to the Doctors for Safer Environment

Dr. R. Ramesh a medical practitioner, who has written books on the geology of Kudankulam

VT Padmanabhan is a researcher in health effects of radiation. He has led epidemiological investigations among people exposed to high radiation in Kerala. He has also studied the occupational radiation hazards among workers of Indian Rare Earths, genetic effects of children exposed to MIC gases in Bhopal, health hazards to workers in a viscose rayon unit in Madhyapradesh and reduction of birth weight of babies near a beverage bottling plant in Kerala. He has visited several contaminated sites in Belarus and Japan and had extensive interactions with the survivors.His papers have been published in International Journal of Health Services, Journal of American Medical Association, International Perspectives in Public Health, the Lancet and Economic and Political Weekly. He is a member of the European Commission on Radiation Risk, an independent body of experts appointed by the Green MEPs in Europe. Email: vtpadman@gmail.com

1. VT Padmanabhan, R Ramesh & V Pugazhendi Is The Reactor Pressure Vessel At Koodankulam Safe? http://www.countercurrents.org/padmanabhan140812.htm

2. Gandhi Shailesh, 2012, Central Information Commission, Decision No. Cic/Sg/A/2012/000544/18674, Appeal No. Cic/Sg/A/2012/000544 Dated 30 April 2012

3. Agrawal , SK , Ashok Chauhan , Alok Mishra, 2006. The VVERs at Kudankulam, Nuclear Engineering and Design 236 (2006) 812–835

4. AERB, 2008, 5 Kudankulam Nuclear Power Project , ww.aerb.gov.in/T/sj/book/chapter5.pdf

5. NPCIL letter No 962 dated 27 Jun 2012 .

6. Pankaj Tandon, 2012, AERB letter No 8240 dated 10 Jul 2012

7. Gokul Chandrasekhar. 2012, An atom of doubt at the Kudankulam nuclear power plant, July 17, 2012 http://blogs.reuters.com/india/2012/07/17/an-atom-of-doubt-at-the-kudankulam-nuclear-power-plant/

8. Mladen Pajnic, Krunoslav Markulin, Alojzije Matokovic, Hrvoje Franjic, 2010, INETEC- Institute for Nuclear Technology, Zagreb, Croatia, Advanced Approach Of Reactor Pressure Vessel In-Service Inspection, 10th European Conference on Non-Destructive Testing June 7 –11, 2010, Moscow Russia

9. AERB letter No: CH/AERB/199/KK/2006/8531 dtd 30 th August 2006

11. Listing of the performed safety improvements, ANNEX 1 Description of the Dukovany and Temelín NPPs and listing of the performed safety improvements Annex 1 to the National Report of the Czech Republic 1/12 Ref. No. 9347/3.2/2004under the Convention on Nuclear Safety





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