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Safety Issues Of Koodankulam Nuclear Power Plant

By Dr R Ramesh, Dr V Pugazhendi & VT Padmanabhan

25 March, 2012

The safety of a reactor also depends upon the dynamics of the site and its neighborhood and therefore the Atomic Energy Regulatory Board (AERB) mandates that “ site evaluation is continued till the end of operating life of the plant to ensure safety against hazards associated with external events. This is important due to changing perception of the hazard from external events as well as changing natural and/or human made environment in the site region over time” ( Roshan et al, 2005).

In this context, a statement by the Russian Envoy to India , Alexander M. Kadakin on 7 th Dec 2011 about the geology of Kudankulam site assumes importance. Excerpts from the Ambassador's press briefing: “On the talks of Haripur in West Bengal being another nuclear plant to use Russian reactors, Kadakin said it was not a concrete proposal and just a name that came up for discussion. Considering that Haripur was geologically much worse than Koodankulam ,… India had agreed to suggest new site. …. We are ready to build. Where it will be convenient, it is India 's choice not Russian choice." (http://www.rusembassy.in/index.php? Accessed on 25 Dec 11)

The site-specific problems of Kudankulam are (a) volcanism during the geological past and indications of reactivation of tectonism in the form of small volume volcanic eruptions (b) potential of near zone tsunami from the Gulf of Mannar . Other main safety related issue is centered around fresh water for cooling the core and spent fuel pool and potable needs of the campus. These were studied in detail by the Expert Committee of the Peoples' Movement Against Nuclear Energy (PMANE), spearheading the opposition against the Kudankulam Nuclear Power Project (KKNPP). The main points raised by EC PMANE in its report to the people dated 15 Dec 2011 are summarized below:

1. Presence of signatures of volcanism in the past at the reactor site and the neighborhood in the form of Carbonatite and basalt dyke swarms and plugs which were not mentioned in site related documents available in the public domain.

2. Four instances of small volume volcanic eruptions (SSVE) since 1998 within 75 km radius of KKNPP, indicative of reactivation of tectonism.

3. Evidence of mantle upwelling and crustal thinning in the land around the reactor campus and also in the Gulf of Mannar

4.   Highest crustal heat flow in South India in Nagercoil as an evidence of volcanism

5. Karst formation during the past three years at three locations Maruthankulam, Radhapuram and Pannayarkulam within 25 km radius of KKNPP

6. Potential of near field tsunami from East Comerin and Colombo slumps and Indrani fault in the Gulf of Mannar (GoM)

7. Shoreline Instability – submergence of South Dhanushkoti town in 1948, sea erosion due to sand mining

8. Possibility of dry int ake due to sea withdrawal, a new phenomenon observed in Southern Tamil Nadu coast since 2004. Each reactor requires 84,000 liters of sea water per second.

9.   Total dependence on desalination plants for fresh water used as moderator, coolant and for steam generation, spent fuel pool cooling and potable needs of the campus

10. The campus has a reserve of 10,000 cubic meters of fresh water, sufficient to run two reactors for 36 hours or cool the core on a shut down mode for seven days. AERB had mandated an on campus reserve of 60,000 cubic meters and two pipelines for drawing fresh water from Pechiparai and Upper Kothayar reservoirs.

In their report dated 31 Jan 2012, the Expert Committee stated that (a) the dykes do exist, but they are not swarms and only one paper was published on this in 1996 (b) the eruptions observed in four places were caused due to short-circuiting of high tension electric wire or lightening and they were not volcanic, (c) slumps in GoM cannot initiate a destructive tsunami (d) visualized the grid failure as the only possible cause of breakdown of desalination plants.

These were not based on facts or a rigorous scientific analysis. ‘ Kudaankulam dyke swarm'was the topic in five studies in the form of journal articles/PhD thesis and paper read at international conference. The eruptions were considered as volcanic after spectroscopic, microscopic and chemical analysis of the samples collected from the sites soon after the events and reported in journals of geology in 2000-2002. The assertion that these were caused due to electric current/lightening was based on field visits and visual examination of the site by a team of officers sent by NPCIL in Dec 2012, a decade after the events.

On the issue of karst the GOI Expert Group says: “Even if subsidence occurs due to karst phenomena in the sedimentary rocks, it cannot affect the basement rock i.e. charnockite on which the power plants are located. The borehole data shows that calcareous sandstone with varying thickness are observed above the charnockite basement rock. The thickness of calcareous sandstone as per the drilling data are seen up to a maximum depth up to 9.7m around the existing reactors. During the execution stage, in the area of reactor building foundation around 10 m of overburden was removed which was followed by consolidation cement grouting of another 15 m. Therefore no possibility of subsidence in the foundation strata around reactor building.”

Besides the reactor building there are several other structures within the campus whose integrity can impact the safety of the reactors.

Victor Rajamanickam, a senior geologist wrote in 2002: “it is a must to take up microlevel studies for confirming the tectonic stability of this landmass in the region before launching a major plant in Kudankulam." ( Personal Communication to Prof.N.Markandan, May, 2002). EC PMANE also recommended an independent assessment of all the issues listed above by experts from outside the Department of Atomic Energy, before commissioning the reactors as per the guidelines of the International Atomic Energy Agency, the Atomic Energy Regulatory and the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission. Commissioning the reactors in a hurry without assessing the site and water related safety issues will be suicidal.

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.








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