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Koodankulam Nuclear Plant Has Salient Lessons For India And Russia

By Buddhi Kota Subbarao.Ph.D.

24 March, 2013

Men may lie, machines do not. The substandard components allegedly supplied by a Russian Company for the Koodankulam Nuclear Power Plant in Southern India caused the Nuclear Plant to become a Speaking Tree. What it speaks now contains salient lessons for India and Russia for the good of people of both the countries.

According to the information released to the Russian media via the official Rosbalt agency, the Federal Security Service, or FSB the successor organization to the KGB arrested Sergei Shutov, procurement director of a prominent machine building plant in Russia known as ZiO-Podolsk . As the procurement director, Shutov allegedly connived and allowed low-grade steel and such other low grade raw materials used by ZiO-Podolsk to manufacture equipment for nuclear power plants. . The information travelled to the rest of the world through the website ( http://www.bellona.org/ ) of Bellona Foundation, an international environmental NGO based in Norway. Consequently, alarm bells started ringing for the safety of nuclear power plants in Russia and other countries including China and India where Russian designs and equipment are deployed .

The accusation is, Sergei Shutov as procurement director of ZiO-Podolsk in collusion with ZiO-Podolsk's supplier  A???-Industriya accepted low quality steel priced as if it is of high quality steel and jointly pocketed the huge difference in price. Moscow court ordered Shutov's arrest. Since, nuclear technology is an unforgiving technology; substandard components endanger the safety of nuclear power plant with attendant danger to people.

 “Stopping and conducting full-scale checks of reactors where equipment from ZiO-Podolsk has been installed is absolutely necessary,” said Vladimir Slivyak, co-chair of Russia's  Ecodefense . “Otherwise [there is] the risk of a serious accident at a nuclear power plant with clean-up bills stretching into the tens and even hundreds of millions of dollars [that] will have to be footed by taxpayers.” 

The scandal driven ZiO-Podolsk is Russia's only manufacturer of steam generators for nuclear plants built by country's nuclear energy corporation, Rosatom and by its international reactor construction subsidiary Atomstroiproyekt .

BLOOMBERG describes and gives the Company Profile for ZiO Podolsk ( http://www.bloomberg.com/quote/ZIOP:RU/profile ), “ ZiO-Podolsk designs and manufactures power machinery for fuel and energy complexes in Russia and other countries. The Company designs, fabricates, and installs boilers, heat-recovery steam generators, heat exchangers, vessels, columns, and other products. ZiO-Pololsk serves the thermal power, nuclear power, oil and gas, and other industries.”

ZiO-Podolsk, having otherwise a notable long track record as machine building plant commencing in 1919 and continuing since 1946, became in due course a subsidiary organization of Atomenergomash, founded in 2006. Atomenergomash was acquired in 2007 by Atomenergoprom, which is 100-percent state-owned. Atomenergoprom is a part of Rosatom.

Full investigation by FSB should reveal how many nuclear reactors have been impacted by the alleged scandal. Reactors built by Russia in India, Bulgaria, Iran, China as well as several reactor construction and repair projects in Russia itself may have been affected by the substandard equipment.

Koodankulam nuclear power plant is from an Inter-Governmental Agreement signed in November 1988 by the then Prime Minister  of India Rajiv Gandhi and Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev , for the construction of two Russian VVER 1000 reactors of 1000 MW each. Initial estimated cost of the project was US$ 3 billion (Rs.13.6 crore.). Construction began in September 2001.

Under the overall technical supervision of Russian specialists, the construction work has been undertaken by the Nuclear Power Corporation of India Limited (NPCIL), a Public Sector Enterprise under the Department of Atomic Energy (DAE), Government of India. As per the existing setup in India, the Atomic Energy Regulatory Board (AERB) has regulatory functions in respect of site selection, construction, testing and tuning and commissioning, and during operation, maintenance and decommissioning and also in all the related nuclear safety measures.

Koodankulam Nuclear Power Project (KKNPP Units 1 & 2) has been witnessing a series of delays. As per the NPCIL website ( http://www.npcil.nic.in/ ) viewed on April 23, 2013, the scheduled date of commercial operation for Unit-1 was Dec-2007 and for Unit-2, Dec-2008. The website shows 99.66 % ‘physical progress' as on Mar-2013 for Unit-1 and 93.88 %  for Unit-2. The website presents ‘ Expected Date of Commercial Operation' for Unit-1 as May-2013 and for Unit-2 as Dec-2013.

Lessons for Russia.

(i) It is to the full credit of Vladimir Putin that his government allowed FSB to investigate the mismanagement in ZiO-Podolsk. If this investigation is thorough and full and if the guilty are brought to justice it would enhance the reputation of Russia worldwide.

(ii) Those who have the design knowledge of the Pressurised Water Reactors (PWR) would agree that the Russian VVER 1000 design contains several better inherent safety features when compared with the PWR designs of other countries. If anyone disputes with this fact, this author is ready for a public debate on it. The point is, having had such a good design to offer to other countries, if any substandard components are inadvertently supplied to the countries which have chosen Russian design, Russia upon thorough investigation by its FSB should voluntarily disclose all the relevant facts, and compensate if necessary, to assure those countries that Russia prefers honest business and not any kind of cover up. Thus the Russian Federation would be able to covert the adversity from the misdeed, if any, of ZiO-Podolsk to the advantage of Russia.

(iii) If the available natural resources and the long term interests of India were to guide India to abandon nuclear power plants, Russia should not feel disappointed if in the process Koodankulam nuclear power project is abandoned. If KKNPP is abandoned, the friendship and mutual respect of the people of India and Russia would multiply and remain firm. People of India do know that Russians have been extending help to India whenever India faced a crisis. Space does not permit to discuss all the details.

Lessons for India

(a) Indian government would be acting in public interest in India if it follows the Russian example and orders full investigation into the mismanagement of the Indian nuclear establishment. Among the several instances of mismanagement, the failure of the Indian nuclear submarine propulsion plant design & development project and the failure of the first hydrogen bomb test of India should be given priority. That would show the need to reorient fully the Department of Atomic Energy (DAE) of India.

(b) Indian government must now disclose to the public the outcome of the investigation into accident on March 31, 1993 at Narora Atomic Power Station (NAPS). Upon investigating into the accident there was a report from the AERB (Atomic Energy Regulatory Board) appointed Committee and another report from the NPCIL (Nuclear Power Corporation of India Ltd.) appointed Committee. Both reports were marked secret and were not disclosed to the public.

(c)  Upon inquiry into the unprecedented collapse of the containment dome of Unit-I of the Kaiga plant in 1994, there was a report from the AERB appointed Committee and another report from the NPCIL appointed Committee. Both reports were marked secret and were not disclosed to the public. Now the Indian government should make these reports public.

(d) A total 130 nuclear safety violations in all our nuclear establishments were compiled in 1996 by the then chairman of AERB Dr.A.Gopalakrishnan. Admittedly, 95 of these safety violations belong to the nuclear power plants. Therefore, at least these 95 listed safety violations should now be disclosed to the public as the nuclear power plants belong to the civilian sector and not defence sector.

(e) There is information in the public domain that the Management  of the Russian built Tianwan Nuclear Power Plant in China had complained to Rosatom with over 3,000 grievances regarding the low quality of materials delivered to construct the plant. Indian government should find out from Russia if any substandard components are used in the construction of the Koodankulam Nuclear Power Plant. This could be one of the points but not the sole point to examine seriously the question, “whether it is prudent to abandon the Koodankulam Nuclear Power Project?”

(f) Being ill advised and insufficiently advised, the Indian government is unable to delink the nuclear weapon pursuit from the pursuit of generating electricity from nuclear energy. Now is the time to understand fully the need for delinking as explained in the article “ Whether Ordinance On Self-Denial Of Nuclear Power Harmful To India?” ( http://www.countercurrents.org/subbarao110612.htm )

(g) A proper account of India's natural resources and an honest cost-benefit analysis would show that for meeting the growing energy needs and to improve quality of life and health of its people, India should not commit any more of its money to nuclear power, but exploit fully its hydro potential and explore the uses of alternate sources of energy such as solar, wind, tidal wave and geothermal, while taking strict measures and improvements on energy losses. A detailed discussion is in the analytical article, “ Need To Revisit The Role Of Nuclear Power For India 's Energy Security.” ( http://www.countercurrents.org/subbarao151211.htm )

(h) India is blessed with a large number of rivers and as such has enormous hydro potential which is exploited not even thirty per cent. Hydropower is clean and cheap, which gives not only electricity, but also irrigation, drinking water, navigation, fishery and such other additional benefits. Health of the people improves if there is clean drinking water. Reference may be made to “ Who Benefits From Nuclear Power Plants In India? ” ( http://www.countercurrents.org/subbarao020812.htm )

(i) Atomic energy regulation in India is a make believe exercise. No more time should be wasted in positioning an independent and effective nuclear regulator. “ “AERB And Regulatory Capture In India: Conflict of Interest?”

( http://www.countercurrents.org/subbarao120812.htm )

(j) Since 1994, this writer has been repeatedly cautioning with several of his articles that India is going to face internal and external wars for water. Now the clash with China for water has taken shape. DNA ( APR 19, 2013, Mumbai) editorial, titled, “ A dry India reflects lack of foresight” explains that China being in control of  1,700 km of the Yarlung Zangbo river, the Tibetan part of the Brahmaputra River, and having taken up the construction of dams on the Yarlong Zangbo river to generate 40,000 MW of hydroelectric power at the Tsongpo Gorge which will be twice as big as the Three Gorges dam (the present world's largest hydro dam in China), the northern part of the Indian subcontinent is going to face unprecedented calamity.

(k) People's opposition to nuclear power is justified as they are rightly concerned for their lives and the lives of future generations. They are also effectively pointing out the detrimental energy policy of India. To come out of this detrimental energy policy, the first necessary prudent step is to abandon Koodankulam nuclear power project, so that, country would save several billions of rupees from being invested in further  nuclear power projects at Jaitapur, Kovvada and other places in the country and that money will be available for hydro, solar, wind and other means of ensuring energy security of India. 

Buddhi Kota Subbarao    is former Indian Navy Captain with Ph.D. in nuclear technology from Indian Institute of Technology, Bombay . His e-mail address:    bksubbarao@gmail.com

© Copyright: Author.

The following are the earlier articles by me, carried in your countercurrents.org :

Condemning North Korea's Latest Nuclear Test Is Meaningless

By Buddhi Kota Subbarao

14 February, 2013


Nuclear Power Business Is Defacing Indian Democracy

By Buddhi Kota Subbarao. Ph.D.

18 September, 2012


AERB And Regulatory Capture In India: Conflict of Interest?

By Buddhi Kota Subbarao. Ph.D.

12 August, 2012


Who Benefits From Nuclear Power Plants In India?

By   Buddhi Kota Subbarao. Ph.D.

02 August, 2012


Whether Ordinance On Self-Denial Of Nuclear Power Harmful To India?

By Buddhi Kota Subbarao. Ph.D

11 June, 2012


Koodankulam Nuclear Plant: Jayalalitha Is Consciously Missing A Historic Opportunity

04 April, 2012

Should The Koodankulam Power Nuclear Plant Be Commissioned Or Abandoned?

08 March, 2012


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

15 December, 2011,


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

16 October, 2011 


Indo-US Nuclear Deal- Some Unexplored Angles

9 March, 2006.







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