‘Maintenance shutdown’ at Kudankulam nuclear plant raises questions among activists

Unit 2 of the Kudankulam Nuclear Power Plant began operations in March and was shut down after a few weeks.
‘Maintenance shutdown’ at Kudankulam nuclear plant raises questions among activists
‘Maintenance shutdown’ at Kudankulam nuclear plant raises questions among activists
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Under maintenance for the past three months, Unit 2 of the Kudankulam nuclear power plant has had its restart date postponed multiple times. This has once again raised safety concerns among activists who claim that substandard equipment has been used and are demanding that the expansion of the nuclear plant be stopped.

The second reactor was shut down on August 4 due to hydrogen concentration in the stator. It was originally expected to restart generation on September 4. However, the restart date was postponed to October 7, then to November 3 and now to November 15. 

SV Jinna, Site Director at Kudankulam Nuclear Power Project (KNPP) has, however, blamed the delay on the overhaul of system.

With the 1000 MW second unit beginning commercial operations in March this year, activists wonder why the nuclear power plant had to be shut down so early on. “It is a very new plant. It has run only for a few weeks and such a plant need to be overhauled,” said G Sundarrajan, coordinator of Poovulagin Nanbargal, an NGO.

Arguing that the overall quality of different components and equipment used in the Kudankulam Nuclear Power plant is substandard, Sundarrajan points to the fact that the Russian Federal Prosecutors had in 2007 arrested the procurement director of ZiO-Poldolsk, a subsidiary of Rosatom, the country’s state-owned nuclear energy corporation on accusations of corruption. ZiO-Poldolsk was accused of knowingly selling inferior equipment manufactured for nuclear reactors. The same Russian company had supplied material and reactor parts to the Kudankulam Nuclear Power Plant.  

But it’s not just Unit 2 that has faced maintenance problems.  Since its inception in 2013, the 1000 MW Unit 1 of KNPP has shutdown multiple times.

The activist alleged that to camouflage the failures of Unit 1 and Unit 2, the project is being expanded further. “Unit 1 and 2 have already been a failure because they have used substandard components and the project was not properly implemented. They are trying to make Unit 3 and 4 a successful project because one and two will definitely die a natural death,” said Sundarrajan.

Construction for units 3 and 4 is presently going on and is expected to become operational by 2022-23.

Demanding that the Centre scraps the decision to expand the project, he explained, “The nuclear plant is itself a risky proposition. This is a nuclear park. Nowhere in the country do we have a nuclear park installed with 6000 MW power.”

While arguing that the government focus on renewable energy instead, he said, “Unit 1 and 2 has been installed but at least they should stop expanding. Second thing is disposing nuclear waste is becoming an issue in the entire world and there is no place to dispose it. Other countries are reducing use of nuclear power.”

Meanwhile, NPCIL SK Sharma had justified he maintenance shutdown at Unit 2 stating that "certain uncertainties" could crop up in the initial days of a new reactor.

Hitting out at the BJP and the previous Congress government, activist SP Udayakumar, who spearheaded the protests against the project in 2011, said, “They claimed it was brand new technology and started it. After five months, they are saying there could be some uncertainties once they start again. What is the real problem? Why can’t they tell us? They are accountable to the nation. The Congress and BJP government have been hiding all the irregularities.”

Calling the government anti-people, Udayakumar said, “Thousands of people have been protesting against the Unit 1 and 2 for more than two-and-half years if there is any kind of respect for democracy, the central government should hear the people and stop it.”

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