The Nuclear Power Corporation of India Ltd (NPCIL) should shut down units 1 and 2 of the Kudankulam Nuclear Power Plant (KKNPP), a counter-affidavit filed in the Supreme Court by green organisation Poovulagin Nanbargal states, as the plant failed to set-up an Away From Reactor Facility (AFR) in the time stipulated by the court.
On Monday, an apex court bench of Chief Justice of India Dipak Misra, and Justices AM Khanwilkar and DY Chandrachud, had directed the corporation to file an affidavit on the progress it had made in setting up safety features for the plant. In 2013, the Supreme Court had directed NPCIL to set-up the facility to store the Spent Nuclear Fuel (SNF) generated from two plants by May 2018.
SNF needs to be managed in a safe manner to ensure it doesn’t harm humans and the environment due to the ionizing radiation.
In court on Monday, Advocate Prashant Bhushan, appearing on behalf of the NGO, said, “There is a lack of any facility for the storage of spent fuel from the reactor. Even the site for storage has not been selected…a deep underwater facility had been sought to be established.”
In its application to the Supreme Court, NPCIL had said that the earliest it could set-up the AFR facility for units 1 and 2 of KKNPP was only on or after September 2020.
“The judgment was delivered in 2013…what has been so far? Show us the progress,” said the CJI, scheduling the matter to be listed in July. Justice Dipak Misra, however, clarified that no contempt proceedings may be initiated in view of the 2018 deadline.
Now, activist G Sunderrajan has filed a counter-affidavit on behalf of the group. The counter-affidavit states that the units should not be allowed to operate as the construction of the AFR has not yet been completed.
“The continued operation of the Kudankulam reactors without a suitable and safe location to store the spent fuel would be hazardous and violative of the directions issued by this court,” Sunderrajan said in his reply to NPCIL.
“The reasons assigned by NPCIL for the delay in the construction of AFR cannot be accepted as it has not taken any step after the formation of committee in 2013. It was only in the year 2017 that the NPCIL restarted its activity on the AFR. Thus, the NPCIL has failed to safeguard people,” he submitted.
In the event that the AFR was not completed by the time the ‘fuel pools’ of the two units were full, NPCIL would be forced to add more spent fuel to the fuel pools, a practice known as “dense packing”, which he said raised the risk of fires involving spent fuel and its zirconium cladding.
This fire, the petition says, would not only catastrophic to Kudankulam, but perhaps “all of southern India”.
He added that since 2013, the units had tripped over 40 times. “Globally, a nuclear reactor, when shut down for maintenance, will be restarted within 45-60 days. But in the case of KKNPP Unit 1, it takes at least four months for the NPCIL to restart the reactor, which is an alarming situation,” the counter-affidavit claimed.
As per the Nuclear Power Corporation’s affidavit, SNF should be kept in the plant site for a minimum of 5 years and only then it can be shifted to the AFR for long-term storage.
But the counter-affidavit said that as per NPCIL’s submission, the plant commenced operations five years ago and therefore, could set up the AFR.
“According to the NPCIL, even the consultative process with the Russian Specialists has not yet commenced,” it said.
The petitioner submitted that in view of the non-compliance of the court order that the construction of the AFR be completed by July 13, 2018, and violation of the undertaking given to the court by NPCIL and authorities, the court should reject the additional time sought to set up the AFR.