At India’s highly-guarded and walled atomic establishment, there are cheers in southern India, but tears in the western part of the country.
Much to cheer about at Kudankulam, as India’s largest nuclear power park situated not far from the tip of India, Kanyakumari, is now operational. The twin 1000 MW atomic reactors have nuclear fission reaction running in them for the first time. The first unit started supplying electricity in 2013 and the second unit which became operational this week and will start feeding electricity to the grid in a few weeks.
At the same time, some 2000 km away, some grief and tears since the indigenously made Kakrapar Atomic Power Station in Gujarat remains shut for nearly four months after a leak in the nuclear island of the reactor forced an emergency shut down of a fully operating plant.
The bigger headache for the Indian nuclear engineers is that even after several months of investigation the exact reason why the ‘leak’ took place remains a mystery. The usually mild mannered but vigilant nuclear watchdog of India — the Atomic Energy Regulatory Board (AERB) — issued an ominous statement which said “the incident of leak from a coolant channel at Kakrapar Atomic Power Station Unit 1 at an early stage of its life has raised some concerns”.
At Kudankulam, which is not far from Lanka, the 14-year hiatus in starting the atomic reactors is almost akin to the 14-year ‘vanvas’ or banishment for Lord Rama as recorded in the religious epic Ramayana. The nuclear ‘vanvas’ for Kudankulam ended on July 10, 2016 when the first sustained nuclear fission was attained in the second unit of the Russian made nuclear reactors.
The construction for the first two units began way back in 2002 with the target to make it operational in five years, but today it has taken almost three times that amount of time.
Time over runs on infrastructure projects prove to be very costly especially since Tamil Nadu was woefully short of electricity.
The large reactors at Kudankulam have been delayed for various reasons — there was considerable delay in supplying parts by Russian manufacturers and then just as the first unit was to become operational three years ago, an anti-nuclear agitation in part initially fuelled by the local state government of Tamil Nadu halted work at the almost ready atomic plants.
Today the two atomic reactors at Kudankulam have cost over Rs 22,000 crore, confirms S K Sharma, chairman-cum-managing director of the Nuclear Power Corporation of India Limited (NPCIL), the operator of the plant. The 10-year delay escalated the cost of the reactors by almost Rs 9000 crore — a huge drain on the exchequer.
Local anti-nuclear activists like S P Udayakumar dub the reactors as “unsafe” and call them a huge risk for the people living around the giant reactors. The fairly affluent fisher folk who inhabit the village closet to the nuclear reactors called Idinthakarai erupted against the establishment of the atomic reactors in their backyard and forced the plant authorities to delay the start of the reactors.
Countering the claims of the activists, the then chairman of the Atomic Energy Commission Srikumar Banerjee had called the Kudankulam reactors “one of the safest in the world”.