Kalpakkam N-reactors to get relook into safety aspects

Kalpakkam N-reactors to get relook into safety aspects

Post Fukushima disaster, IGCAR sets up two preparatory panels

However, this is unlikely to affect the current status of the country’s first 500 MW ‘Prototype Fast Breeder Reactor (PFBR)’, which is now into its “core stage of commissioning” and is expected to go on stream by 2013, Dr Baldev Raj, nuclear scientist and out-going director of IGCAR said on Saturday.

Though IGCAR had already factored in new safety aspects after the December 2004 tsunami, which hit the Kalpakkam coast but miraculously spared the two Pressurised Heavy Water Reactors of the Madras Atomic Power Station here, Raj said the Fukushima disaster has come as bigger warning to all nuclear power plant  operators.

Thus, post-Fukushima, ‘Bhavini’, the public sector company building the PFBR, that will use a unique mixed carbide fuel generating more plutonium than it consumes. IGCAR has already set up two preparatory committees to review all safety aspects, he said.

Accompanied by senior nuclear scientists and officials, including Prabhat Kumar, Project Director, ‘Bhavini’, S C Chetal, the newly-appointed IGCAR Director and K Ramamurthy, Station Director, MAPS, Raj told the media that there was an ‘ethical’ dimension to the crisis-response too, as people have to be told everything. Raj said the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) in Vienna  had strongly recommended that in addressing such scenarios, any question to NPP operators, either from specialists or non-specialists, should be taken very seriously.

The IAEA was informed that even after the 2004 tsunami, there was no problem in the nuclear reactors at Kalpakkam which were automatically shutdown, said Raj.

In the PFBR construction at that stage, the old foundation was discarded for a new higher foundation, he said. It enhanced the safety margins of the PFBR’s floor-level, which is now 4.6 m over mean sea level (MSL). For the two MAPS reactors, it is 2.5 m above MSL.

Stating that these parameters had been worked out taking the highest seismic data for over 100 years, Raj said.

Also, those structures that house the emergency cooling equipment were at a safety high so that sea water cannot flood any ‘nuclear-related structure’. This was also the case for the two MAPS nuclear stations here.

While a ‘tsunami protection well’ has already been raised in the vicinity of the Kalpakkam township and the reactor sites, Raj said, adding that a local tsunami warning system is also in place.

A local radio station to communicate any emergency to the people around has also started functioning recently, he said.

Raj said both IGCAR and ‘Bhavini’ were reassessing safety aspects for which two panels have been appointed.

 There was also national-level committee looking into all nuclear power stations, whose report is expected in the next three to four months, said Raj.

One difference between the Fukushima reactors and the Rs 5,677-crore PFBR and the six other 500 MW each Commercial Fast Breeder Reactors (CFBR) planned at Kalpakkam is that the latter do not need sea water for cooling.

The structural integrity of the PFBR reactor building and all systems and components instilled in it was so high and built with ‘sufficient redundancies’,  Raj said.

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