Engineers stand guard at TN nuke plant 24/7

Technical personnel were trained in Russia

The state-of-the-art computerised control room at the unit one of Kudankulam Nuclear Power Project, from where is health and safety is continuously monitored. DH Photo

Sitting amid the plant’s amazing array of panels, flow charts and electronic signals in the “Control Room” were the 20 engineers who stand guard 24/7 to ensure that no organic or chemical reversals beset the plant, particularly the first unit here which came close to commissioning after the “hot-run.”.

With the basic design, engineering and plant equipment supplied by Russians, the Indian workforce inside the KNPP acquiring compatible skills became vital.

“About 30 engineers in the first batch went from here to the Russian Federation for seven months training at “Novovoronezh,” their National training centre for all Vver-type reactors,” said S Thirunavukkarasu, Senior Maintenance Engineer (Mechanical), KNPP, explaining the host of safety features of the plant to this correspondent who was given special permission to visit the facility on Saturday.

In all, 175 engineers and technical personnel from the KNPP underwent training in Russia, 15 of whom were also given higher special training.

At the CR’s heart is a graphic representation of the reactor vessel and all its connected systems, whose functions can be monitored and controlled. 

While one “Safety Panel” will do—both software and hardware for the CR has been provided by the Russians—four such “safety systems” are firmly in place to ensure at least one always functioned in any emergency.

To maintain a vast array of systems in the plant, any changes in the prescribed temperature/pressure/humidity or other parameters is at once flashed on the CR panels to “maintain its chemistry and ensure no corrosion sets in the piping systems and hundreds of other components.”

In an unexpected power black-out, the control rods above the reactor core will drop under pressure of gravity and stop the nuclear chain reaction in the reactor vessel, said Thirunavukkarasu, showing those rods inside the reactor building which were all recently tested in the “hot-run with dummy fuel.” 

Going up a small rugged lift, also of Russian make, to the top-most level of the reactor building, Thirunavukkarasu showed the “passive heat removal system (PHRS),”
“This works naturally on a principle of thermo siphoning” as natural air from the atmosphere enters through vents to remove the passively accumulated heat in the reactor,” he said.  The PHRS, in addition to the other emergency cooling systems, had been specially provided for after approvals from the Russian Regulatory Board and our Atomic Energy Regulatory Board.

The systems are examples of the kind of “redundancies” in terms of technologies and systems built into the KNPP’s design and construction to make it as humanly safe as possible, the engineers said.

But plant authorities say that even such minimal maintenance requires the presence of more personnel, which the anti-KNPP protesters are not allowing. 

“The Tirunelveli district collector on Friday asking a special thasildar to take a head count of personnel entering the KNPP daily, on a plea by the protesters, is shocking and irksome; at this rate we can’t hold on even for one more month,” another official said.

Meanwhile, the Central Committee, in its 40-page report testifying to the safety of the KNPP, made available to the media on Saturday, has allayed concerns over most issues,  including spent fuel storage tanks in the reactor, handling of radioactive waste, de-commissioning the plant after its 40 years of life and no damage to marine eco-system.

But the team expressed concern that the “setback in project completion schedule” has resulted in cost revision, initially put at Rs 13,171 crore for both  units. Even after all the reassurances the locals at Kudankulam do not seem to believe that the nuclear plant is safe.

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