Kudankulam N-row: HC pulls up pollution control board

As the first 1000 mwe unit of the Kudankulam Nuclear Power Project (KNPP) in Tamil Nadu is in a crucial start-up stage, the Atomic Energy Regulatory Board (AERB) on Tuesday stoutly defended its clearance for ‘Initial Fuel Loading (IFL)’ for the unit in the Madras High Court, even as the latter pulled up the Tamil Nadu Pollution Control Board (TNPCB) for “not applying its mind”. 

Categorically denying allegations made in a PIL against the KNPP by one G Sundararajan of Chennai (a bunch of PILs are being heard by the court), that granting ‘IFL’ clearance (to load the enriched uranium fuel assemblies inside the reactor core) amounted to ‘contempt’ of the High Court, respondent AERB said only after a full review of safety measures, the go-ahead was given.

“The review indicated that the Unit one of KNPP has adequate safety measures against external events, particularly Tsunami, and has provisions to withstand ‘Station Blackout (SBO)’ condition. As a measure of abundant caution, some additional safety enhancements proposed by the Nuclear Power Corporation of India Ltd (NPCIL) were reviewed in depth and accepted for implementation in a phased manner. Thus, the safety review and resolution of these issues was completed before granting clearance for IFL,” the AERB said in its counter filed in the High Court. Stating that it had also been reviewing various ‘commissioning reports’ based on the hot-run test results for KNPP’s first unit (done with dummy fuel last year), the AERB informed the High Court’s Division Bench, comprising Justice P Jyothimani and Justice P Devadoss, that the clearance for ILF was granted only after issues subsequent to the hot-run were also resolved.

Ionising radiation

The existing design safety features in KNPP-Unit one have also “substantiated the performance” required to handle ‘SBO situation’ like that happened in Fukushima in Japan last year, the AERB affidavit emphasised.

On ensuring protection against ‘ionising radiation’, the AERB chairman maintained in his affidavit to the court on Tuesday that they have “adopted the limit of 1 milisivet/per year on public dose” as recommended by the International Commission of Radiological Protection (ICRP), and urged the court to dismiss the writ petitions against the KNPP, implemented with Russian assistance. When the matter came up, Justice Jyothimani orally observed, “there is obviously a mistake” in the 45 degrees C temperature tolerance limit mentioned by the TNPCB in its counter affidavit at the point of discharge of effluent from the nuclear power plant into the sea at Kudankulam.

 The limit could not be more than 7 degrees C “above the ambient temperature of 31 degrees C”, the Judge observed and pulled up the TNPCB for not applying its mind when it stated in its counter that the limit could be up to 45 degrees C. On this, the State Advocate General, A Navaneethakrishnan said, the TNPCB would modify its order on this technical aspect.

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