Top scientists express safety concerns over Kudankulam nuclear plant

Sixty of the country’s leading scientists have written to chief ministers of Tamil Nadu and Kerala, expressing safety concerns over the controversial Kudankulam Nuclear Power Plant which received the Supreme Court’s nod earlier this month. The scientists, most of who aren’t specialists in nuclear energy, have sought a safety review of the plant by an “independent panel” of experts.

The top court had declared that all expert bodies were of the unanimous opinion that adequate safety measures had been taken at the plant situated in Tamil Nadu.

But the scientists, in their three-page petition, have expressed doubts “particularly with reference to possible sub-standard components” that were supplied to the plant. Recently, four faulty valves were detected in the first reactor unit of the plant; they were later replaced. Some Russian officials had also been arrested recently over alleged corruption in sourcing sub-standard materials from some Russian nuclear plants.

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Respected Chief Ministers,

We, the below-signed (next two pages), are scientists from various disciplines who are concerned about the quality of components and equipment used at the Koodankulam Nuclear Power Plant (KKNP) Units 1 & 2. Our concerns arise from recent media reports about the use of substandard components in KKNP 1 & 2, and the revelation at this late stage that four valves in a critical safety system were found defective.

These safety concerns are compounded by the fact that Russian authorities arrested Mr. Sergei Shutov, procurement director of Zio-Podolsk, on corruption charges for having sourced cheaper sub-standard steel for manufacturing components that were used in Russian nuclear installations in Bulgaria, Iran, China and India. This has led to several complaints of sub-standard components and follow-up investigations in Bulgaria and China. The ramifications of such corruption need to be taken very seriously as they have implications for the long-term safety of the nuclear plant.

As the Chief Minister of the states hosting and neighbouring the nuclear power plant, the two of you have a responsibility to satisfy yourself and the residents of Tamil Nadu and Kerala that the plant has been constructed to the highest safety standards. Any exercise to assure oneself of the quality of components used will have to be done before the plant is commissioned. Once commissioned, the radioactive environment in sections of the plant will make it impossible to access and test some potentially critical components.

Unfortunately, as we have seen in Fukushima, there is the danger that the impact of a major hazardous event in Koodankulam may not be localized but could spread to larger regions in both Tamil Nadu and Kerala. To reduce such a risk, in the light of recent revelations, we believe that it is important to have a fresh independent and thorough quality inspection of the components used in the two reactors.

We, the below-signed, include scientists who believe that nuclear energy has a legitimate role in securing our energy future and others that believe that nuclear energy is too risky. Through this letter, we are not advocating for or against nuclear energy. All of us are of the opinion that when dealing with complex and potentially dangerous technologies transparency, honesty and a rigorous adherence to the highest quality standards are imperative. We urge you to convey to the Prime Minister and the Department of Atomic Energy that before commissioning the reactors, they should consult independent national experts to formulate an inspection regime and carry out a full-fledged inspection into the safety of KKNP 1 & 2. Such an inspection should pay particular attention to the allegations of sub-standard equipment and components.

(The affiliations listed in the next two pages are meant purely for purposes of identification. It is understood that all signatories are signing in their personal capacity, and this does not reflect on the official positions of their respective organizations.)

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