Koodankulam: Serious Environmental and Safety concerns


Shri M. G. Devasahayam is a former IAS and Managing Trustee, Citizens Alliance for Sustainable Living, Chennai
Nityanand jayaraman

Nityanand Jayaraman is an environmental researcher and activist based in Chennai.

The Koodankulam Nuclear power Plant (KKNPP) is being commissioned without any legal Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA), a fact admitted by the Ministry of Environment & Forests in a sworn affidavit filed in the Madras High Court. According to this affidavit, environmental clearance for Units 1 and 2 was given ‘as early as 9th May 1989’ and renewed on 6th September 2001. Since EIA Notification under Environmental Protection Act came into existence only on 27th January, 1994 and provision for public hearing was introduced only on 10th April, 1997 there was no need for KKNPP to go through these critical processes.

Nuclear establishment has taken shelter behind this fig-leaf to ram a 2000 MW nuclear power plant down the throat of over 1.5 million PAP without even going through the most basic process of EIA and public hearing. What is more, Nuclear Power Corporation Limited (NPCL) has been consistently refusing to share the Site Evaluation (SE) and Safety Analysis Report (SAR) with the PAP.

This forced PMANE to appeal to the Central Information Commission who in turn ordered NPCL “to provide an attested photocopy of the SAR and SE Report after severing any proprietary details of designs provided by the suppliers to the appellant before 25 May, 2012.” But the NPCIL has refused arguing that SAR ‘is a third party document belonging to a Russian company’ and therefore ‘cannot be shared with anyone.’ NPCIL even threatened to take CIC to court. Obviously NPCL is more interested in protecting a Russian company (third party) than safeguarding the PAP (first party)!

In the face of such persistent stone-walling, the humble PMANE scientists dug deep and did some quality research. Result is the startling revelation that there has been a serious breach of contract and perhaps deceit in that the VVER reactor under commissioning at KKNPP differs from the one featured in the inter-governmental agreement between Russia and India.  According to documents published in 2006, there was no weld on the beltline (middle portion) of the reactor pressure vessel (RPV).  Now AERB says that there are two welds on the beltline of the RPV installed at KKNPP exposing it to high failure risk that could lead to offsite radiological contamination. If the reactor is hot-commissioned, it will be virtually impossible to subject the vessel to a detailed inspection and remediation. From a safety perspective, the IAEA-mandated study of pressurized thermal shock has to be done before commissioning the reactors at Kudankulam.

Pure fresh water is a critical input for KKNPP during operation as well as safety of the spent fuel.  While approval for the plant was given in 1989, AERB  mandated accessing of fresh water-from two reservoirs through pipelines with an on-campus reserve of 60,000 cubic meters, sufficient to maintain the spent fuel pool and the reactor cores (under shutdown mode) for 30 days. These sources are not available and have been replaced by four imported seawater desalination plants with a reserve of 12,000 cubic meters of water i.e. just 20% of what was stipulated by AERB and that too from artificial source. This is serious breach of safety, because fresh water is the only remedy in the event of a nuclear emergency.

All these takes us to an essential pre-requisite before the plant is commissioned-mock evacuation drills in the 30 km or at least the 16 km radius of the project. This has not been done. On June 9, 2012, the Tirunelveli district administration and the NPCL officials went through some motions in the remote hamlet of Nakkaneri of hardly 300 people and claimed that the ‘mock drill’ was a great success. According to a fact-finding team that went to the village subsequently, on that day revenue officials accompanied by a large posse of policemen came to the village, got some papers signed and announced it as ‘mock-evacuation drill’. The district administration as well as NPCL has been extremely secretive in the matter!

No EIA, no public hearing, no sharing of Site Evaluation and Safety Analysis, no natural fresh-water, no evacuation drill and to cap it all breach of contract and installation of low quality Pressure Vessel. By all accounts it is ‘no-go’ for the project. The least the nuclear establishment should do is to defer the commissioning process and undertake a comprehensive review and analysis of all the fears expressed. While doing so the two cataclysmic events-2004 Tsunami and 2011 Fukushima nuclear disaster-that rocked this part of the world since KKNPP was given ‘environmental clearance’ should be factored in.    

Specific reasons that make Environmental Clearance granted by the Ministry of Environment & Forests illegal and ultravires are:

  1. In September 2001, when the Ministry of Environment & Forests revalidated the EC granted in May 1989, the only provision for granting Environmental Clearance was located within EIA Notification, 1994. This Notification amended in 1997 stated that nuclear projects required EIA reports and public hearing. There was no provision to renew, or revalidate the EC, and the revalidated EC too does not elaborate on what powers were invoked to issue the revalidated EC. The EC that was granted in 2001 was not granted as per the laws extant at the time, namely EIA Notification, 1994, as amended on 10.4.1997 with the insertion of a clause requiring public hearings.
  2. The revalidated EC was ostensibly given “based on the review of the activities/work initiated at site on various components of the project and site visits made.” However, it is clear from AERB counter affidavit that the actual project construction activities started from 2001 onwards when NPCIL submitted its application requesting consent for site excavation. DAE counter affidavit also states that clearance for excavation was given in October 2001, implying that the EC of 1989 had not been operationalised for 10 years, during which time much had changed.
  3. The original EC of 1989 and the subsequently given EC of 2001 assumed Pechiparai reservoir as the fresh water source. However, since then, it appears that NPCIL has constructed four desalination plants, of which three will be operated to supply 7680 cubic metres of water, which is sufficient to operate two nuclear power plants and supply the potable water needs of the township, but does not cater to the reserves required. The Environmental Impacts of the desalination plants have not been assessed till date, despite the fact that they have very serious impacts both while drawing in water, and while discharging rejects.
  4. The original EC of 1989 envisaged discharge of hot post-cooling water at a temperature not exceeding 5 degree celsius of the receiving waters. It has now come to light that the cooling water will be discharged at a temperature of up to 7 degree celsius above receiving waters. This downgradation in standards is not supported by any scientific study, and is likely to have a deleterious effect on the marine environment.
  5. The original EC of 1989 mentions an exclusion zone (with zero population) of 2 km. Current AERB documents indicate that the exclusion zone has been reduced to 1 km, and there is a tsunami rehabilitation colony set up since 2004.

The Environmental Clearance of 1989
a) exempts the NPP from the ban on construction within 500 metres, without any real application of mind, perusal of documents etc.
b) envisions Pechiparai as source of water.
c) does not envision desalination plants or their impacts
d) stipulates a temperature differential of 5 degrees above receiving waters for thermal discharge.
e) stipulates a 2 km exclusion zone.

The EC of 1988 was issued in May 1988. However, AERB’s site clearance was given in November 1988, more than 4 months later. So it is unlikely that the EC was given with any application of mind, particularly on the nature and suitability of the site.

The EC of 1988 was based on an EIA that justified site selection based on
a) eventualities of natural disasters including cyclonic storm surges, and explicitly stating that tsunamis were not considered.
b) no population in exclusion zone of 2 km.

The revalidated EC of 2001 states that the revalidation was done after a review of construction in progress, afforestation program, and the expenses incurred/committed. No new conditions were stipulated. However, AERB states in its affidavit that construction began only with the site excavation works that were approved by the AERB in October 2001. AERB also states that no construction was undertaken during the period that the project was “in limbo” due to the disintegration of the Soviet Union.

The AERB document states that no permission has been granted for fuel rod insertion and that the petitioner’s apprehension that such permission is imminent is unwarranted.

EIA Notification was issued in 1994 mandating EIA for new projects. An amendment was brought to the EIA Notification in 1997 mandating public hearings for specific projects including NPPs. The Notification also stipulated that expansion/modernisation projects would have to undertake an EIA and undergo a public hearing.

The EIA report of NEERI was submitted in 2003, two years after EC was revalidated. The report downgrades parameters for discharge temperature of once-through coolant water from 5 degrees celsius (in EC 1988) to 7 degrees celsius above receiving water temperature.

Even in 2003 EIA, the source of water was assumed as Pechiparai reservoir. So no impact assessment had been conducted for the desalination plants that are currently in place. The EIA also does not consider the environmental impact — either in terms of cataclysmic events, or lower intensity environmental events — as a result of tsunamis.

Post Tsunami, a community (CASA Nagar) was relocated to an area that is now within the 2 km exclusion zone. However, AERB RTI documents suggest that the exclusion zone has now been downgraded to 1 km now. Rehabilitation of this community has not happened.

The Reactor Pressure Vessel, it is now learnt, was originally envisioned as a weld-free vessel. It was subsequently found to have two welds.  The impacts of the welds could not have been anticipated at the time of grant of clearance.

The clearance was granted prior to CRZ Notification, 1991. A number of components, including the desalination plant and the temporary jetty were constructed post 2003. However, these were undertaken without obtaining CRZ clearances, or any other environmental due diligence such as impact assessments, public hearings or environmental clearances.

The site evaluation report envisions the transport of spent fuel to Russia for reprocessing through the sea route. However, that has now changed and the spent fuel may either be reprocessed on site or taken to a facility nationally through land. That introduces another variant in terms of environmental impact that was not considered.

The AERB bulletin of 2008 too contains much information that indicates that there was only a broad idea of the scope and design of the plant in 1988 when EC was granted. We should argue that that clearance should have been rigorously reviewed in 2001 when a lot more information was available about nuclear plants, and when the law had evolved significantly to allow for assessing environmental impacts and preparing management plans.


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