V T Padmanabhan | CounterCurrents

The first reactor at the Kudankulam Nuclear Power Plant (KKNPP-1), built jointly by the Nuclear Power Corporation of India Ltd (NPCIL) and Russia’s Atomstroyexport (ASE) is the only operating Generation-III pressurized water reactor (VVER-1000) in the world. During the 840 days of its grid connection since 22 October 2013, the reactor worked for 372 days, tripped (forced outage) for 20 times and was off-grid for 468 days and its capacity factor has been less than 25%.

The brand new Russian machine commissioned a year ago underwent a seven month long overhaul since 24 June 2015 and achieved criticality on at 16:19 hrs 21 Jan 2016. After a series of experiments, the generator was connected to the grid at 07:12 hrs on 30 Jan 2016. Quoting the site director, R.S. Sundar The Hindu reported on 01 Feb 2016 that “three-hundred megawatts of power was generated since the grid connection and the level was maintained till 5.30 p.m.”[1] If this is true, the grid should have received 3000 MW/hr or about 100 MW/day after accounting for about 25 MW/day for the units own consumption. However, the daily report of the Southern Regional Load Dispatch Centre (SRLDC) for 30th Jan 2016, released at 07:00 hrs 31 Jan 2016 shows that the grid did not receive even a single unit of electricity from KKNPP-1 on the day.[2] If the grid did not receive any electricity, where did it disappear? Both the KKNPP and the SRLDC reported that the generator was disconnected from the grid at 17:30 hr on 30 Jan 2016.

Why was KKNPP-1 connected with the grid for 10 hours and why the story of 300 MW? On 30 December 2014 the reactor was formally handed over by the ASE to the NPCIL for one year’s warranty operation. On 2nd January 2015 the Russian News Agency TASS reported:

“the (KKNPP-1) reactor has been commissioned for warranty-period operation. An act on a provisional transfer of power unit No. 1 to operation was signed by the Russian and Indian sides. This means that a year-long period of operation on warranty has begun. Upon the results of these twelve months, the power unit will be fully transferred to the Indian side”.[3]

On 30th December 2015, the expiry date of the warranty period, the reactor was still under maintenance. Though it attained criticality on 21st January 2016, it was connected with the grid 10 days later and disconnected after 10 hours. This was followed by a report by the Russian News agency RIA Novosty that “today, at 7.12 a.m. (1.42 GMT) the first unit of Kudankulam nuclear power plant was connected to the electric grid”.[4]

The grid connection of the reactor for 10 hours for nothing and the story of 300 MW could have been for the facilitation of the final transfer of the reactor to India. Like the provisional transfer for warranty operation a year ago, this final transfer was also not reported by the media in India. It will be interesting to see status of the machine during the first week after the transfer.

Score card during the first week of the second year after commissioning

The generator was reconnected with the grid on 31 January 2016 and in a press release dated 04 February 2016, KKNPP Site Director RS Sundar said that “the plant is generating 715 MW power at present and will hit the capacity mark (1000 MW) in a day or two”.[5] However, instead of hitting the mark, the reactor tripped at 22:43 hr on the same day, for the 20th time since its grid connection. The reason for the trip as reported by the SRLDC is ‘steam leak in the secondary side’.

The expected date of restart on the day of the trip was 7th February 2016. Even two days after the deadline, the reactor is still down and the date of expected revival (as on 10 Feb 16) is still shown as 07 February 2016.[6] Ever since its grid connection, the reactor had experienced 25 shutdowns. This is the first time that even after three days, the date of expected revival has not been updated.

At the same time, quoting Evgeni Griva, director general of the Rosatom’s South Asia office in Mumbai, The Financial Express reported on 9th Feb 2016 that “the turbine of KKNPP-1 is running, and the unit is expected to be connected to the grid within a few hours”.[7]

During the past 20 days, KKNPP-1 worked for 4 days and has been on forced outage since 4th February. Expected date of its revival is not known. The reactor’s score card during the first week of its ownership transfer is given in table 1 below:

kknptable 1SRLDC provides data of electricity generation at 03:00 hr (in column 2), 19:00 hr (col 4) and the peak generation during the day, all in MW(e) and the electricity received by the grid (after deducting the in-house consumption) in million units (MU) (col 7) and MW(e) (col 8). The time at which the peak generation of the day occurred is given in column (6). If the peak generation occurred between 03:00 and 19:00 hr, it is given in column (3), otherwise in column (5). We have 3 data points for each day and 15 data points for the whole week. These are plotted in graph below:

Even though the mission of the operator is to take the power level to 1000 MW, we see dips or falls on each day. The fall from 879 MW at 15:17 hr to 474 MW in less than four hours is very steep. These swings are fun, if the operator were playing a snake and ladder game. The games being played in the control room of KKNPP-1 is a dangerous one and the dips indicate that the machine was not responding properly to the commands of the operator.

Is this a new episode or the continuity of an old disease? The reactor was not in sound health when it was shut down for maintenance on 24 June 2015. On 18th April 2015, it was operating at 100% full power and from 19th April onwards, the output started declining systematically till the shutdown. In between, on 9th May 2015, the reactor tripped due to “problem in steam generator level control”.[8] The 65-days long instability of the reactors could have been due to this generic problem of ageing of VVER steam generator and it is likely that the problem still remains unsolved.

Why is the trip rate of the reactor alarmingly high? Why such repeated long duration maintenances? Why the operator cannot predict the expected time of revival after shutdown?

There are studies that point out that almost all the components of the reactor were manufactured during the 1980’s and were rendered surplus due to post-Chernobyl cancellation of over two dozen reactors. In short, this is a junk reactor.

The day the reactor was reconnected, Dr A Gopalakrishnan (AGK) again raised the issue of substandard components.[9] Again in an article published on 4th February 2016, the day the reactor tripped, AGK said that he had brought out the shortcomings in material procurement for Kudankulam units and the associated suspicion of corruption. “In the Kudankulam case, where strong indications are that there are serious flaws of one kind or other, lack of transparency certainly raises the doubt that the Department of Atomic Energy (DAE) , NPCIL and AERB together may be hiding some serious deficiencies from the public. This impression needs to be removed by honestly answering the doubts and questions raised by the public regarding this plant.”[10]

Teething Troubles?

The DAE and NPCIL have repeatedly denied the issue of sub-standard and counterfeit components in KKNPP. According to the Chairman of the Atomic Energy Commission, this is a case of typical teething trouble as the reactor supplied by Russia is completely new to the scientists and engineers of NPCIL. It would appear that the operators were appointed for the job of running this after it was built. In fact, the training program had started along with the construction itself. The NPCIL’s annual report for the year 2003-04 had recorded: “The Operation and Maintenance group and full fledged training centre at KKNPP site was established during the year.[11]” And according to a report published by ZeeNews on January 8, 2005: “Seventy Indian nuclear engineers have successfully passed out of a Russian Training Centre ahead of their posting in Kudankulam Atomic Power Station in Tamil Nadu. After the training at Russian Nuclear Power Agency’s “Rosenergoatom” Centre in Novo-Voronezh in southern Russia, the engineers are to undergo a six-week practical training at Kalinin nuclear power plant in Tver region north of Moscow, where a VVER-1000 nuclear reactor was recently commissioned. In all 150 Indian specialists are to be trained in Russia to work as operators and maintenance engineers at Kudankulam”.[12] After the rigorous training in Russia, these specialists have been working on the simulator control panel for about 8 years and on a fuelled reactor for two and half years. The collective experienced on the fuelled reactor alone works out to 325 working years.

Indo-Russian Friendship

Within hours of the reactor’s virtual grid connection on 30th January, His Excellency, Alexander M Kadakin, the Ambassador of the Russian Federation to India wrote to RS Sunder that “President Putin by his decree No 29 dated 29 January 2016 has awarded you the Order of Friendship for your great contribution to the implementation of KKNPP project.”[13] Sundar said that the “credit should go to Russian scientists as well.”

More than anyone else, the site director deserves this highest Russian civilian honor awarded to a foreigner. Way back on 22 October 2013 he had grid connected the KKNPP-1 generator, within hours after Putin ordered to do so, even though the machine was not ready for it. Again, on 31 December 2014, a day after the NPCIL and Atomstroyexport signed the transfer documents of KKNPP-1, he declared its commercial commissioning, even though the reactor had repeatedly failed in clearing the commissioning tests. And now with this virtual grid connection and the story of 300 MW, he has made India and the NPCIL the proud owners of the safest reactor in this world.

The trauma being experienced by Sundar’s men in the control room of KKNPP-1 are not teething troubles of a new technology. There are enough evidence to show that the reactors at Kudankulam are made of counterfeit and sub-standard equipment and spares rendered surplus due to post-Chernobyl cancellation of two dozen VVER-1000 reactors in Eastern and Central Europe. As Gopalakrishnan said, “a very large amount of public funds have been spent on this reactor, with very little benefit accrued to the people in return. The reactor is known to have suffered continuous and unprecedented problems during the construction, erection and commissioning phases as well as during the present initial operation period till date.”

In the recent past, there have been instances of large scale corruptions involving politicians, administrators, industrialists and scientists and technologists, even frontier-science driven government enterprises like space research. In all these scams, all what happens is flow of public assets to private pockets. Not a single child is going to suffer from thyroid cancer or mental retardation and hence we tend to forget these the moment a new scam surfaces, which is a cyclic process in modern times. Nuclear corruption may end up in catastrophe of global level, and the impacts can be trans-generational. India and Russia have enough experts and wise women and men to understand that the dips in the graph above and events since its grid connection reported earlier are worthy of an independent investigation. Fortunately it is possible now as the decisions on Kudankulam are taken at the highest political level and the “Prime Minister Narendra Modi firmly believes that transparency and accountability are the two cornerstones of any pro-people government”.[14]

VT Padmanabhan, a member of the Nuclear Consultancy Group (NCG) has been writing on nuclear safety and health effects (genetic and somatic) of ionizing radiation. All his reports on the Kudankulam Nuclear Power Plant has been published in the Countercurrents. He has also studied the genetic effects of children of Bhopal survivers. His published works are available at https://www.researchgate.net/profile/Padmanabhan_VT.
Email : [email protected]

[1] http://www.thehindu.com/todays-paper/tp-national/tp-tamilnadu/power-generation-begins-in-kknpp-
first- unit/article8177349.ece

[2] http://srldc.org/var/ftp/reports/psp/2016/Jan16/30-01-2016-psp.pdf
[3] TASS, 02 Jan 2015, Kudankulam-1 transferred to India for warranty operation
[4] http://sputniknews.com/asia/20160130/1033961671/kudankulam-npp-india-russia.html#ixzz3zeCApvwg
[5] http://echoofindia.com/tirunelveli-tn-kudankulam-i-generation-touch-1k-mw-within-2-days-103158
[6] http://srldc.org/var/ftp/reports/unit/2016/Feb16/09-02-2016-unit.pdf
[7] The Financial Express, February 9, 2016 1:22 AM. http://www.financialexpress.com/article/industry/companies/
[8] http://srldc.org/var/ftp/reports/unit/2015/May15/10-05-2015-unit.pdf
[9] http://www.thehindu.com/news/national/tamil-nadu/kudankulam-plant-not-safe-without-proper-

[10] A.Gopalakrishnan, 2016 “Nuclear Safety Regulation Is A Mere Sham”: Former AERB Chief Calls for a Stop to Nuclear Power Expansion Thursday, February 04,2016 http://www.thecitizen.in/index.php/OldNewsPage/?Id=6722
[11] Nuclear Power Corporation of India Limited, Annual Report – 2003-2004
PP 41_50.pdf http://www.npcil.nic.in/main/PdfPage.aspx
[12] http://zeenews.india.com/news/nation/70-indian-nuke-engg-pass-out-from-russian-training-centre_195287.html
[13] http://rusembindia.com/home/embassynews/118-embassynews/7750-ambassador-of-russia-h-e-mr-alexander-m-kadakin-greets-director- of-kudankulam-npp-site-mr-r-s-sundar-on-being-awarded-the-order-of-friendship
[14] pmindia.gov.in/en/quest-for-transparency/