The latest media report on Koodankulam brings some disturbing news, about both the reactors and the nuclear journalism in India.

OF NUCLEAR AND EVERYTHING ELSE

by P K Sundaram

The central government and its political leaders last year pitched a media campaign about the loss of Rs. 5 crores daily in Koodankulam due to the local community’s protests. For the past several months now, the official reasons for delays in commissioning the plant have been ranging from repeating the safety tests to absolutely ‘no major reason‘. And the State Minister in the PMO has been tasked with making people forget about the 5 crore figure by bombarding them with next dates of commissioning the reactor in his every press briefing. In Koodankulam, the entire establishment has made a record of sorts in dishing out precise numbers every time they feel the press might need them. Sample this: reactors are 100% safe, plant construction construction is 99.4% complete on unit 1 and 94.75% complete on unit 2 is 99.37% complete (as of May 2012! ), tsunami wave height in Koodankulam would never exceed 5.44 metres.

Koodankulam cartoonIn a country where the DAE and its affiliated institutions are insulated from public scrutiny under the Atomic Energy Act of 1962, and  almost entire higher scientific research in nuclear physics and engineering is confined to their own enclave which is threatening to become a major human resource crisis in itself, the journalists are routinely bombarded with technological jargons and decimal figures. Not surprisingly, the media laps it up unquestioningly and keeps repeating till it is provided with new figures, new deadlines and new projections. Princeton physicist M V Ramana’s latest book ‘The Power of Promise’ is an instructive read for anybody wanting to make sense of the nuclear dictionary of India.

However, the latest piece of revelation on Koodankulam in the New Indian Express seems entirely to be a ‘beyond the design’ event going even by the average nuclear illiteracy of the Indian media. The claims and details in the news report so glaringly defy any common sense, leave alone adequate scientific knowledge, that I kept telling myself it cannot be the nuclear officials, the journalist gentleman must have messed up his notes. But in the past, we have had incidences of the unit chief  in Koodankulam claiming that the spent fuel from the reactors will not be radioactive, making it difficult for us to base our optimism on the follies of journalism.

The report in the New I.E. has a  number of revelations, attributed to “informed sources at the KKNPP” :

 – Parts of the plant are undergoing a refit to ensure foolproof safety.

One would want to know what is ‘foolproof safety’ for nuclear plants when even Minister Narayanswamy had to admit in the parliament that nuclear safety is a ‘moving target’. As they say, there is always a fool bigger than the proof.

 – The refit was necessitated by impasse created by months long agitation, plus litigation in the supreme court.

Earlier also, the nuclear establishment was caught trying to fool the country when it claimed after the hot run in KKNPP in 2011 that the reactors cannot be stopped now.

 – Chances of corrosion and leakage since sea water was used as coolant !

You mean sea water? Sea water can never be used as coolant is something that is taught in physics textbooks in class VIII.  TEPCO had to use sea water in Fukushima accident as the last recourse after the station black-out, and that itself led to hydrogen explosions in the reactors with the zirconium in the damaged fuel claddings reacting with sea water.

 – Components meant for Unit-II that were already in the warehouse were used as replacements for Unit-I (to save time..) as some safety equipment shipped by Russia came in through the Thoothukudi Port last week.

So smart! So, how much percentage of the construction in unit 2 is undone now? and how many hours exactly would it take to re-do it?  Having multiple reactors at a single place after Fukushima is a reason for vulnerability, not safety. But Koodankulam, Jaitapur, Mithivirdi, Chutka, Fatehabad, almost all new proposed sites in India are going to have nuclear power parks with multiple units.

 – The containment vessel of the nuclear core too has been changed since the old one had sprung a leak, which was detected three months ago during testing. So said the ‘informed source’.

Really? The containment vessel had a leak? After it was reported sealed on November 2, 2012? Independent experts like  V T Padmanabhan and the People’s Movement against Nuclear Energy spearheading the popular movement in Koodankulam have been raising alarm on the vulnerability and a breach of contract involving the Reactor Pressure Vessel in Koodankulam.

 – Idle equipment is vulnerable to corrosion, the journalists’ informed source has emphasised. The reporter should heed his words carefully.

With new dates, a new jargon has also been introduced: the second heat up test. That’s nothing new, repeating the hot run of 2011. And no, the AERB did not direct the NPCIL to repeat the hot run to be doubly sure, it is the NPCIL that sought AERB’s permission to do so. While some assertions in the New Indian Express are actually ridiculous, our desire to read this latest news report as only a PR/journalistic gaffe would remain a wishful thinking, an escape from the realities of horrendous misadventures in Koodankulam. Serious problems have brewed up in Koodankulam nuclear plant. Please read Nityanand Jayaraman’s important expose on the actual dangers behind the repeated delays, the nuclear establishment’s corruption and its nuclear half-truths here.

A new deadline for the reactor’s commissioning has been quoted in this report: May 2013. The last we heard on this from Mr. Narayanasamy in the parliament was April. He had meant an April 1st joke actually.