Koodankulam: Corruption to Impending Disaster – The missing Link?

Dr V Prakash

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Prof. V. Prakash, Ph.D., teaches in a reputed engineering college in South India. He has developed new means of Energy Efficiency Improvement measures in Electrical Motors, which form major part of the electrical load. The outcome of his research is particularly applicable to conditions prevailing in developing countries including India. He has written articles highlighting the importance of Energy Efficiency and decentralized energy production. Email:sugiprakash@gmail.com

The plant, which faced an unplanned shut down on September 16, 2014 may resume operation by end of November or end of December.

A media report by IANS regarding the turbine Problem at KKNPP Unit I, which appeared online on 20th October 2014 quoted an anonymous source as saying “It seems some component inside the turbine turned loose and damaged the turbine blades”. According to the source, discussions are on with the experts whether to replace the faulty equipment from the turbine of the second unit so that the first unit could be run at the earliest.

Another report dated 28th Oct, 2014 that appeared in Economic times said quoting a BHEL official that Russian Experts visited BHEL, Hyderabad, and found the facilities suitable for repairing the damaged components.

With Nuclear Power Corporation of India (NPCIL) not contradicting these reports and Atomic Energy Regulatory Board (AERB) maintaining a studied silence, these reports give us ground to think that turbine blades, which are usually designed to operate for the life of the nuclear reactor, which is typically 30 – 40 years, have been damaged even before commissioning and Commercial Power production by the Nuclear Power Plant. Therefore, something serious has happened.

Let us start analyzing how this eventuality involving turbine damage could have been avoided at an early stage itself in any normal nuclear plant. Let us for now not venture into what caused the turbine problem in the first instance.

Vibration Monitoring of Turbines

Turbine is very sensitive equipment in a Power Plant. The turbine which rotates gives rise to vibration. The vibration measuring equipment will continuously check the vibration of the turbine. From the observed nature of vibrations, the equipment will be able to convey if everything is fine with the working of the reactor or if something wrong has happened in the turbine. Any deviation from normal operation can be detected at an early stage itself. Hence, this practice of using vibration measuring equipment has been proved to be successful to identify the onset of many problems with turbines. Hence, the vibration measurement is an essential part of the commissioning period for a nuclear power plant and should be monitored right through the plant operating life.

Multiple Equipments to make fool-proof monitoring

In order to ensure that even if one vibration monitoring equipment fails, provisions will be made in the design for multiple Vibration monitoring equipment. All these equipment will function together such that there is no loss of information regarding the turbine operating condition at any time. This method of ensuring data collection using multiple number of equipment for the same measurement is called ‘Redundancy’ in Technical vocabulary. Koodankulam, which is claimed to be a Third Generation plus Nuclear reactor should have multiple Turbine vibration monitoring equipment for this sensitive Turbine Vibration Monitoring.

The turbine problem would not have crept within a single day to have gone unnoticed. It would have developed over a period of time. However, multiple number of measuring instruments that should have detected any abnormality at an early stage itself failed to detected any problem in the turbine. The result – some components inside the turbine turned loose and damaged the turbine blades. Such an incident will be very peculiar to the operational personnel of any power plant!
A very recent example of how vibration monitoring equipment has helped a Nuclear Power Plant in considering the plant’s long term safety and reliability can be seen at http://www.prnewswire.com/news-releases/unit-2-at-susquehanna-nuclear-power-plant-shut-down-for-turbine-inspection-274206781.html
NPCIL, AERB and Russian Experts have to explain why the multiple measuring turbine instruments failed leading to deformity of components resulting in forced outage of the plant. Why, even the ‘efficient’ Russian experts have failed to notice the problem a problem that would have taken long to come to this stage? Why Alexander Uvarov of the Moscow-based nuclear think tank ‘Atominfo’ is saying safety systems were operating right in a knee jerk manner?

The answer probably lies in this:

Vibration Measuring Instruments and Informtekh

In May 2012, Alexander Murach was convicted for fraud and for selling counterfeit measuring equipment to nuclear and hydro power plants’ turbines. According to Russian news agencies, Murach’s company Informtekh created and supplied instruments meant to measure the vibration of turbines operating at nuclear and hydro power plants. The news report says that Informtekh did this without the license or certificate necessary for making this equipment. Informtekh gave its customers fake certificates claiming that the equipment had passed the mandatory tests – when in fact it had not. Murach was sentenced to three years in prison with an 18-month probation period.

RTI reply on Informtekh

NPCIL in a reply to an RTI query has confirmed that India has been supplied equipment from Informtekh. The NPCIL has also confirmed (in its letter dated May 24, 2013, No. NPCIL/VSB/CPIO/2670/HQ/2013/884) that they have received “communication equipment” from Informtekh, Russia.

It is usual for NPCIL to be evasive in giving reply to RTI queries without a pointed one. One such example is to term a death of a person at KKNPP-2 as a result of electrocution (as per Koodankulam Police Station records) on 6th Dec. 2012 as “construction related Industrial Accident”. Similarly, for the RTI of relevance now, it has said that it received “communication equipment” from Informtekh, Russia.


“Communication equipment” deals with signals. Instruments do produce signals. A Turbine vibration measuring instrument is also a communicating instrument which communicates to the control centre regarding the healthiness or otherwise of turbine. Therefore, it is highly probable that the turbine vibration measuring instrument that was put into use at KKNPP was a faulty one from a fraud company and it was installed at Koodankulam.

It is highly probable that the same counterfeit equipment, which has landed Alexander Murach behind bars, should have landed at Koodankulam. That should be the cause of multiple vibration measuring instruments failing, since those equipment are fake. If not so, NPCIL and AERB have to explain how the multiple number of proper Turbine Vibration Monitoring Equipment installed failed.

Experienced field engineers say even without instrumentation, skilled people on the field will be able to detect abnormalities. They question how the skilled Russian experts present at KKNPP – I could not detect the abnormality, resulting in a major damage to the turbine.

It only shows the brazen manner in which the NPCIL and Russians ‘Experts’ are out in the field to prove their worth (which is Quixotic) with all the counterfeit equipment and substandard parts installed at KKNPP. This attitude of proving their worth is often reflected in many of the KKNPP Site director’s Press interactions. AERB is also keeping its mouth shut and is colluding against people’s welfare. In this process, they are throwing away all the best practices and safety procedures to wind. How can we place ‘faith’ on such Scientists and Engineers!

It is worthwhile to note what Dr A Gopalakrishnan, former chairman of India’s Atomic Energy Regulatory Board (AERB) had wrote earlier regarding KKNPP. He wrote that, “There could be a large number of equipment, components and materials of substandard quality from ZiO-Podolsk already installed in various parts of KKNP 1&2 whose deficiencies and defects are dormant today, but these very same shortcomings may cause such parts to catastrophically fail when the reactor is operated for some time.”

Dr. A. Gopalakrishnan and other people friendly activists’ insights have started to prove right. The Commercial power production from KKNPP has not even started. However, during testing stages itself the quality of components, equipment and instruments show their ugly teeth (‘pallai kanpikuthu’). This clearly shows that shoddy equipment are there in the plant.

Well that what we have now experienced has happened with the system involving the turbine. A lot of whistle blowing has already been done regarding the primary system i.e. Missing cables to crucial reactor safety instruments, Electromagnetic interference issues, Reactor’s double protective containment structure broken open after all concreting is over in both KKNPP I (Claiming this to an major exercise / challenge) & KKNPP II and unreliable instrumentation and Control systems (i.e. “Communication Equipment” in NPCILs terms) even in the reactor control system.

There were failure of control valves even in the Passive Core Cooling System (a.k.a. PHRS) that is said to be a First-of-a-Kind system in any Nuclear Power Plant meant to prevent melt down of the plant in worst conditions, multiple electrocutions, mishaps due to hot water spillage etc. For all of this, neither the governmental scientists, AERB, major political parties, governments at the State and Centre have not even given a least genuine consideration. In whose interest are they serving! What if something wrong with respect to reactor’s core because of substandard parts and counterfeit equipment.

The turbine bang is a hint at what is in store at Koodankulam! The KKNPP site personnel are saying they will restart in November/December. It should knock the doors of our conscience. Are we, in the pursuit of Greed for Power, out to throw away all values and ethics to wind, and bring disaster on to ourselves!

The one that will tend to make a nuclear fission chain reaction controllable without exponential power explosion is a reliable, fool proof instrumentation and control system. If the reliability of the instrumentation equipment and structures are under question, then we are playing a chance game. This will leave us with undigestable eventualities.

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