Koodankulam Nuclear Plant : Risk Analysis and What to expect – Part 1

An engineer by profession, Sasikumar holds double masters degree in Engineering from India and Business Administration from USA.

Read Part 2 of this article here

As a Nuclear Engineer working in the US and having roots from a village that is within 40 miles radius of Koodankulam, I thought it is essential for me to research and write about the facts behind Koodankulam Nuclear Plant. My focus will be the power plant’s geographical location, historical risk factors, impact of a possible tsunami, possible threat from neighboring countries, back up cooling mechanism and emergency shutdown procedure etc.

I am a Mechanical Engineer and hold a masters’ degree in Thermal Engineering. In the past 15 years, I have worked for several multinational companies in USA and India in the energy sector – both Fossil and Nuclear technology. Last few years I have been working on next generation AP1000 Nuclear technology. I hail from Southern Tamil Nadu and my native place is a small village near Tirunelveli. My home village is situated within 40 miles radius from the Koodankulam Nuclear Power Plant.

Here in the US, after the Three Mile Island nuclear accident in 1979, not many nuclear plants have been built. Most of the running nuclear plants are 30 years old and majority of them use either Westinghouse or GE technology. Westinghouse Plant is called as PWR – Pressurized Water Reactor plant and GE technology is named as BWR – Boiled Water Reactor plant. The main difference between these two technologies are explained in the below schematic.

Pressurized Water Reactor System

As per these sketchs one can come to a conclusion that in PWR technology the radiation contaminated water (Pink color) is stored within the containment building and less vulnerable compared to BWR technology radiation contaminated water (Blue color small pipe line travels all the way to Turbine – outside containment and returns back to Reactor vessel). The Koodankular Nuclear power plant – Russian VVER-1000 Reactor is based on the PWR technology.

Japan, Fukushima nuclear power plants were built based on the GE BWR technology. Though the Japanese plant was built with higher standards, it was not strong enough to withstand the fury of a tsunami. Many renowned scientists have mentioned later that the magnitude of the earth quake and the subsequent Tsunami were beyond the design basis of the plant’s original design. In other words, they simply reiterated that the scale of the accident was not anticipated.

On introspection, you realize that those who suffered due to this lack of preperation were the common citizen and not the design engineers, officials or politicians who commisioned the plant. Those who were exposed to the radiation were the people who lived within 20 to 30 miles radius from the plant.

On this context, lets examine the geographical location of the Koodankulam Nuclear plant.

The attached image show that the plant is located on the edge of the sub-continental land and near Indian Ocean. In my opinion, though the team selecting the location might have considered several factors, they have missed an important factor: Southern Tamil Nadu is known for Tsunami from ancient time. Several historical documents claim that many major cities have been wiped out due to huge Tsunamis (Kadalkoal was a term used by ancient Tamil literatures). We also know that in December 2004, Southern India was swept by a huge Tsunami triggered due to an under water earth quake near Indonesia (more than 1000 miles away). However, we need to consider data from not just a decade or two but much beyond that as the impact of nuclear material goes beyond 100′s of years.

We need to consider data from not just a decade or two but much beyond that as the impact of nuclear material goes beyond 100s of years.

Koodankulam power plant site is located at an altitude of 8.7 meters (25 ft) from Mean Sea Level. At the heavily-damaged Fukushima Nuclear Plant, the inundation height from base sea level was about 14 to 15 meters. Given that ground level is 10 meters at Units 1 through 4 and 13 meters at Units 5 and 6, Units 1 through 4 were inundated by about 4 to 5 meters of water, with Units 5 and 6 being inundated by up to one meter.

With this information, we can make an educated speculation that the impact of a Tsunami on Koodankulam Nuclear Power Plant can be catastrophic due to its geographic location and altitude. I am not predicting the possibility of a Tsunami here, but only the impact of a Tsunami on a scientific basis. The scale of destruction of a possible Tsunami does call for attention and scrutiny of the project. If an impact analysis was done already, it should be released by the design team. Also the measures taken to mitigate or reduce the damage of a possible worst-case scenario should be made available to the public. A publication by the design team on this topic is essential in my opinion.

I will explore other factors and possibilities on the risks of KNPP and its effects in my next article. Please share your feedbacks and thoughts.


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