Koodunkulam Nuclear Impasse–Suggesting Solutions

(Citizens Alliance for Sustainable Living, Chennai)

The Koodunkulam Nuclear Power Plant (KKNPP) controversy is raging with proponents and opponents stating their positions and sticking to their stand.

Arguments for and against

This is what the proponents say:

  • 925 MWe of electric power, out of the 2,000 the two phase-1 units will generate, will be allocated to Tamil Nadu, which is power starved.
  • Plant has ‘Four-Tier Safety System’ and any air accidentally released from the reactor will pass through filters before coming out. Therefore safety is assured.
  • The site is located in a low seismic hazard zone
    The water level at the site during the December 26, 2004, tsunami was 2.2 meters above mean sea level. Sensitive parts of the plant are located 9.3 meters above MSL and are enclosed within double-sealed, watertight doors. So the plant is absolutely safe.
  • The great and ‘respected’ scientist APJ Abdul Kalam’s has said that the plant is safe and declared that the 2,000-MW plant was essential for “power hungry” India!

Opponents counter this and say:

  • More than 10 lakh people live within 30 km of the plant. Quick evacuation in case of disaster will be very difficult. Fears have shot up after Fukushima nuclear disaster.
  • Fisher-folk fear that water used to cool reactors and then flushed into the sea will affect the fish stock.
  • They also fear that radioactivity from the plant, and unsafe disposal of nuclear waste, may cause cancer and other health problems
  • Natural disasters, like earthquakes and tsunamis, and their intensity can never be predicted.
  • Quality of construction of the plant structures have been questioned by workers and contractors at the site

Ground Reality

The protesters are demanding that the plant be shut down completely. The perspective among the villagers living in the vicinity of KKNPP is that the plant poses serious threat to their life and livelihood on a continuous basis. A fisherman’s interview published in the OUTLOOK Magazine (article titled ‘Doom Under These Domes?-21 November 2011) brings this out poignantly. Ramu, a 37-year-old fisherman with four mouths to feed, who was one of the 127 who fasted for 12 days continuously in September, fears he will soon lose his livelihood: “I am a fisherman and know no other kind of work. We can no longer go within 500 meters of the plant from the seaward side. When our nets drift into that area, we are chased off by gun-toting patrols. Seventy per cent of the fertile fishing areas we frequent lie close to the plant. We’ll be doomed if they increase the restricted area when the nuclear plant starts functioning. We are afraid the radiation will contaminate the fish. One day, very soon, our fishing village will no longer exist.”

The Big Lies

Proponents brush aside these ground realities with contempt and are putting forth arguments that reminds one of what Adolf Hitler wrote in his Mein Kampf: “The great mass of people will more easily fall victim to a big lie than to a small one.” Nuclear scientists, crusaders, apologists and a whole lot of hangers-on keep proclaiming that KKNPP is necessary for India’s ‘nuclear-surge’ and emergence as a world ‘super-power’. They are also spreading the canard that anti-nuclear protestors are anti-national and have taken hundreds of crores of Rupees from some ‘foreign hand’. Pro-nuclear counter-agitations are being sponsored for this purpose.

When this canard did not work they unleashed the communal bogey of fisher-folk versus non fisher-folk and Christians versus Hindus as if the latter groups are solidly for nuclear power! Earlier India’s former President, missile-icon and non-nuclear scientist APJ Abdul Kalam had gone to Koodunkulan for ‘assessing the safety of the plant and assuage local sentiments’ after publishing a two page article in THE HINDU extolling the virtues of KKNPP and abusing the protesters as ‘fools’!  He took a two-hour tour of the nuclear plant and instantly released a pre-written report certifying it as “clean and safe”.

Maverick Dr. Subramanian Swamy has gone to the extreme. He has ‘discovered’ that the anti-KKNPP agitation has been financed by anti-national, foreign inspired Christian missionaries, aided by the LTTE left-overs.  He therefore wants the Prime Minister to declare the whole Tirunelveli and Kanyakumari districts as disturbed areas and order para-military forces to take over the administration and start the plant.

Public Perception

It is famously said: “In public domain truth is not the truth, perception is the truth”. Vast majority of population in and around the KKNPP have the perception that it is not safe and extremely detrimental to the pursuit of their livelihood. No amount of assurances and endorsements from government scientists, partisan politicians and nuclear-tourist Abdul Kalam is going to change this perception. The Outlook Magazine article confirms this when it said: “Try as the Centre might, people living near KKNPP remain unconvinced on how safe it is”. So there is impasse, and a serious one at that.

Under pressure from fascist elements and their foreign/indigenous godfathers, Government may suppress the protest and forcibly start the plant by raising the anti-national charade suggesting the ghost of ‘Foreign-hand’ and adopting repressive measures. But the wounds would be too deep to heal.

Everyone should realize that nuclear energy through fission (destruction of atom) is a dark principle. Its destructive potential is high right from mining to production to scrapping. Nuclear energy through fusion will be different as it is energy from unification but it is still under research. KKNPP is based on fission technology and should therefore be abandoned. But at the same time we need electric power and therefore alternatives should be looked at instead of endlessly repeating the same arguments over and over again.

Nuclear Energy Decline

India’s so-called nuclear-surge is a myth rather than reality. In 1969, the nuclear establishment had predicted that by the year 2000, there would be 43,500 MW of nuclear generating capacity. But as of 2011 the total capacity is only 4780 MW which is about 3% of total installed capacity in the country. This is despite the fact that all governments in the past have favoured nuclear energy and had allotted huge budgets for the purpose. As against this allocation for Renewable Energy for developing solar, wind, small-hydro and bio-mass based power was a pittance. Despite belated start, smaller budgets and lack of governmental interest, energy produced from these sources was much more than that from nuclear. As on date Renewable energy accounts for 11% of the total power generation of 170 GW (1 GW=1000 MW) installed in India as against the measly 3% from nuclear energy!

Government’s aspiration to increase nuclear power capacity from about 4800 MW now to about 64,000 MW by the year 2032 is utopian and impractical. This means construction of large number of big nuclear plants with multiple reactors on India’s fragile coast and water-starved inland sites. Such a scenario, projected while nuclear power all over the world is declining, is not only unwise but would also exponentially increase the probability of a nuclear disaster in the country.

The decline of nuclear power world-wide can be gauged from the official figures of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), an organization known for promoting nuclear energy. According to these figures, there was only 1 nuclear power reactor in the world in 1955, 15 reactors in 1960, 84 reactors in 1970, 245 reactors in 1980 and 416 reactors in 1990. Hence till this time there was a huge increase in the number of reactors and nuclear industry was on an ascendance. However, after late 1980s when the Chernobyl accident occurred, most of the developed countries have not installed any new reactor. There were 435 reactors in the year 2000, up from 416 in 1990, and till today in 2011 there are 443 reactors. The decline is obvious and India’s nuclear-surge agenda is bogus and unrealistic!

The Alternative

What then is the alternative? As one involved in the power sector for decades and belonging to an area within 30 km danger zone of KKNPP, I present the following suggestions and action plan to get out of the nuclear muddle in general and KKNPP impasse in particular:

1. Fuel Switching

KKNPP has not yet gone critical and power generation has not commenced. Therefore fuel-switching is possible from nuclear fuel to coal or gas. In the field of electric power generation with whatever fuel–fossil (coal, gas, oil) or nuclear – fuel switching has been going on for years. Modern generators can switch between gas and coal and vice versa. Though most of the fuel switching takes place from within fossil fuels there have been cases wherein switching has taken place from nuclear to coal or gas. Only difference is that while fuel-switching among fossil fuels can take place even after power generation commences this is not possible in nuclear plants.

There are certain changes and modification that need to be carried out for converting nuclear power plants after mothballing the reactor and its containment building. For switching to coal new boiler including pulverized coal system and furnace need to be added. If required steam turbines and generators should be modified.  New coal unloading, transfer and storage system would be needed. For making the plant pollution-free clean coal technology equipments should be installed. For switching to LNG (Liquefied Natural Gas) new gas turbines, each having its own heat recovery steam generator and stack should be installed. For supply of gas a new LNG tanker gas unloading, transfer and storage system need to be installed. If necessary, steam turbines and generators could be modified.

All these no doubt will take additional time and money. But it is worth because the solution would be abiding and power will be generated and this has happened at other places.

Let us consider the examples of US nuclear power stations. The Shoreham nuclear power plant on Long Island in New York, which had been completed, was in the end converted to generate electricity from natural gas and wind power. In 1983, the New York State Assembly passed a resolution by 15 votes to one to the effect that Suffolk County on Long Island could not be safely evacuated. The then New York State governor, Mario Cuomo, refused to sign the emergency evacuation plan submitted by the plant’s owners.

The 1979 Three Mile Island nuclear accident and the 1986 Chernobyl nuclear disaster strengthened opposition from local residents and environmental groups, bringing up to 15,000 people out onto the streets in demonstrations.

As a result, the Shoreham nuclear power plant was decommissioned in 1989, before commercial operations were even started. However, the existing equipment was converted and the plant started generating electricity from natural gas in 2002, with an output of 100 MW. In 2005, two 50-kilowatt wind power generators were added, again making use of the existing equipment.

The second example is the William H Zimmer nuclear power plant in Moscow, Ohio, which was converted to fuel combustion when it was 97 per cent complete. In 1982, the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission found that the plant was poorly constructed, including two instances of defective pipe welds, that industrial safety documents had been forged, and imposed a record-high fine of US $200,000 besides halting construction work on the plant. In 1984, discussions were held on converting the plant from nuclear to coal-fired generation. Conversion work started in 1987 and was completed in 1991. The plant’s power output today is 1,300 MW.

Third is the Midland Cogeneration Facility, Michigan. It was originally designed as a nuclear power plant with twin pressurised water reactors. In 1984, the project was terminated at 85 per cent completion after 17 years and $4 billion US dollars investment. Fluor Engineering converted the unfinished plant to a combined-cycle, natural-gas-fired cogeneration facility, starting in 1986 and completed in 1991 at a cost of $500 million. The gas turbines generated a nominal 1,035 MW, and the steam turbines added approximately 335 MW.

Following the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster, Taiwan is likely to adopt these examples to switch fuel in the two 1350 MW Advanced Boiling Water Reactors that are under construction with the first unit expected to be completed in 2012, and the second one about a year after.  A detailed study and techno-feasibility report is on the anvil.

Several other countries that have abandoned nuclear power plants following Fukushima tragedy are likely to follow suit. Why not Koodunkulam where vast majority of the people are against it backed up by a resolution by the State Government?

2.0 Renewable Energy Initiatives

2.1 Repowering Wind-farms

Koodunkulam’s nearby areas falling in Kanyakumari, Thoothukudy and Tirunelveli Districts have the highest wind-energy potential in the country that include the famed wind belts of Muppandhal, Panakudi and Kayathar that have large wind farms with installed capacity of about 4000 MW.  Most of the turbines installed are older than 15 years and some between 10-15 years. All these turbines are sub-megawatt with low hub heights. If repowered with modern technology these could add about 2000 MW capacity in the next couple of years.

Major benefits of wind-energy repowering are: more efficient use of potential land, more capacity addition per unit of land area; more energy generation per unit of land area and per square meter of rotor area with improved economics and better power-grid integration

2.2 Solar power

The area described above has vast barren land suitable for large ‘solar parks’ setting up of which is a priority activity for the present state government. To start with such a park could be established for 1000 MW of power generation capacity. Finding investors would not be a problem as has been the case in Gujarat.

2.3 Biomass power

Being dry and arid, the area is suitable for large scale ‘Energy plantations’ and large capacity of biomass based power plants could be installed. This could provide the base-load.

2.4 Tidal energy

Being coastal belt Tidal energy is another option which should be seriously looked into.

All the four – wind, solar, biomass, tidal – combined can provide hybrid-power which can be drawn for 24 hours and combined with fuel switching of KNPP there will be enough and more power to satisfy the needs of Tamil Nadu and even export to other states. The whole area can be transformed into a serene and peaceful Renewable Energy Park, like the ones being contemplated by the Government of Tamil Nadu instead of a possible site of nuclear horror.

Such an Energy Park can promote innovatively applied technologies because such parks provide a meeting point for organizations working with renewable energy solutions, including solar energy, wind power , tidal power , energy efficiency , biofuels or alternative fuels . Energy Park could also house agriculture alley, where organic foods and sustainable agriculture practices could be promoted.

World-wide, Renewable Energy is the leader and nuclear-power the laggard. For example:

  • In the United States, renewable energy accounted for about 10.9% of domestic primary energy production (compared with nuclear’s 11.3%), an increase of 5.6% relative to 2009, and it is growing fast.
  • China added an estimated 29 GW of grid-connected renewable capacity, for a total of 263 GW, an increase of 12% compared with 2009. Renewables accounted for about 26% of China’s total installed electric capacity, 18% of generation, and more than 9% of energy consumption in 2010.
  • Germany met 11% of its total final energy consumption with renewable sources, which accounted for 16.8% of electricity consumption. Wind power accounted for nearly 36% of renewable generation, followed by biomass, hydropower, and solar photovoltaics (PV).
  • Several countries met higher shares of their electricity demand with wind power in 2010, including Denmark (22%), Portugal (21%), Spain (15.4%), and Ireland (10.1%).

India has 150 GW of renewable energy potential, about half in the form of small hydropower, biomass, and wind and half in solar, cogeneration, and waste-to-energy. Developing renewable energy can help India increase its energy security, reduce the adverse impacts on the local environment, lower its carbon intensity, contribute to more balanced regional development, and realize its aspirations for leadership in high-technology industries. Tamil Nadu is poised to take leadership position in this and the state should do so instead of towing the nuclear-only line.

3.0 Demand Side Management, Energy Efficiency and Conservation.

It is common sense that any increase in generation capacity is more than offset by inefficiencies and wastages at every stage-production, transmission, distribution and delivery. Without fixing these inefficiencies and wastages, increasing generation capacity and production is like filling a bucket full of holes! The first and foremost task should be to fill these holes, which is very much doable. For this the basic philosophy of power utility management should undergo a sea-change bringing in a new paradigm in distribution and delivery.

Distribution refers to conveyance of electricity through wires, transformers, and other devices that are not classified as transmission tools. This is by and large an engineering function. Delivery services are to facilitate retail customers to receive quality electric power from the supplier, and include metering, meter reading, billing and collection. This is more of a commercial/consumer-related function. Between these lie the major ills that afflict the power sector in Tamil Nadu.

Instead of slogging on the beaten path, there is immediate need to evolve a fresh Utility management philosophy and paradigm. Philosophy should be ‘Optimisation’ and only then ‘Augmentation’. Paradigm should be to reconfigure the Utility in to Generation-Transmission-Distribution-Delivery functions and lay down performance and benchmarking norms instead of sticking to age-old T&D morass.

Under this philosophy and paradigm a judicious blend of supply-side and demand-side management would be brought about, instead of endlessly talking about only new generation and purchase of power from all over the place. For this purpose Integrated Resource Planning and Least-cost Utility Planning methodologies should be applied to evaluate optimisation / augmentation options.

This can be achieved by taking up Demand Side Management (DSM), Energy Efficiency (EE) and Conservation activities by TNEB and consumers. DSM is Utility-driven activity for Load Management and Energy Efficiency (EE) that can “Generate Electricity through Savings”. Load Management are Utility initiatives that flattens load curve, manages peak load, reduce T & D losses, improve Power Quality and enhance system reliability. EE is action at consumer’s end to minimise wastage, reduce energy consumption, enhance performance, improve quality and save cost. On an average through DSM/EE and Prudential Subsidy Management measures TNEB can ‘generate through savings’ 25/30% of its installed capacity over the years. Doing this in an organised/institutionalised and regular basis would mean augmentation of about 250/300 MW of ‘delivered power’ per year at one-fourth of the cost of conventional power generation.


Combination of above measures could augment TN’s power generation and supply as below:

2000 MW from Koodunkulam Thermal Power Project fired by coal or gas
2000 MW from ‘Repowered’ wind farms
1000 MW from ‘Solar Park’
250/300 MW per year of ‘generation through savings’ from DSM and EE activities.
Additional capacity from Biomass and Tidal wave.

These initiatives could satisfy the protesters who are only against nuclear fuel with attendant fears and premonitions and not any fuel and the proponents who keep wailing about the massive Rs. 13,500 crores spent so far and those screaming for more electric power for ‘development’!

The alternative suggested, though conceptual, is eminently doable. Making it work would call for sincere and war-like efforts by Tamil Nadu state government, duly supported by the Central Government and institutions. The present government at the Centre was willing to palm off US $ 100 Billion (Rs. 5 lakh crores) to Multinational Companies abroad under the Indo-US Nuclear Deal, to import nuclear plants but was unwilling to spend a fraction of it towards indigenous Renewable and Efficiency alternatives mentioned above. This must change.

Thrusting a nuclear plant down the throat of a scared and unwilling populace by funding and promoting counter-agitations is most anti-democratic. Statement of Minister of State in the Prime Minister’s Office V. Narayanasamy – “A pro-nuclear plant agitation has started in Kudankulam… The atmosphere is changing slowly” (THE HINDU-24 Dec 2011) – only confirms this!

Adopting this course-pitching outsiders against locals-could lead only to confrontation. Instead, Governments should approach this sensitive but explosive issue in an open atmosphere and not a cloistered ‘nuclear-power-only’ mindset. Powers-that-be should realise that India can attain energy security and emerge as super-power only by standing on its feet and not on ‘stilts’ supplied by foreign companies for billions of dollars!  Only then will there be a solution.



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