Mumbai: The much-delayed Kudankulam nuclear power plant on Thursday crossed a major hurdle with the Atomic Energy Regulatory Board (AERB) granting clearance for the "first approach to criticality" for its 1000MW first unit. "AERB has granted clearance for the first approach to criticality (FAC) of unit 1 of Kudankulam nuclear power project as the next major stage of commissioning," a statement issued by the atomic energy regulator said.
The FAC is the commencement of the controlled nuclear fission process for the first time, and is a step towards the subsequent beginning of power production in a nuclear reactor, the AERB said. "The clearance given for FAC is the culmination of in-depth review of all associated safety aspects, commissioning results, corrective measures of the identified non-conformances and submissions regarding fulfillment of various regulatory requirements," AERB said.
The regulator had said it would grant clearance for the FAC only after ensuring that Nuclear Power Corporation (NPCIL) has adhered to all the safety measures incorporated in the plant. The board had last September granted the final permission for initial fuel loading (IFL) in the first unit.
Subsequent to this, further review was carried out by the specialist groups and the advisory committee for project safety review of AERB, it said. On May 6, the Supreme Court had given its go ahead for the commissioning the first 1,000 MW plant being built in southern Tamil Nadu by Russia using pressurised water technique, which is the first of its kind in the country. The apex court had said its nod was contingent on the government ensuring utmost safety and security requirements at the plant.
The court ruled in favour of running the plant while disposing of a clutch of petitions by anti-nuclear activists as well as the local community citing safety issues and threat to their livelihood. While giving the clearance, the Supreme Court had spelt out as many as 15 directions on ensuring safety at the facility as well as handling of the spent fuel among others.
The AERB further said, "while granting the clearance, it has been ensured that the directives of the Supreme Court are fully complied with." The reviews have included checks to ensure that quality assurance norms have been followed and the commissioned systems meet the acceptance criteria for safe operation, it said.
"Following the FAC, several low power tests will be carried out to verify conformance of the reactor characteristics to the design objectives before granting clearance for the next commissioning stage which is the phase-wise increase in reactor power level," the AERB said. The unit 1 is the first of the two VVER reactors with a generation capacity of 1000 MW each. It is the first commercial pressurised water reactor (PWR)-based nuclear plant in the country.
Meanwhile, an anti-nuclear body spearheading protests against KNPP claimed AERB's clearance for FAC was an attempt to "circumvent" a legal notice issued by them to it. "We would like to point out here that Advocate Lajapathi Roy has just sent a notice to the AERB and the NPCIL saying that they have willingly and deliberately intended to commission and operate a defective and sub-standard KNPP knowing fully well that it might cause incalculable harm, death and destruction to the lives and livelihood of our clients, their relatives, friends and neighbours.
"This second FAC Clearance may be a preemptive attempt on the part of the nuclear authorities to circumvent our legal notice and subsequent action," a statement from People's Movement Against Nuclear Energy said. AERB had granted "this very same clearance" in August 2012 and that was to be followed by compliance to various pre-requisites, review of the various commissioning procedures, results, inspection reports, it added.
It alleged nuclear authorities have ignored the people's sentiments and interests, the NDMA's disaster guidelines, and the Supreme Court's Recommendations and therefore vowed to continue the struggle against the project "unabated."