Chennai, July 14 (IANS) India's 21st nuclear reactor at Kudankulam in Tamil Nadu is functioning well after it began nuclear fission process for the first time Saturday night, a senior official said Sunday.
"Everything is progressing in a normal manner. The reactor is functioning well as per expectations," R.S. Sundar, site director of the Kudankulam Nuclear Power Project (KNPP), told IANS.
"If everything goes well, we will be able to connect the plant to the southern grid in 30-45 days," he added.
The first unit at KNPP attained criticality at 11.05 p.m. Saturday. All its parameters remained normal. This is a much-awaited development for the Indian nuclear establishment.
Sundar said sustained nuclear reaction had been achieved and all parameters were as per expectations. "After a long time, the mood here is good," he said.
Top officials of the Indian nuclear establishment, including R.K. Sinha, chairman of the Atomic Energy Commission (AEC) and secretary of the department of atomic energy (DAE), and K.C. Purohit, chairman and managing director of the Nuclear Power Corp of India Ltd (NPCIL), were at Kudankulam to see the first of the two Russian-made units attain criticality in a smooth manner.
India's atomic power plant operator, NPCIL, is setting up two 1,000 MW reactors with Russian technology and equipment at Kudankulam, around 650 km from Chennai.
The over Rs.17,000 crore project, which came up in the face of intense protests in nearby villages who feared for their safety, began generating heat and steam from the 163 uranium fuel bundles loaded in the reactor.
The reactor was loaded with fuel assemblies containing about 80 tonnes of uranium oxide.
On July 11 night, armed with the AERB's clearance, the KNPP started its journey towards criticality.
According to officials, several low power tests will be carried out in order to verify the conformance of the reactor characteristics to design objectives.
If the reports are satisfactory, the AERB will give its clearance for the next stage, which is phase-wise increase in reactor power level.
At the first stage, the plant will be synchronised with the southern grid when power generation touches 400 MW. That is expected to happen in 30-45 days.
After necessary regulatory clearances, power generation will be increased gradually to 50 percent, 75 percent, 90 percent and finally 100 percent.
When that happens, the total installed nuclear power capacity in the country will go up to 5,780 MW.
KNPP is India's first pressurised water reactor belonging to the light water reactor category.
While the power from KNPP will be shared by the southern states, the lion's share will be for the home state Tamil Nadu, which is suffering from power deficit.
"Tamil Nadu's share of the 1,000 MW will be 463 MW. As and when the power comes to our grid, it will certainly ease the power shortage to some extent," a senior official at Tamil Nadu Generation and Distribution Corporation Ltd (TANGEDCO) told IANS.
"The utility sources power from various central power generating units at varied rates but less than Rs.3 per unit, whereas the power from KNPP will be over Rs.3 per unit," he said.
As for the second unit at KNPP, he said there will be time lag of six to eight months, Sinha told IANS.
According to Sundar, loading of dummy fuel (dummy fuel assemblies are the exact replica of the actual nuclear fuel assemblies, both in dimension and weight but without uranium) was under progress and was expected to get over in around 10 days.
It is learnt construction work for the administrative building for the next two units is progressing at the KNPP site.
Sinha said it was a matter of time before the general framework agreement was signed with the Russian suppliers for the third and fourth units.
He said the total outlay for the third and fourth units would be Rs.40,000 crore.
"The issue of liability of the suppliers in the case of an accident is one of the reasons for the delay in the signing of the agreement," Sinha said.
On the level of local content in the proposed two units, Sinha said it was for NPCIL and the Russian parties to decide and it would be covered in the general framework agreement.
The KNPP is an outcome of the inter-governmental agreement between India and the erstwhile Soviet Union in 1988. However, construction, which began in 2001, was delayed due to non-sequential supplies of components from Russian vendors.
Fearing for their safety in the wake of the nuclear accident at Fukushima in Japan in 2011, villagers in the vicinity of the plant, under the banner of People's Movement Against Nuclear Energy (PMANE), have opposed the project.
City-based environmental activist G. Sundarrajan had filed a case in the apex court demanding that the KNPP be scrapped.
The court dismissed the case in May and laid down 15 directions for the NPCIL, the AERB, the central environment and forest ministry, the Tamil Nadu government and the state pollution control board.
KNPP site director Sundar said the other nuclear power projects under construction are Kakrapar Atomic Power Project (2x700 MW) in Rajasthan Atomic Power Project (2x700 MW) and the second unit at KNPP of 1,000 MW.
When all these come into play, the total nuclear power capacity in the country will be 9,580 MW, he said.