Sunday, September 23, 2012

First fuel loading at Kudankulam

The Indian Atomic Energy Regulatory Board gave a green light for the action

Russian build VVERs at
Work began on Wednesday, Sept 19, to load commercial fuel (3-5% U235) into the core of the first of two 1,000 MW Russian built VVER nuclear reactors located on India's southern tip in the state of Tamil Nadu.  A spokesman for the Nuclear Power Corporation of India Ltd (NPCIL) said the fuel loading process will take about ten days.

Once the fuel loading is complete, the Atomic Energy Regulatory Board (AERB) will give the plant operator permission to close the reactor head and begin to hot start up. The IAEA will inspect the plant before this step takes place.

Once the reactor is generating electricity, it will be synchronized with the electrical grid.  NPCIL says that half the full power of the reactor, which should be available by the end of October, will be made available to rate payers in Tamil Nadu. The rest will be put on the national grid. India suffered two devastating power outages in July which left more than 600 million people without electricity and shut down the national railway system.

Fuel loading represents a victory over several legal challenges and more than a year of local protests. This is the first time a reactor of this size has been commissioned in India. Similar units are planned for the Kudankulam site.  Areva is working with NPCIL to start work on two 1,600 MW EPR reactors at Jaitapur on India's west coast.  A  December 2012 start date still looks good according to Areva.

India to reform its nuclear regulatory agency

India is reported to be in dialog with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) to conduct a peer review of its Atomic Energy Regulatory Board and propose changes to improve its operation. The government's actions follow an audit of the agency which levels severe criticisms of its capabilities and lack of conformance with international nuclear safety standards.

The first IAEA reviews will take place in late October and will include site visits to the Rajasthan Atomic Power Station (RAPS) which has two nuclear reactors.

India' state owned electrified railways
would like to have their own nuclear reactors
 to keep the trains running
It is expected that changes to the AERB, which may require parliamentary action, will improve public confidence in India's energy plans to build 20 Gwe of nuclear generating capacity over the next several decades.

The future of India's energy policy depends on stability in terms of government action.  The current government, headed by PM Singh, is facing an uphill battle due to a corruption  scandal involving the distribution of coal mining and electric power generation rights to private sector firms by state-owned power agencies.

Large parts of India are still without electricity from any part of the national grid so access to power is an important form of political patronage. Who gets electricity and when will be a central concern of whatever government succeeds PM Singh. The nuclear power program will likely continue, but it will need success with reform of the AERB to insure long term support of the ruling elites in and out of the government.

It is unlikely that any U.S. reactor vendors will land contracts to build new units in India. A draconian supplier liability law has locked out all commercial vendors including U.S. firms. State owned firms like Rosatom and Areven self-insure and any future liability claim would be disposed of through diplomatic channels and not the courts.

Opposition parties in the Indian parliament have fiercely resisted efforts by PM Singh to change the law or water it down via implementing regulations. Also, some political interests want all new reactors to be built by Indian firms with Indian designs.

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SteveK9 said...

Rosatom is fighting hard to 'grandfather' the construction of further units at Kudankulam, so that they are not covered by the liability law, so I'm not sure just how sanguine they are about this.

Steve Aplin said...

I wondered when the U.S. "ratified" the 123 deal with India (October 2008) whether this would actually lead to any actual sales of U.S. reactors. So far, it looks like all Bush's work getting NSG approval for the India exemption has benefited Russia and France and not the U.S.