24 October 2013

Controversial Reactor Starts Operation at Kudankulam in India

Twenty five years after signing a bilateral agreement to build reactors at Kudankulam in south east India, the Russian supplied VVER-1000 unit 1 began reduced power operation on 22 October 2013. India’s first light water reactor located in the state of Tamil Nadu operated for two hoursbefore shutting down again. Before the end of the year operator Nuclear Power Corporation of India Ltd (NPCIL) together with Russian supplier AtomStroyExport plans to raise operations to its design power maximum. Construction of the first unit began in 2002 after years of delay, with a schedule to begin operation in 2006/7. A further seven year delay, in particular due to massive citizen opposition and numerous lawsuits, intensified following the March 2011 Fukushima accident. Start up of Kudankulam was timed to coincide with the visit of Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to Russia, however the expected follow on agreement for Kudankulam units 3 and 4 were not signed due to Russian opposition to India’s Liability Law.

The Kudankulam project, with unit 2 scheduled for operation in 2014, remains highly controversialdue to a range of issues from adequacy of evacuation plans, ability to withstand tsunami impact (the state was particularly impacted at the time of the 2004 Indonesian earthquake and tsunami) financing and cost increases, overall plant safety issues and the effectiveness of wider regulatory oversight in India (see also Who Benefits From Nuclear Power Plants In India ?). In August 2013 NPCIL obtained a stay from the High Court on a decision that would have required the release of safety analysis reports, environmental impact analysis and site evaluation reports on units 1 and 2.

Full operation of the Kudankulam reactor will bring India’s installed nuclear capacity to 5.3 GW. By comparison the nation currently has 22 GW of installed renewable capacity, with a 24% growth rate in the year to 2012. Tamil Nadu alone has 7.6 GW of renewable capacity as of December 2012.