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The report of the Central expert group has responded to concerns but activists say it has sidestepped environmental issues
Reports have been piling up on the safety and environmental aspects of India’s most ambitious nuclear project, the 2,000 MWe Kudankulam Nuclear Power Project (KKNPP), in the wake of the protests that lead to a stoppage of work on the two Russian light water reactors. First, there was the finding of the 15-member A E Muthunayagam Committee, set up by the Centre, which submitted its report in December 2011 and then the report of the M R Srinivasan committee, a Tamil Nadu initiative that its chief minister J Jayalalithaa said was necessary to allay “people’s fears”. While the first report has been put out by the Nuclear Power Corporation of India Ltd (NPCIL), the report commissioned by Tamil Nadu is not yet in the public domain.
According to interviews given by the former chairperson of Atomic Energy Commission, there is no shadow of Fukushima over Kudankulam. Srinivasan says he looked at issues like “deficiencies in safety at Fukushima reactor, geological factors (earthquakes, tsunami, etc) at Koodankulam” and came to the conclusion that “a Fukushima mishap will not happen here”. In sum, it appears to be an endorsement of the Muthunayagam report since Srinivasan’s four-member team concluded that the expert group “has answered all 44 questions raised by protestors”.
M Pushparayan, leader of the People’s Movement Against Nuclear Energy (PMANE), says this is expected since Srinivasan headed the site selection committee and picked the location for KKNPP in 1988. PMANE’s presentation on geographical vulnerability was based on 47 journal articles and seminar presentations, and raised issues such as volcanic eruption near the reactor, Karst formation during the past three years at three locations within 25 km of KKNPP and the potential for tsunami from slumps and faults in and near the Gulf of Mannar apart from shoreline instability. It also pointed to the possibility of dry intake due to sea withdrawal observed in southern Tamil Nadu coast since 2004.
In spite of the large number of studies, “NPCIL has unfortunately not looked into any of these before or during the construction of the two 1,000 MWe reactors,” says PMANE’s response to the Expert Group (EG) report. According to the latter, however, none of the issues is serious. Referring to the main worry of the fisherfolk about contamination of natural resources, EG notes that the project draws sea water from intake dykes for condenser cooling. To stop the fish from getting trapped, KKNPP uses “a unique fish protection system” that stops fish from entering the bays and returns them safely into the sea.
The other issue is the rise in sea water temperature and its implication for marine life, including fish and prawns. The approximate quantity of coolant water that will be released is 70 tonnes per day with a maximum delta T of 7 degree Celsius. “In fact the mixing will be very fast due to wave action and other water currents.” As a result warm water from condenser will be mixed instantaneously and lead to “a possible reduction of ambient sea water temperature”.
But PMANE says the dangers could be immense when all six 1,000 MWe reactors begin operations. The discharge of 7.2 billion litres of hot water into the sea every day by each reactor could well destroy the fish. Besides, there is the question of the chemical and radiological composition of effluents. “The EG provides data which are gross underestimations and contradictory with the information provided by NEERI and NPCIL officials earlier,” it notes.
Another charge it makes is that the KKNPP reactors 1 and 2 violate the Atomic Energy Regulatory Board instructions of 1998 that require two sources of water to ensure adequate water supply in the event of a cooling loss accident, which it terms “the largest potential hazards of reactors”. Citing independent studies, the collective says the dependence on desalinated water alone is a safety hazard. EG says the storage capacity in tanks is adequate for the reactor for 10 days in case of power failure even though the regulatory requirement is seven days. The debate continues.