Nuclear fuel loading can finally begin at the Kudankulam nuclear power plant in Tamil Nadu.
The nuclear watch dog and regulator in India, Atomic Energy Regulatory Board (AERB), has given its permission for fuel loading to begin into the controversial atomic reactor, which is located close to the southern tip of India at Kanyakumari.
About 70 tons of enriched uranium will be slowly loaded into the 1000 MW nuclear plant, which has been built with Russian assistance at a cost of about Rs 14,000 crore. If all goes well, in several weeks, it can start generating electricity that will be supplied to Tamil Nadu, Kerala, Puducherry and Karnataka. The twin second unit at Kudankulam will go online soon after the first one becomes operational.
Elated on reaching this important milestone, R S Sunder, the chief of the Kudankulam nuclear plant said, "They had inspected the pressure vessel which was fit and ready to take the fuel," but explained that it will be a gradual and cautious process where all safety precautions will be ensured.
This could, however, be a red rag for the anti-nuclear protestors agitating against the start of the nuclear plant. There have been big protests for months by thousands of villagers and activists who have said that they are not convinced that the plant is safe. They are also worried about ecological damage it could cause through the release of radioactivity in case an accident happens, which would affect the livelihood of thousands of fishermen around the plant.
Work at the plant was suspended in September last year when the Tamil Nadu cabinet asked the Prime Minister to halt all operations till residents in the area were reassured that they were safe. A central government team of experts and a state level team interacted with the nominees of the protestors to convince them that the plant was safe. In March this year, the Tamil Nadu government of J Jayalalithaa, in a sudden U-turn, said operations at the plant could begin. Last month, the state gave an all-clear from its pollution control board to the plant.
Post the Fukushima accident in Japan last year, this will be the first nuclear reactor in India to start operations.