India's atomic energy regulator would decide on the duration of the operational license to be given to the first unit of Kudankulam Nuclear Power Project (KNPP) after considering results of various technological tests and reports, an official said on Saturday.
"As a part of commissioning of first of its kind reactor various tests have to be done and reports to be generated. Based on the results it will be decided whether the unit will be given a one year or five year operational licence," SS Bajaj, chairman of the Atomic Energy Regulatory Board (AERB) told IANS on phone from Mumbai.
India's atomic power plant operator Nuclear Power Corporation of India Ltd (NPCIL) is setting up the KNPP at Kudankulam in Tamil Nadu's Tirunelveli district, around 650 km from here with two Russian made VVER 1000 reactors.
The first unit is in advanced stage of commissioning with AERB giving its nod Aug 10 to load the 163 of enriched uranium fuel bundles in the reactor.
"After fuel loading NPCIL will have to do certain tests. Based on the test results we will give clearance for criticality. Following that raising of power generation will be permitted in stages and the reactor has to operate at 100 per cent satisfactorily for some time," Bajaj said.
The AERB would then issue NPCIL the operational licence for the first unit of KNPP.
The atomic energy regulator does not give operational licence for the full life of the reactor.
Every five years a nuclear power plant operator - currently only NPCIL - has to provide a set of data relating to a unit to the regulator and get its operational licence renewed.
After the nuclear accident at Fukushima in Japan, additional safety measures-short and long term- for Indian nuclear plants have to be implemented and NPCIL have to give a road map to the regulator as to the implementation of the fresh safety measures.
As a result, two of NPCIL's power stations - Madras Atomic Power Station (MAPS) and the first two units at Tarapur Atomic Power Station (TAPS) - are being issued limited period licence to operate since Dec 31, 2010, and March 31, 2011, when their licence came up for renewal.
Citing the fact that NPCIL has not fully implemented some of the post Fukushima safety measures at KNPP and its possibility of getting a five year operational licence Bajaj said: "The post Fukushima safety measures are more relevant for older nuclear power plants. The KNPP has adequate safety measures to overcome situations like that happened in Fukushima (tsunami and earthquake resulting in total power failure)."
"Normally if the reactor is first of its kind then five year operational licence is not issued. Only one year licence is issued," SA Bhardwaj, director (Technical) at NPCIL told IANS over phone from Mumbai.
He said only on the satisfactory performance of the new reactor a five year operational licence is issued to that unit.
Meanwhile, the loading of fuel bundles in the first unit of the two 1,000 MW Russian reactors at KNPP will happen between Sep 11-15.
Bhardwaj said the fuel loading process would take around one week and the observers from International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) may come at the start or at the end as KNPP reactors fall under the safeguard agreement that was signed with the former.
The KNPP is an outcome of the Inter-Governmental Agreement (IGA) signed between India and the erstwhile USSR in 1988. However, the project construction began in 2001 and due to the non-sequential receipt of equipments from the Russian Federation the project got inordinately delayed.
Further protests by the local villagers against the project fearing for their lives in the wake of Fukushima nuclear disaster, the commissioning of the first unit got delayed.
In a written reply in the Lok Sabha, Minister of State in the Ministry of Personnel, Public Grievances and Pensions and in the Prime Minister's Office V Narayanasamy said the cost of the first two units of KNPP is estimated to go up from Rs.13,171 crore to Rs.17,270 crore due to delay.