Located inside the Kalpakkam nuclear complex in Tamil Nadu is India's largest earthquake simulation table. This giant table can take loads up to 100 tons - here earthquakes of massive magnitudes can be generated in the laboratory to stress test atomic components. The unique facility was constructed in 2015 at a cost of Rs 40 crore and has become a national test bed to qualify any equipment for seismic tolerance.
Dr B Venkatraman, Head of Safety, Indira Gandhi Center of Atomic Research, Kalpakkam, said "All our reactors are very safe. They can withstand an earthquake equivalent to Fukushima or higher. The public is safe the reactors are also safe."
As the foremost precaution, the Indian nuclear watch dog - the Atomic Energy Regulatory Board (AERB) - does not permit atomic installations to be housed in areas of highest seismic risk - Zone 5 - which rules out the entire Himalayan region. Even at other places, choosing a location with low seismic hazard is kept in mind.
On the shake table, a steel hot water pipe actually failed only when subjected to 20 earthquakes of eight magnitude or above, an unlikely scenario but this was part of the rigorous simulated stress testing that nuclear materials are subjected to before being installed, explained the nuclear engineers at Kalpakkam.
In fact, Dr Anil Kakodakar, the former chairman of the Atomic Energy Commission of India, once said, "if there is an earthquake, go inside an Indian nuclear reactor and one will be safe," explaining these buildings are designed to withstand high magnitude earthquakes.
One day these bold pronouncements could be tested since India is prone to earthquakes and the northern Indian region is may be struck by a magnitude eight earthquake some time - unfortunately, so far, forecasting earthquakes is near impossible.
'Safety first' is the motto at India's nuclear installations, says Arun Kumar Bhaduri, Director at Indira Gandhi Center for Atomic Research, Kalpakkam, explaining that India's atomic reactors are robustly designed and constructed to withstand high magnitude earthquakes.
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