Independent Review of Indian Nuclear Facilities is a Must

  • Safety Beyond Rhetoric or Lip Service:      It is time to start thinking about taking steps that go beyond rhetoric that India’s nuclear plants are safe as per the records of operation  and the  PHWR reactors are of design different from Fukushima so we need not worry. Claims that Indian reactors had no accident in our plants, PHWRs are safe and EPR  will be safer, cannot be made in a blanket fashion.
  • Accept that Accidents will Happen in India too:        It is not true that we had no accidents at all. Tarapur had radiation leaks, its secondary steam circuits have been permanently shut down due to leaking tubes and therefore both the units operate at 160 MW each, in place of 210 MW as originally designed. Deaths have occurred inside the Tarapur  reactor building in the inert gas chamber while maintenance was undertaken in early years of its operation. Narora in UP state near Delhi, had major fire accident inside the plant building. It was doused in time and the day was saved. 
  • EPR May be Hot Potato for DAE:                 So far as European Power Reactor (EPR) is concerned it is my assessment that it would not be economically viable due to opportunity cost comparisons. Safety issues will be secondary , first and foremost electricity generation cost has to be proven, to be comparable to other conventional sources of electricity generation in India,  to the Parliament and public at large. There is otherwise likely to be backlash  that it is a cosy deal and tax payers will be eventually forced to foot the bill.
  • Hope is not a good strategy:             Let us examine the other claim that it is the external combination of events that cause nuclear power plants to succumb to accidents. The implication of the message sent out when DAE / NPC said that Indian shores were not prone to Tsunami of the Fukushima type location  are not easily appreciated.  India would not suffer the earthquake of the magnitude experienced in Japan and Tsunami of that magnitude.  Arabian Sea and Indian Ocean shore lines are less troubled. May be true but not for all times to come. There is no evidence that nuclear sites cannot be hit by earthquakes of 7 or 8 magnitude on Richter scale at Narora, Kakprapar and Jaitapur. Similarly no guarantees of size of Tsunami that can hit the Indian shores will be always smaller and manageable. When things go wrong, they do not allow time for correction and back fitting remedial measures.
  • Level 5 & 7 Accidents happened under routine operation:      First of all accidents at TMI in 1979 and at Chernobyl in 1986 occurred without any external natural disaster hitting the reactors. Both these accidents  started inside the nuclear reactor  during routine operations. Secondly , only Fukushima accident happened due to combined impact of EQ + tsunami that knocked out the reactor safety systems and led to this Serial accident situation.  Note that accident occurred  at Fukushima after all units were Safely shut down. Thus shutting down a nuclear power plant hit by any natural disaster event or a combination of events could not mean durable safety. In case the nuclear plant facilities become inaccessible as the roads are wiped out due to torrential rains, Earth Quake or any other reasons and radiation levels run high then one needs large number of trained hands to go in and out frequently for salvage operations. On top of that a very experienced and highly motivated team is needed to deal with this kind of situation. Serial accidents can complicate the challenge and therefore in case like Tarapur and Kalpakkam where several nuclear facilities are located as cluster ,  it could require huge resources during nuclear emergency to attend to all of them simultaneously. What would be the estimated cost for such operations, if it ever happens? Who will bear it?
  • Defense in Depth :   Let us look at so-called Defence in Depth (DID) concept touted for Pressurised Heavy Water Reactor (PHWRs) in India and elsewhere. These are a collection of passive and active Engineered Safety Features. DID does not prevent accidents from happening inside the reactor core. Once accident happens, they come into play to stop egress of radiation from core into the environment. DID is not prevention but mitigation measure and it is not a prophylactic measure and should be made clear to the audience.
  • Manpower Crunch:                 Let us talk of motivation and size of trained manpower in nuclear industry in India. One could put today’s estimate at about 25,000 that includes a few thousand engineers, tradesmen , technicians, management, administration, Real Estate management, procurement department, drivers and cleaners etc. Other than DAE led training schools , there are not enough institutions that could impart the education and knowledge to young engineers and scientists who could supplement sizeable work force to count on. How can the India’s 63,00 MW nuclear power footprint be achieved by 30 to 40 thousand trained manpower under DAE umbrella and very small equity of people located outside in the manufacturing Industry.  Even if we talk of 3 person per MW, it would require 190,000 persons in nuclear industry of high quality ,  dedicated for design, construction, operation & maintenance to support this power program in next 20 years time period. Is  it a pipe dream without implementable blue prints and financial resources at one’s disposal.
  • Discontinue practice of  perpetual extensions to Top Brass:               The Nuclear Industry also suffers from lack of leadership. The DAE and NPC should first of all prove that they do not need to give perpetual extensions to their top brass. Second in line would never be highly motivated  lot. How can than one claim that the department has dedicated staff led by motivated leadership? Leave a healthy legacy of grooming second and third in line leadership, else Department of Atomic Energy (DAE) and Nuclear power Corporation (NPC) will have pygmies on top.  
  • AERB to be made independent:    There are some very generic issues to be addressed for the health of Indian nuclear industry. First of all Atomic Energy Regulatory Board (AERB) should not be under AEC. It should be reconstituted as a statutory body under an independent Act passsed by Parliament. Program is growing in size and one needs totally independent regulatory body. Take the case of Central Electricity Regulatory Commission (CERC) and  State Electricity Regulatory Commissions (SERCs) . These are the Central and State Electricity Regulatory Commissions that do not report to Ministry of Power or respective state governments in India. These institutions have now matured and serve with high degree of  independence for all stake holders in power sector as per the Electricity Act 2003. Hundreds of grid codes, tariff orders , regulations , arbitrations, review applications etc have been  handled by these institutions. All the stake holders in conventional ( excluding nuclear power) and renewable energy business in India are OK with the evolution.
  • Make Radiation Data Public:           The body that monitors radiation levels in and around nuclear facilities , water analysis, solid waste management etc at nuclear sites should not be under DAE.  Radiation levels monitored all over India at about 90 locations and their data should be known to the public through Internet. This is the one of the ways to garner confidence of the people and also comfort those who live around these plants. There fear from unknown that may befall upon them should something like Fukushima off site radiation leaks occur to the operating reactors next door be allayed constantly.  On a regular basis the data should be published and made available on internet for any one to see. In Fukushima the owner of the plants delayed dissemination of information to media, public and even to government. This raises suspicion that  nuclear reactor and related facilities accidents get reported late and often they are dressed for presentation.
  • Political Support can vaporize swiftly:    Political class has to reckon with public opinion and they have sensitive ears and fears of electoral loss. Today many politicians may be siding with DAE but tomorrow if there is ground swell against , they will be first to desert leaving DAE in the lurch. 
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3 thoughts on “Independent Review of Indian Nuclear Facilities is a Must

    • The basis is historic evolution of manpower. For someting like 4000 MW installed capacity the industry employs nealry 25,000 people directly from R&D, Mining, Milling, Heavy Water, Nuclear and balance of plant fabrication, I&C, project management, industry manpower, engineering consulting firms, ancillary industry, infrastructure for supproting nuclear sites etc one can safely take this number. In the absence of indepth study, I am assuming 3 persons per MW which is more than 5 persons per MW today giving credit to potential gain in efficiencies and scale advatage to nuclear industry in the years to come for Indian program.

      The Indian conventional power industry ( Non Nuclear) is also about 3 – 4 persons per MW when based on Public Sector generation, distribution and transmission taken together in India.

  1. There are two reports the SL Kati report on manpower requirements for 500 MW plants, and MHP Rao on operating Plants (220 Mw) plants.These reports were prepared in the period 1988-90 by the Nuclear Power Board and will be available within the precints of the NPCIL (with the HR Group).

    Probir

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