Loading of uranium fuel in the first unit of the Kudankulam nuclear power plant started on Wednesday, the Vinayaka Chaturthi day, as the controversial project took a major step towards becoming operational. The Atomic Energy Regulatory Board (AERB) had given its final clearance for loading fuel on Tuesday night.
“Fuel loading has started and it will take at least 10 days for the process to be completed,” said a Nuclear Power Corporation of India Limited (NPCIL) official. Each of the two Russian-made VVER reactors in the plant is capable of generating 1,000MW power.
“The nod for loading uranium-235 fuel was given on Tuesday and the plant authorities must have started loading the next day. There is nothing that could have stopped them from loading fuel in the first unit,” AERB chief S S Bajaj said from Vienna. The loading process was started without any publicity as per advice from central and state governments.
The fuel supplied by Russia was moved to the reactor room by scientists last week. Apart from an AERB team, NPCIL officials and Russian engineers witnessed the crucial event, the last major step before commissioning of the plant. Officials from the International Atomic Energy Agency are likely to visit the plant before the reactor vessel is closed after loading fuel, NPCIL sources said.
Once the fuel loading is complete, the AERB will give clearance for closing the reactor vessel and it would take another 10 to 15 days for the unit to attain criticality, when power generation will start, said an NPCIL official.
The unit is likely to be synchronised with the power grid by October-end. Though plant officials are confident of meeting the deadline, there are some apprehensions as the Russian reactor is the first of its kind in the country and it may take some more time to fully operationalise the unit.
The AERB had given its approval for loading fuel on August 11, but laid stringent conditions to be fulfilled before beginning the process. “After the nod, we also sent a team of officials to give clearance, if required, then and there,” said Bajaj. The project, which has faced several problems since being launched, finally cleared the legal hurdles when the Madras high court and later the Supreme Court refused to stop loading of fuel.
This is the first time that a nuclear reactor capable of generating 1,000 MW is being operationalised in the country. As of now, the biggest operational reactors in India are the two 540MW reactors at Tarapur in Maharashtra. All other reactors are smaller in size. The Russian abbreviation VVER stands for water-cooled, water-moderated energy reactor. Apart from Russia, China also has similar reactors.