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Koodankulam: 'It takes time to make a plant operational'

Last updated on: May 8, 2013 13:48 IST

Koodankulam: 'It takes time to make a plant operational'

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A Ganesh Nadar in Koodankulam
'We are restricting the media because of the difficulties we are facing with the media. The public have been visiting the plant regularly,' says R S Sundar, site director at the controversial Koodankulam Nuclear Power Project in Tamil Nadu.

'The public is knowledgeable. They ask as many questions as journalists. We have faced tough questions from them, clarified their doubts and convinced them.'

On Monday, May 6, the Supreme Court gave its go-ahead to the controversial Koodankulam Nuclear Power Project in Tamil Nadu.

To find out what this means for the project, Rediff.com's A Ganesh Nadar traveled to Koodankulam to speak with R S Sundar, the plant's site director.

A graduate in mechanical engineering, Sundar has worked in the nuclear industry for over two decades and has a license to operate a nuclear plant.

When was the fuel -- 75 tons of uranium -- loaded?

It was loaded from September 19 to October 2, 2012.

How long does it take for a nuclear plant to produce electricity after loading the fuel?

Normally, it takes 4 to 5 months. As this is the first time we are doing it here, we have to conduct certain checks before operations can commence.

The word 'critical' has been aired in the media frequently. Since Pongal, January 15, we have been given various dates when the plant would go critical.

It has begun to sound like the story we heard as children about the boy shouting 'Wolf, wolf...'

No, no, it's not like that. We had some teething problems with the system that we commissioned.

You must have read that four valves are not working. Let me explain what these valves are.

Normally, you need electricity and a motor to operate a valve. Or you need air supply or oil supply to operate a valve.

This is a special valve that does not require electricity or air supply, it is self operated by the system pressure.

Its performance was not satisfactory. You have to appreciate our transparency. When we identified this deficiency we let everyone know.

We are a clean company. We identified the problem and we replaced the components that were causing the problem.

That was the cause of the delay. We have changed the component, tested them, validated them.

Only now are we proceeding with the criticality operations.

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Image: The Koodankulam nuclear power plant
Photographs: Reuters

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Were these valves supplied by the company blacklisted by the Russian government?

There is a lot of wrong information that is going on. Nobody has been blacklisted. According to media reports somebody has been arrested by the Russian government for wrongdoings there.

Definitely these valves have not been supplied by that company. It has been supplied by a different company. It's the first of its kind. It is very different from other valves. We had some difficulties in adjusting it.

Has the replacement also been supplied by the same company which supplied the original valves?

No! It has been supplied by a different company. Actually we have decided to proceed with our own manufacture.

This valve has now been made by an Indian company?

Yes, some of the components have been made by an Indian company. We had asked the Russians to supply it and we also asked an Indian company.

Then we informed the Russians that we are using the Indian component because it arrived a week before the Russian one.

The Russians were okay with that?

They are absolutely okay with it.

Is this a Russian turn-key project?

Absolutely not! This is not a Russian turn-key project. This is one misconception many people have. This is not a turn-key project. The technology -- that is the design, the drawings, the equipment -- has been supplied by the Russian Federation.

But the entire construction, starting from the civil construction, the mechanical component, the electrical component, the instrumentation component, erection, has been done by Indian engineers and Indian contractors.

BHEL, Larsen & Toubro, the Electronic Corporation of India among others have done all the work. The commissioning has also been done by Indian engineers.

The nuclear plant has been supplied by the Russians, that is all?

No, the technology has been supplied by them (the Russians) and, from civil construction everything has been done by us. The commissioning has been done by us including operation of the plant.

The plant is not one machine?

It is not. It has thousands of components. Those components have been fabricated in the Russian Federation and supplied to us. Again, the Russians have got some of the components from other countries. There are third country suppliers.

People are asking us how we got French and Korean components. The Russians have got it from them.

One of the components has been manufactured by a company in Gummidipoondi, Tamil Nadu. From there it has gone all the way to Russia and come back here.

Multiple companies have supplied the components.

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Image: Protests have dogged the Koodankulam nuclear plant for the last couple of years
Photographs: Reuters

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You have checked the quality of every component?

Definitely. We have checked every one of them. From the time of material selection, fabrication, erection, every time it is tested. They are certified by various agencies from the factory level to the plant post operation stage.

Let us say a pump is tested. First of all, we do a motor testing. Then it is coupled and the pump is run. We check if the vibration level is okay -- whether it is performing its duty, whether it is developing pressure as per the design.

On re-circulation mode, on full flow mode, everything is monitored.

This is for one small pump, that way we have thousands of pumps actually.

All the machines are connected and then we do integrated testing. The entire system is connected and then we go up to normal parameters which means a certain temperature and a certain pressure.

In a nuclear plant there are various inter-connected systems. There is a steam generator. We produce nuclear heat that is transferred to the steam generator, steam is produced. Steam goes to the turbine. The turbine has to charge the generator.

The generator produces some 24 KV voltage which goes to the transformer which converts it to 400,000 KV.

Power generation takes place.

Then there are so many pumps, components, electrical components which have to be as per the design. Temperature controllers, pressure controllers, -- all this is integrated and the internal function is checked. Only then is the plant made operational.

That is why it takes time to make a plant operational.

Now when you say the plant will be critical we can believe you?

Definitely!

I am sorry that I am repeating myself -- but we have heard the same statement so many times!

That is okay. We are not saying that you have to believe what we say. We have to prove it and we will. We will prove it by demonstrating it.

Why do you not allow the media anywhere near the plant?

We are restricting the media because of the difficulties we are facing with the media. The public have been visiting the plant regularly.

The public is knowledgeable. They ask as many questions as journalists. We have faced tough questions from them, clarified their doubts and convinced them.


Image: A Ganesh Nadar/Rediff.com


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