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AFR at Kudankulam turns into a major issue in TN

Arun Lakshman/ Chennai

Kudankulam Nuclear Power Plant (KKNPP) has always been shrouded with controversy and several social and political struggles had taken place in the power plant which finally commenced generating power into the Southern grid from October 22, 2013, onwards. The Nuclear power plant which has an installed capacity of 6000 Mw from its 6 units has now two units under operation generating energy of 2000 MW from the commissioned units.

Russian state company Atomstroyexport has joined hands with Nuclear Power Corporation of India Ltd (NPCIL) for the Kudankulam Nuclear Power Project and the construction of Units 3 and 4 was commissioned in 2016 and will start generating power from 2023. This would add upto 2000 Mw more power into the grid.

Recently controversy has erupted in Tirunelvei district and adjacent areas of the Kudankulam Nuclear Power Plant (KKNPP) in   Tamil Nadu after the Nuclear Power Corporation of India Ltd (NPCIL) floated tenders for the construction of Away from Reactor (AFR) for the storage of Spent Nuclear Fuel (SNF). With the proposed facility scheduled to be situated near the Nuclear Power Plant, activists and environmentalists have raised concerns, citing a possible threats to the local population.

While environmental activists and local activists started the opposition to the AFR at KKNPP, the issue got prominence after the Tamil Nadu Chief Minister, M.K. Stalin directly aired his opposition to the project and flagged a letter to Prime Minister Narendra Modi expressing the concerns about the people of Tamil Nadu on installing Away from Reactor (AFR) for storing Spent Nuclear Fuel (SNF).

Stalin in the letter to Prime Minister Narendra Modi expressed his opposition to the project on behalf of the people of Tamil Nadu and as an alternative suggested that the SNF be transported back to Russia or to store it in Deep Geological Depository (DGR) in an uninhibited and ecologically non-sensitive area.

In the letter to the Prime minister, Stalin said, “ I request that in the interest of public safety, health and welfare of the people of Tamil Nadu, action may be taken to take the SNF back to Russia. This must not only be for Units 1 and Units 2 but also for the subsequent four units. In case this is not a feasible option, the spent fuel may be permanently stored in Deep Geological Repository (DGR) in an uninhibited and ecologically non-sensitive area.”

The Tamil Nadu Chief Minister also shared his concern with the Prime Minister on the hazards and potential danger of the AFR storage facility of the SNF within the plant premises. Stalin pointed out that several such facilities across the world have faced accidents leading to disastrous impacts on the environment and the people residing in and around such plants.

AIADMK leader and former Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu, O. Panneerselvam also has come out strongly against the construction of Away from Reactor to store the Spent Nuclear Fuel (SNF) and asked the Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu to ensure that AFR’s are not constructed in Kudankulam. He also said that Unit 1 and Unit 2 of Kudankulam Nuclear Power Plant was generating power and this was shared with other South Indian states like Kerala, Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh, and Puducherry and said that the Spent Nuclear Fuel has become the liability of Tamil Nadu but power is shared with all other states. OPS said that if AFR is constructed at Kudankulam other state governments would also dump their nuclear waste here.

 He also called upon the Tamil Nadu government to stop the tendering process called by the Nuclear Power Corporation of India Ltd (NPCIL) and said that the last day of the tender was February 24 and urged the government to act on it immediately.

Other than the political leadership, social and environmental activists have also come out with their opposition to the project.

G. Sundarrajan, Anti Kudankulam activist and General Secretary of Poovulagin Nanbargal, an organization taking up environmental issues, while speaking to IANS said, “ The state government must take initiative and should not allow NPCIL to build an AFR facility and withhold the Consent to Establish (CTE) issued by the Tamil Nadu government by the Tamil Nadu Pollution Control Board for the under-construction of units 3 and 4 at the KKNPP.”

He said that the AFR becoming a permanent structure can cause serious issues to the local population as no proper decision on Deep Geological Depository (DGR) has been taken.

The environmental activist said, “The Supreme Court had directed the authorities to build the DGR at the earliest so the spent fuel could be stored there.”

It is to be noted that the NPCIL had earlier requested the Supreme Court that DGR would be constructed within five years by 2018. Five more years was sought and that term will also end by 2023 but the construction of DGR has not taken place.

However, the Government of India has adopted a ‘Closed fuel Cycle’ where spent fuel is considered as a material of resource. Union Minister for Science and Technology Jitendra Singh has recently in Loksabha while answering a question by senior DMK leader, T.R. Baalu said, “ The India- Russia Inter-Governmental Agreement of 2010 facilitates storage and reprocessing of spent nuclear fuel generated at KKNPP and given the small quantity of high-level waste generated post reprocessing, there is no need for a deep underground geological disposal facility in the near future.”

The minister has also said that the AFR’s are designed with a comprehensive approach to withstand extreme natural events like earthquakes and tsunamis and that there was no need for any fear regarding the same.

While the Tamil Nadu political leadership and the environmental and social organizations have voiced their concern against the project, it needs to be seen whether the Government of India would backtrack on the same. It is to be seen whether the Nuclear Power Corporation of India Ltd (NPCIL) will go ahead with the project and whether the Government of India would scuttle it heeding to the request of the Tamil Nadu Chief minister but the possibilities of Nuclear energy as a fuel is increasing by the day and with it such projects will again be commissioned in India.