With synchronization of the second unit of the Kudankulam power plant, India's civil nuclear programme has reached a couple of landmarks: the Kudankulam project+ turned a page on protests and a legal challenge over its safety parameters in the Supreme Court, and India crossed the 6,000MW mark in nuclear power.
Once the output of Unit II is scaled up to a full 1,000MW in two months, India's 22 nuclear power reactors will be able to generate 6,780MW of power and the Nuclear Power Corporation of India Limited (NPCIL) expects four more reactors to be commissioned in a year. Unit II is functioning smoothly as scientists seem to have incorporated the right lessons from hitches that marred Unit I's functioning after attaining criticality in 2013.
The two 1,000MW nuclear units built with Russian assistance have made Tamil Nadu the highest consumer of nuclear power on a daily basis. Kudankulam I and II are also the last nuclear units in India built with foreign collaboration that will not attract the liability clause legislated after the India-US nuclear deal.
NPCIL engineers learnt bitter lessons while commissioning Unit I. The reactor has been in continuous operation only since February 2016. Protests in 2011-12 by anti-nuclear activists delayed the project by months when it was over 90% ready, but not much is known of the problems it faced later. The Unit I has been operating continuously for 189 days since February 22 and has generated 11,269 million units of electricity since October 2013.
But NPCIL did its homework and made changes to Unit II. "We carried out all changes effected to Unit I on Unit II. This made the commissioning of the second unit easier," Kudankulam project site director R S Sundar told TOI.
In the near future — around six months to a year — two indigenous reactors each in Rajasthan and Kakrapar in Gujarat should be ready. "Beyond Kudankulam, Nuclear Power Corporation is hopeful of commissioning the four reactors in a year. These reactors are built by NPCIL engineers and each has a capacity of 700MW," Sundar said.
Not all of India's 22 nuclear reactors are functioning to full capacity. "A total of 14 reactors are under International Atomic Energy Agency safeguards. Only these reactors are eligible to use imported nuclear fuel and are currently operational. The plant load factor (PLF) of these reactors is around 90%," a former Atomic Energy Commission chief said.
The PLF of reactors using indigenous fuel is less. For example, the PLF of two units of 220MW capacity in Kalpakkam is around 65-70% as there is a shortage of nuclear fuel in the country. "As we synchronized Unit-2 with the grid on August 29, the total nuclear power generation in the country on that day was 5100MW. This is a new high for nuclear power generation. As on date, Unit-2 is generating 270MW and we will be scaling up the generation in the coming days," said Sundar.