Ahead of public hearing, report shows AFR will be close to Kudankulam reactors

The hearing is to be held at the school ground of Nithyalakyanasundari Vellaiyan Chettiyar government higher secondary school in Radhapuram taluk of Tirunelveli.
Ahead of public hearing, report shows AFR will be close to Kudankulam reactors

CHENNAI: The Tamil Nadu Pollution Control Board has called for a public hearing for the establishment of India’s first Away for Reactor (AFR) spent fuel storage facility for Kudankulam Nuclear Power Project (KKNPP), on July 10.

The hearing is to be held at the school ground of Nithyalakyanasundari Vellaiyan Chettiyar government higher secondary school in Radhapuram taluk of Tirunelveli. The contentious issue is Nuclear Power Corporation of India Limited’s (NPCIL) plan to set up the AFR within the existing plant premises of KKNPP unit 1 and 2. The Environment Impact Assessment (EIA) report for the project, made public on Tuesday, shows the AFR is coming up in an area of 0.35 hectare, close to the reactors.

The total project cost is estimated to be Rs 538 crore, which was sanctioned by the Department of Atomic Energy in September 2015, and the design life will be for 75 years. While the public have been invited to give views and objections, anti-nuclear activists are against the project, claiming that NPCIL is playing with danger.

“AFR means Away from Reactor. Here the facility is being planned within the plant premises. We will meet the Chief Minister and other political parties to draw political consensus in opposing the project, besides exploring legal options,” said anti-Kudankulam nuclear activist G Sundarrajan, who filed a petition in the Supreme Court seeking shutting down of the power plant until the AFR is built.  

However, NPCIL and its environmental consultant, Mecon Limited, defended the location, saying, “AFR would be a component of operating KKNPP 1 and 2 and will be integrated with it as one of the engineered features... The AFR facility is an operational requirement for KKNPP 1 and 2 to store the spent fuel generated during its lifetime. At Reactor - spent fuel pool (inside the reactor building) has the storage capacity to accommodate spent fuel generated up to about seven years (full power year) of reactor operations. The proposed AFR facility is planned to be constructed to meet the above operation requirement of KKNPP 1 and 2.”

According to the EIA report, “The AFR facility will have systems for water cooling, purification, ventilation, etc. Besides, it will have a control room from where all the important system parameters can be controlled/monitored. In addition, the safety-related and important indications/alarms of the AFR facility will be provided in the Main Control Room of KKNPP 1 and 2.”

Radiation dose due to AFR

NPCIL officials claim the radiation dosage on the general public due to construction of AFR would be a fraction of the limit set by Atomic Energy Regulatory Board (AERB) and the global average.For instance, due to operation of KKNPP 1 and 2, for the year 2017, the dose received by a hypothetical person at the fence post through all routes is 0.0118 microsievert (µSv/y), which is only 0.001 per cent of AERB dose limit of 1,000 µSv/y prescribed for the members of public and much less when compared to the annual global average dose of 2400µSv from natural background.

“At farther distances from Kudankulam site, the doses are insignificant, demonstrating compliance with regulatory limit. The dose contribution due to AFR is negligible. The combined waste from KKNPP 1 and 2 and AFR will be treated and disposed in line with AERB authorised limits. Hence, there will be no additional radiological impact to the general public as well as to the environment due to addition of AFR facility at KKNPP,” NPCIL said.  

Missed deadlines

NPCIL has missed the 2018 deadline for building AFR facility — spent nuclear fuel is currently kept within the power plant in a Spent Fuel Pool. The enterprise had approached the apex court, seeking more time. Simultaneously, Sundarrajan had filed his petition. However, the court extended the deadline to build AFR to April 30, 2022.

AERB had recommended an AFR facility for KKNPP, for prolonged storage of spent fuel while granting site clearance. The Advisory Committees for Safety Review of Various Projects, during its 126th meeting in 2011, also recommended that AFR should be finalised five years ahead of a power plant’s operation. Sources told Express that NPCIL has to import certain components for the AFR like spent fuel storage racks and fuel handing machine, for which procurement has been initiated only last year.

In the affidavit submitted to the SC, NPCIL acknowledged “there has been underestimation in the assessment of time needed for setting-up AFR..... The AFR facility is a challenging task on account of no previous experience with long storage requirements of high burnup Russian type PWR fuel and thereby being the first-of-its-kind facility in India.”

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