Indian nuclear plants to bolster safety measures

India`s atomic energy regulator has decided to renew the operational licence of all the 20 atomic power plants in the country.

Chennai: India`s atomic energy regulator has decided to renew the operational licence of all the 20 atomic power plants in the country on a short term basis till the installation of additional safety measures as suggested after the disastrous Fukushima accident in Japan.

The regulator is also planning to levy a licence fee as well as charge for other services to be financially self-sufficient.

"Every nuclear power plant in India has to renew its operational licence once in five years. With the accident in Fukushima reactors in Japan, additional safety measures have been suggested. The NPCIL (Nuclear Power Corporation of India Ltd) has to give us the road map for implementing the same," SS Bajaj, chairman of Atomic Energy Regulatory Board (AERB), said in an interview.

As a result, two of NPCIL`s power stations - Madras Atomic Power Station (MAPS) and the first two units at Tarapur Atomic Power Station (TAPS) - are being issued limited period licence to operate since December 31, 2010, and March 31, 2011, when their licence came up for renewal.

"The AERB does not give operational licence for the full life of the reactor. Every five years, we have to give integrated data on the reactors. We have given the data for TAPS 1 and 2. At TAPS, we have implemented the recommended short-term safety measures and the long term which involves civil construction activities will take some more time," SA Bharadwaj, director (Technical) at NPCIL, said.

Krishnamurthy said the post-Fukushima safety measures could be divided into short- and long-term measures.

"We are in the process of acquiring seismic trips, diesel gensets and others. The short- term measures will be completed over the next eight months. Long-term measures include setting up new equipments and beefing up the physical security of mobile assets like diesel gensets, building of additional water and diesel storage facilities," Krishnamurthy remarked.

"In 18 months, the recommended short- and long-term safety measures would be completed at all our units," Bharadwaj said.

Speaking about the Kudankulam Nuclear Power Project (KNPP) where hot run (trial run with dummy fuel) of the reactor was completed and the project has come to a standstill due to people`s protests, Bajaj said: "They now have to submit the test results. Based on that, we will authorise removal of dummy fuel."

According to Bajaj, the AERB is also mulling to levy licence fee and charge for its other services so as to be financially self-sufficient as it is on the verge of being converted into an autonomous regulator.

"We have to evolve a formula on which licence fees are charged. This will be done after getting the feedback from stakeholders. Perhaps in one year`s time we will be able to levy our fees," Bajaj said.

He said the AERB`s annual budget is around Rs 25-30 crore and its revenue is almost nil.

"We have around 230 employees and plans are there to increase the numbers as more atomic power stations are coming up," Bajaj said.

The regulator does not see any issue in having mega nuclear parks housing multiple units, provided sufficient safety measures are installed.

Queried about drafting safety codes for different kinds of nuclear power reactors (pressurised heavy water reactors, light water reactors, and fast reactors) that are being set up in India, Bajaj said: "At the highest level, the safety codes are similar. When we come down, we apply our codes and, where it is not possible, use international standards."

On the fresh challenges to be faced on becoming an autonomous regulator under the proposed Nuclear Safety Regulatory Authority Act, Bajaj said: "Even now, the AERB is independent with none of its decisions questioned. Further, its budget too was not questioned."


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