New Delhi: The much-delayed Kudankulam nuclear project moved a step closer to operationalisation on Saturday with commencement of pre-service inspection of the reactor pressure vessel of the plant.
"This inspection will take about 10 to 12 days. The report of inspection will be submitted to the Atomic Energy Regulatory Board for its review and obtaining clearance for fuel loading," Nalinish Nagaich, Executive Director, Nuclear Power Corporation of India Limited (NPCIL) said.
The inspection is a key step in the run-up to the commissioning of a nuclear plant before the regulator grants permission for loading the fuel.
The reactor pressure vessel, which houses fuel assemblies, is the heart of any nuclear power plant and a detailed inspection before commissioning is necessary as it cannot be opened once the reactor starts functioning.
"This pre-service inspection will provide the reference base line data for future, apart from validating functioning of automatic inspection machine," Nagaich said.
He said the RPV will be inaccessible after start of operation and subsequent inspections will be carried out remotely using the same machine.
During the life-time of the plant, inspections would be carried out once in four years.
Earlier this week, NPCIL Chairman-cum-Managing Director Kailash Chandra Purohit had said the first unit of KNPP was in final stages of commissioning and he expected the fuel to be loaded in the nuclear plant by end of July.
The Kudankulam Nuclear Power Project had run into a rash of protests after a goof up by the NPCIL, which had failed to warn people living in the vicinity of the plant about the pre-commissioning tests.
The hot-run conducted by the nuclear operator in September
last year, in which the reactor released steam with loud noise, triggered panic among locals who suddenly became apprehensive about the project.
Anti-nuclear activists joined the locals in vociferously opposing the nuclear project raising concerns over safety and impact on environment. The deadlock lasted over seven months during which the nuclear establishment tried to convince them on the safety measures of the plant.
A special high precision automatic, computer-controlled and remotely-operated machine which is designed to work under water will carry out the inspection of the RPV.
Built in Russia, the RPV has undergone vigorous inspection at various stages of manufacture by experts from the NPCIL and Russian regulators.
Later, a specialist group of Atomic Energy Regulatory Board had also reviewed the inspection details.
The RPV has withstood pressure of 250 kg/sq cm as against the normal operating pressure of 160 kg/sq cm.
During hot run with the dummy fuel, operating conditions have been simulated and the performance of the vessel has met all requirements, Nagaich said.
Currently, India operates 19 nuclear power plants with an installed capacity of 4680 MW.
NPCIL boasts of registering over 360 reactors years of operation with an impeccable record of safety.
The completion of the Kudankulam nuclear power reactors is expected to add 2000 MW raising the existing capacity to 6680 MW by March next year. India targets to have 63,000 MW of installed nuclear power by 2032.
At present, seven nuclear power reactors are in various stages of construction. After completion of these projects, India`s nuclear power capacity is expected touch 10,080 MW by 2017.