Country Report: INDIA
India was the first country in Asia to have a nuclear programme. The Indian Atomic Energy Commission was set up in 1948. In fact, the starting of atomic energy programme predates India's independence in 1947 as well as the atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
In 1944, Dr Homi J Bhabha, who can be called as the father of the Indian nuclear programme wrote a letter to Sir Dorab Tata trust and the government of Bombay asking money to set up an institute for studying the subject, so that "when nuclear energy has been successfully applied for power production in, say a couple of decades from now, India will not have to look abroad for its experts, but will find them ready at hand."
Soon after the setting up of the Atomic Energy Commission, a Rare Minerals Survey Unit was set up in 1949, which later became the Atomic Minerals Division. Indian Rare Earths Limited was established in August 1950 to treat Monazite sands found on the coast of Kerala in South India. In April 1953, construction of a thorium plant was started at Trombay near Bombay to treat the residues after recovery of rare earths to get Thorium. This plant was completed in 1955.
Since the activities of the commission had expanded greatly, a Department of Atomic Energy was set up in August 1954 and a research centre later named Bhabha Atomic Research Centre was established at Trombay near Bombay in 1957. Before that India's first research reactor APSARA which was a pool type enriched uranium fuel, light water moderated and cooled, was built in Trombay. Over time various research reactors using different fuels and moderators and coolants have been built in Trombay to serve different purposes.
Other research centres besides BARC were later set up. There is the Indira Gandhi Reactor Research Centre where the fast breeder reactor became critical in 1985 and which is designed for an output of 14 MW electrical power but which after 12 years joined the grid last month with a power output of 1 MW. There is also the Centre for Advanced Technology at Indore where research is done on fusion.
The nuclear power programme and nuclear research and development activities are under the control of the prime minister. He operates though at Atomic Energy Commission (AEC) and Department of Atomic Energy (DAE). The chairman of the AEC is also secretary of the DAE.
The role of the AEC is to formulate the policies and programmes. The Atomic Energy Regulatory Board, which is responsible to the AEC, formulates safety standards and regulations. It approves the commissioning of nuclear stations on the basis of its own safety assessments and on information provided by the Safety Review Committee of the DAE. There is no public participation at any stage of the process. The public in fact comes to know of a project only at the time people start receiving eviction notices and their land gets acquired for a project of "national importance".
The DAE (set up in 1954) has full executive powers to implement the programme. It has reporting to it: the two main research centres and the other research institutions receiving support; the Nuclear Power Corporation; the heavy water projects; and fuel-cycle undertakings.
Energy Supply Overview:
Over the past 150 years there has been a gradual shift away from the use of non-commercial sources of energy (firewood, agriculture waste and cow dung) to coal, hydro, oil and nuclear. Energy prices have traditionally been kept low. There are good reserves (100 billion tons) of coal, but mining is at present concentrated in the east in Bihar and West Bengal. Hydro power potential is put at 70,000 MWe. Substantial investment in oil exploration has resulted in the development of rich wells in Arabian sea and in several part of the country.
Total installed electricity generating capacity has grown rapidly from 3000 MWe in 1950 to 84,000 Mwe today. The 15 year plan for nuclear power envisaged in 1984 wanted to increase the then nuclear capacity of 1330 MWe to 2,400 MWe by 1990 and to 10,000 MWe by 2000.
Electricity shortages and load shedding occur regularly in many parts of the country. The capacity factors of fossil-fired stations are often below 50 per cent due to the quality of the coal and the distance over which much of it has to be transported. Transmission losses are very high (partly due to pilfering).
Nuclear Energy Power Generation
One of the first steps in the field of atomic energy was to carry out an extensive geological survey of the country to locate and evaluate resources of nuclear materials. This survey revealed that, although the country had vast thorium resource, the uranium deposits, by comparison were low. It was estimated to amount to only about 15,000 metric tonnes (Te) U308 compared to more than 300,000 Te known to exist at that time in the USA and in Canada. Besides, the Uranium deposits were of relatively poor concentration; about 0.06 compared to 0.2 to 0.5% in the USA and Canada. Therefore the choice of the reactor system was dictated by the main consideration that it should be capable of utilising the limited uranium resource to the maximum extent possible. Furthermore, it was also recognised that no matter how good the reactor system was, the potential for power generation from uranium resource used in thermal reactors alone was not going to be very high. Thus the whole thrust of the Indian nuclear programme has been on the utilisation of thorium. Later on new discoveries of uranium have been made with the result that the reserves of uranium are now estimated to be much higher (30,000 —70,000 Te).
Thorium deposits were known to exceed 300,000 Te ThO2. Used in a breeder reactor this would be equivalent to about 570,000 million tonnes of coal. As thorium has no fissile component, the possibility of its use in nuclear reactors depends on the initial availability of adequate fissile material from other sources. The two routes to make fissile material available to thorium reactors are either to enrich the natural uranium to get high enrichment in U235, or use the natural uranium in a reactor so that some of the U238 gets converted to Pu239. Uranium enrichment route was given up because it was felt that Indian technical capability at the time was not sufficiently developed to accomplish the task.
Based on this a three stage programme was formulated
1. PHWRs ( CANDUs) for power and plutonium production.
2. Using plutonium in high breeding-ratio FBRs.
3. Using thorium in FBRs.
Fifteen Year Plan:
In 1985, India had six units running with a total capacity of 1360 MWe. Construction was also going on four other units. At that time a 15-year plan was formulated which proposed that India go in for massive new construction to bring the capacity to 10,000 MWe by 2000. This was to involve building eight more 235 Mwe units and ten 500 Mwe nits. The 235 Mwe units were expected to be commissioned by 1995 and the others at the rate of two units a year between then and the end of the century. The 500 Mwe units were to be designed and fabricated entirely in India, and it was said then in official publications that the design was almost complete.
This 15-year plan also included:
* Setting up uranium mines and mills with a gross production of 1700t/y to meet the lifetime purified U3O8 for all the reactors.
* Four new heavy water plants besides those then under construction with an aggregate production capacity of 970t/y to meet the total requirement of about 13 000t/y for the programme.
* Expansion of uranium fuel-fabrication capacity to 1500t/y, and zircaloy production and fabrication capacity to 250t/y.
* Setting up new reprocessing plants (after Kalpakkam) to increase capacity to 1000t/y.
Construction of waste immobilisation and safe storage and surveillance plants for treating the high-level waste from reprocessing.
The idea was that the programme of 10,000 Mwe of PHWRs would yield about 3.2t of plutonium per year, which would enable 1000 Mwe of fast breeders to be built in the first decade of the next century.
That was the idea. Performance has been something else. The Indian nuclear power programme has developed very slowly and painfully. Thirty-five years after the first reactor was ordered the installed nuclear capacity is still only 1850 MWe and capacity factors have been well below the world average. Nuclear power today accounts for less than 2 per cent of generating capacity. Nevertheless India is the only developing country to have acquired the complete capability to design and build nuclear power stations and to provide fuel cycle services, from uranium mining to spent fuel reprocessing and build waste immobilisation facilities. It is also the only country to rely on medium-size power reactors for its existing and future programme, and one of the very few countries with an operating FBR. Self sufficiency, though an original aim, became a necessity with the withdrawal of foreign co-operation after the Indian nuclear explosion in 1974. It has led to delays and higher costs.
There are ten power reactors in operation on five sites; two are BWRs and the rest are PHWRs.
The two 210 MWe BWRs at Tarapur (TAPS-1 and 2), 100km north of Bombay, were ordered on a turnkey contract in 1963 from General Electric. A proven reactor system was imported for this plant in order to gain time as well as experience in operation and maintenance of nuclear power plants. It was also said to be too good a bargain to miss.
The units, which are similar to Dresden 1 in the United States, were commissioned in October 1969, one year late. The delay was caused by cracking in stainless steel components. Almost all the equipment was imported.
The two Tarapur reactors have lifetime load factors around 50 per cent The reactors have been derated to 160 Mwe since April 1985, due to problems with the secondary steam generators which have now been isolated.
Some spares have been obtained from the shut-down West German reactor at Gundremmingen and others have been supplied by Indian companies.
At the time the order for Tarapur was placed negotiations were well in hand with Atomic Energy of Canada for a 220 Mwe CANDU for a site at Rawatbhata in Rajasthan. RAPS 1 was ordered in April 1964 and commissioned at the end of 1972. AECL and Montreal Engineering shared the design. Half the initial fuel charge was supplied by Canadian Westinghouse and the other half was made in India using Canadian fabrication equipment. Because of problems with Canadian heavy water, it was provided by the United States and the Soviet Union.
An identical reactor, RAPS 2, was ordered from AECL in December 1966 (again without international tenders) and commissioned in late 1980.
Although most of the major components and equipment for the two RAPS units were imported, the DAE was responsible for their construction and commissioning. Delays were caused by the late delivery of Indian-built components and by the Canadians' halt on deliveries and later withdrawal from the contract following India's refusal to sign the NPT in 1973 and the Indian nuclear explosion in 1974.
RAPS 2 was completed by Indian engineers in 1978 but it took another two years to negotiate supplies of heavy water with the Soviet Union. The problem was escalating price and the Indian's refusal to sign safeguard agreements.
The RAPS units, on which the Indian nuclear programme is based, were ordered well before the Canadians had any operating experience with the reference reactor at Douglas Point, itself a prototype.
At Rajasthan lifetime load factors are 12 and 44 per cent, respectively. The small size of the grid to which the station was initially connected led to a large number of outages, there has been repeated trouble with turbine blades and in 1982 the end-shield of the first unit developed a leak. After being out of service until February 1985 for repair it operated for three months at 170 Mwe but then developed a new leak. It was subsequently derated to 100 Mwe. For the last three years both the RAPS reactors are in a shutdown state since their pressure tubes have become too brittle due to neutron bombardment and they are all being replaced.
All subsequent reactors have been engineered and constructed by the Indians on their own and there has been a steep decline in imported materials and components. They are all PHWRs.
The Madras atomic power station (MAPS 1 and 2) (235 Mwe) was ordered in 1968 for a site at Kalpakkam near Madras and the first commercial power from the two units was produced in January 1984 and November 1985 respectively. Its lifetime capacity factors have also been in the mid-forties. Due to problems with moderator inlet manifolds they have both been derated to 175 Mwe each.
The two 235 Mwe units ordered for a site at Narora (NAPP 1 and 2) south-east of New Delhi in Uttar Pradesh in 1974 are the first standardised reactors and they also incorporate design principles applicable to the proposed 500 MWe units. These and future units all have full double containment. (See "Kaiga Dome Collapse" in Sec. 2) The coolant pumps have for the first time been manufactured in India and the station has a liquid-poison shut-off system as the secondary reactor shut down device. The design also supposedly takes account of the seismic conditions at the site.
Orders were placed in 1982 and completion scheduled for 1990 and 1992 for 2 units of 235 MWe station at Kakrapar near Surat in Gujarat (KAPS 1 and 2). The units started producing electricity in 1991 and 1995 respectively.
Reactors Under Construction:
Orders were placed in 1985 for two 235 MWe reactors at Kaiga in a tropical rain-forest in Karnataka, on which work is now almost 90 % complete. They were originally scheduled for operation in 1995 but will probably not be ready till 1998 at the earliest.
Work has also been going on two units of 220 Mwe at Rawatbhata in Rajasthan. The units are reported to be 40 % complete.
The indigenous content by cost has increased from 30 per cent at Tarapur to 70 per cent at RAPS 2 and 89 per cent at Narora. Although self reliance was an avowed aim of the programme in the early days, that is no longer the case and the government has been actively seeking foreign assistance. In this however, India's not having signed the NPT comes in the way.
All the uranium required by the operating reactors is supplied by a mine and mill at Jaduguda in Bihar State operated by the Uranium Corporation of India. This was opened in 1968 and has a capacity of 150t/y. Exploration by the Atomic Minerals Division of DAE has led to the discovery of several new deposits, the largest being at Turamdih in the Sinhbhum district in Bihar, and at Domiasiat in the North-eastern state of Meghalaya. Recently announcement was made of a new discovery in the Bhima river basin in the southern state of Karnataka.
Reasonably assured resources of uranium are definitely more than 35,000t. Most of the uranium is low grade ore, 0.05 per cent or less, and although this makes it expensive by world standards, Indian labour costs are low. Uranium is also being recovered from copper tailings at Surda and Rakha in Bihar.
Easily-extractable resources of thorium have been put at 360 000t, and are of low cost. The thorium plant at Trombay is managed by Indian Rare Earths, which is one the fuel-cycle companies controlled by DAE.
Heavy Water Plants:
There are eight operating heavy water plants: Nangal (14t/y);. Baroda (67y/y); Tuticorin (71.3t/y); Talcher (62t/y); Kota (100t/y); Thal (110t/y); Hazira (110t/y) and Manuguru (185t/y). All earlier plants except the one at Kota were built by foreign contractors and all experienced serious construction delays and operated well below full capacity. Three different processes are used. However, the early problems regarding poor performance of heavy water plants seem to have been overcome and there is now a great surplus of heavy water since the proposed nuclear expansion has not taken place as rapidly as envisaged.
The first reprocessing plant, with a capacity of 30t/y, was built between 1961 and 1964 at the BARC site at Trombay. It uses the Purex process and products plutonium from the fuel discharged from the Cirus research reactor. Construction of the Power Reactor Fuel Reprocessing Plant at Tarapur was started in 1969 and the first trial run with spent fuel was completed in 1979. Since then there have been campaigns reprocessing shorter-cooled PHWR fuel.
Construction of third plant, at Kalpakkam has just been completed. A project proposal has been prepared for a large engineering scale facility for reprocessing irradiated thorium from the Cirus and Dhruva research reactors in order to separate U-233.
A solid waste Storage Surveillance Facility is in operation at Tarapur for the interim storage of solidified high-level radioactivity waste products produced in the Waste Immobilisation Plant at the station. Waste Immobilisation Plant (WIP) for fixing high level waste in glass matrices has been commissioned at Tarapur. A similar plant is under construction at Trombay and work has begun on another plant at Kalpakkam. Geological sites for location of repositories are also being explored.
Fuel elements for the PHWRs (using indigenous magnesium diuranate) and for the BWRs (using imported UF6, since 1983 from Cogema and recently from China) is made at the Nuclear Fuel Complex at Hyderabad (another DAE company). The plant also produces zircaloy mill products, sub-assemblies for the FBTR at IGCAR, special materials and stainless steel tubes. The facilities for BWR fuel fabrication are being progressively modified to make the advanced 7 X 7 assemblies. The plant has been expanded to meet the need of the reactors under construction and plants are being formulated for the six-fold expansion that will be needed to meet the needs of the 10 000mwe programme.
The loop-type FBTR went critical in October 1985 and is expected to reach its full rated capacity (40 Mwt and 15 Mwe) by 1988. It was designed and built in India, but with French help in the early days. It uses plutonium-uranium carbide fuel fabricated in BARC. Experience gained will be used to build a 500 Mwe pool-type liquid sodium prototype fast-breeder reactor.
India has not signed the Non Proliferation Treaty and has generally resisted the imposition of safeguard by individual suppliers. This has led to difficulties with, the supply of enriched uranium, reactor equipment and heavy water. Only Tarapur and RAPS are under safeguards.
Profits and Losses
Nuclear Power Corporation (NPC) was formed in 1987 as the commercial arm of the Department of Atomic Energy. As of early 1996, its losses were running at more than Rs. 10 billion. Three fourths of these losses were due to defaults on payments by state owned state electricity boards. But the rest are due to poor performance—long construction times, poor load factors etc. The purpose of setting up the NPC was that it could operate like a private company and raise capital from the market and its own resources to fund further expansion and that there would be less government interference in day to day decision making. However, the last ten years have demonstrated unequivocally, that "nuclear power in a country like India cannot be sustained without massive government help." This opinion was expressed as a resolution of the NPC's own officers association, who in fact wanted that it be disbanded and they be reabsorbed in to DAE and function as government officers.
As the following report by Janet Wood in the Nuclear Engineering International (December 1991) makes clear profit and loss statements have no meaning in the Indian context.
At first site the Indian nuclear industry seems to be moving successfully towards a commercial footing. According to NPC, the company has had a good record, making profits of up to Rs 750 million in its first three years and selling power at prices similar to those of coal fired plants. Such figures would give NPC a rate of return of around 11 percent—a considerable achievement, when the average rate of return of India's nationalised industries is barely above 1 percent.
NPC is able to keep its prices low and record a profit because of the continuing support from the government. It is subsidised in various ways.
Fuel price: NPC buys fuel from the Nuclear Fuel Complex, another quasi-commercial company of DAE. If all production costs were taken into account the fuel bundles would cost around Rs 1000 ($40 in '91 prices) each. Instead, the fuel is "hired" at an administrative price set by the DAE.
Heavy water price: The cost of NPC's heavy water would be around Rs 4000/kg. Even this is not the true cost. The Comptroller and Auditor General's office had made an audit of the Tuticorin heavy water plant in 1987 and calculated that the actual cost of the heavy water produced was Rs 13,400/kg. But NPC doesn't even pay Rs 4000. In practice it is assumed to be a non-depreciating asset and is leased to NPC. Since non-recoverable heavy water losses are of the order of ten tonnes per year per reactor, this is a huge amount of government subsidy.
Research and development: NPC has no research and development capability of its own. It relies on the DAE's Bhabha Atomic Research Centre who provide a variety of services (free of charge) to NPC.
Waste disposal: Although NPC through each plant, deals with its own low and intermediate level waste, it has no responsibility for spent fuel. This is presently stored at the plant site until it can be moved for reprocessing. None of the costs are borne by the NPC. It is assumed that the cost of transport and reprocessing of fuel, as well as any subsequent decommissioning costs will be covered by the value of the plutonium recovered.
Risk insurance: NPC bears none of the costs of insuring against the risk of a nuclear accident or of compensation in case of such accidents—this is assumed to be a government responsibility.
Investment: As a commercial company, NPC is expected to raise one third of its financing from internal resources, one third from private borrowing and one third from government funds. At its healthy rate of return NPC has been able attract private funds but its internal resources are low and government funding has been raised to 50%. This was the situation in '91. Nowadays NPC is finding it difficult to attract outside funds and pay interest at commercial rates for the funds that it does get. This also has safety implications. The plant under construction at Kaiga is being hurriedly rushed through because of the large amount of interest NPC has to pay for every day of delay.
Nor are these the only subsidies. In the past, the government has willing to compensate NPC directly if production costs cannot be met by electricity price.
The Atomic Energy Regulatory Board (AERB) mainly sets safety objectives and audits and controls the safey performance. AERB was constituted in November 1983, when the Government decided to launch an enhanced nuclear power generation programme. Although it is supposed to regulate DAE activities, it is in fact subservient to DAE and its chairman reports directly to Secretary, DAE.
The functional responsibilities of AERB are:
1. Preparation of safety codes, guides, standards and technical regulations relating to nuclear and radiation safety.
2. Supervision of the authorisation process, including the approval of specifications for nuclear facilities and granting of authorisation at different stages like site evaluation, construction, operation, final shut down and decommissioning.
3. Surveillance of facilities both under construction and in operation.
There is no role for public participation at any stage in this process and in fact it is almost impossible to get any relevant information regarding nuclear activity from the authorities.
Accidents and Problems
Health Consequences of Routine Operations
The only power station in India around which there has been a scientific study of health consequences on the local population is the Rajasthan Atomic Power Station ( RAPS) located at Rawatbhata near Kota in central India. This study surveyed five villages (total population: 2860) within ten kilometres of the plant and compared them with four other villages (total population: 2544) more than fifty kilometres away was done in 1991 and published in 1993.
The following are the conclusions of the study:
A difference of more than 11 years in the average age of people who had died in the previous two years.
More cancer patients and cancer deaths in villages near the plant.
Significantly lesser number of electrified house hold and pumping set connections near the plant.
This study has been published in detail in Anumukti Volume 6 Number 5 (April / May 1993). Portions from the study have also been published in International Perspectives in Public Health (Volume 10 1994); in People's tribunal on Chernobyl, and also in Nuclear Energy and Public Safety (1996)
Accidents have been commonplace in Indian reactors. Some problems have proved intractable of solution and have resulted in derating of reactors. The south end-shield of RAPS-1 developed a leak which had caused the reactor to be shut down for three years. It was repaired but another leak sprung up. The reactor is now being operated at half its rated capacity. Similarly both the units at Madras Atomic Power Station at Kalpakkam suffered damage and both the units are being operated at 75 % of their rated capcity. However,in the last few years there have been a series of near misses at three different plants which are in a class of their own.
The Near Miss at Narora
In the early morning hours on March 31, 1993 a fire spread through the turbine building of Narora Atomic Power Station. There was a loud explosion that was heard by many people at 3.31 AM. At the time, the reactor was operating nearly at full capacity at around 190 MWe.
The reactor building was some distance away from the turbine room. The fire continued for close to two hours whereas smouldering of cables continued till 8.30 AM.
The fire caused extensive damage to the generators and power supply cables. The reactor was tripped manually by the station staff on duty when they noticed that the turbo-generator had automatically tripped after the fire.
The fire tenders in the turbine hall proved inadequate to control the fire since the flames reportedly spread to the lubricant and sealant oil drums kept in the hall, and the entire structure housing the turbine was damaged.
Fire extinguishing efforts were hampered by the large amount of smoke emanating from burning wires and parts of the generator. The radioactive smoke detectors installed in the building did not work. During most of the time the control room of the reactor unit was filled with smoke. The emergency control room--a special safety features at NAPS--was rendered useless in the absence of emergency power supply. Narora Unit Two had been shut down for several months, after a generator identical to that in Unit-1 was reportedly damaged on account of overheating.
The most serious aspect of the fire was that was complete loss of station power for a period of 17 hours. None of the three emergency diesel generators was able to work, since the cables connecting them also burned down.
What saved the reactor was the quick thinking on part of the operating staff. When they noticed that smoke was coming out of the turbine room and realised from the control panel that the fire had tripped the generator they initiated a scram to shut down the reactor. However, the reactor even in the shut-down state could still have caused havoc since the system needs to be continuously cooled and there was complete loss of electrical power and the pumps could not be used for circulating the coolant.
What the staff did in the few minutes before total power was lost, they managed to open the Safety Blow Off Valves to start the cooling process in the reactor. But they still had to feed the boilers, which began to run out of water. This was manually accomplished with the use of fire fighting pumps running on their dedicated diesel generator, transporting water to the boilers after the valve in the outer containment of the reactor was opened. This was done by the heroic efforts of individual reactor operators who risked exposure to intense heat and radiation and entered the outer containment shell of the reactor to manually open the valve.
The Cause of the Fire
The official report put out by the Atomic Energy Regulatory Board months after the accident said that, "Failure of two turbine blades resulted in a severe imbalance of the large rotating mass, causing extensive damage to the bearing of the machine as well as to the various accessories and components of the turbine and the generator. In the process the leak tightness of the generator hydrogen seals was lost, leading to a hydrogen leakage and a fire."
Later investigation revealed that the turbines had been manufactured by Bharat Heavy Electricals Limited (BHEL) under contract from General Electric (GE). Because of a design defect, these turbines were prone to cracking. GE had discovered the flaw following complaints from various customers and had reported the flaw and the design modification required to BHEL in 1988 itself, i.e. before the installation of the turbine in the Narora plant. However, BHEL did not inform the plant authorities of this problem because they had already machined the blades and did not want to make changes at that stage.
In wake of the devastating fire at Narora plant, the Atomic Energy Regulatory Board had asked the Department of Atomic Energy to close down other nuclear power stations for inspection of their turbine blades. It was because of this happy coincidence that South Gujarat was saved from catastrophe.
Following the heavy rains of June 15 and 16, 1994 floods devastated the Kakrapar Atomic Power Station (KAPS). The fury of the floods was such that it not only drowned 80 motors and pumps in the turbine room, but broke the waste containment building and carried some waste cannisters out into the open. Had the reactor been in operation at the time or had the fuel loading for the then just completed unit-2 taken place, the floods would have caused a very serious accident.
Ducts and storm drain connect the turbine building of KAPS to the Moticher Lake situated just behind. The lake is not a natural lake but a man-made lake and has gates situated near the village of Ratania to control the flow of water. Following heavy rains on June 15, the level of the Moticher Lake began to rise. The outlet ducts became inlet pipes and water began entering the turbine building on the night of June 15 itself. By the morning of June 16 there was water not only in the turbine building but also in other parts of the reactor complex. The morning shift had to swim in chest high water to get to work and the control room according to one rumour was "inaccessible for some time."
The floodwaters breached the solid waste management facility and lifted canisters of waste and carried them out into the open. Since the authorities have not been forthcoming with detailed information, it is not known exactly how many canisters were swept away. The original news-report spoke of four but the KAPS superintendent said only one had been lifted and whose lid had become "loose."
What did the Authorities Do?
First of all they slept; then they bickered among themselves; after that they issued misleading and erroneous statements to the press; blamed and cursed "troublemakers"and "vested interests"; and finally they slept again.
All these years, the gates of Moticher Lake at Ratania were never operated so much so that according to the authorities own admission, "A lot of grass has grown very tall near the gates." Even as the floodwaters were entering the turbine building on the night of June 15th and causing havoc, the KAPS authorities slept. No action was taken till the 'gentlemanly' hour of 11 O'clock on 16th morning when a site emergency was declared and workers evacuated.
After the situation had become desperate and there was water, water everywhere, the KAPS authorities woke up and started frantically asking the district and the state authorities to use their influence to get the gates of the Moticher Lake opened. However, the gates after years of neglect could not be opened. Nearby villagers, worried about the security of their own homes, caused a breach in the embankment of the lake which allowed the waters to drain out. It was only on 18th of June that a large pump was brought to Kakrapar from Tarapur, that the work of removing the water from the turbine building could begin.
The KAPS authorities did not think it their duty to inform the public or even the Atomic Energy Regulatory Board of the events that had taken place. Whatever information that did come out was not because of but despite their doing. Reporters from Abhiyan and Gujarat Samachar newspapers happened to visit Kakrapar in connection with a different article on nuclear power. The KAPS authorities refused to talk; but workers showing a greater sense of responsibility did. It was only after the report was published that the KAPS authorities and the collector of Surat issued their statements.
The statements that they did issue were full of distortions and untruths. For instance, the district collector said in his statement, "Before starting the reactor, it had been subjected to all the stringent tests and conditions." He did not add that the reactor did not pass all the tests. The Emergency Core Cooling System did not work as expected during the test and needed "fixing." The system was not again subjected to the same test to see if the fix worked. The authorities also said that had the reactor been in operation, there could not have been any accident. In actual fact they had no control over the amount of water that was entering the building.
Had there been an off-site emergency needing evacuation of people, there was no way that it could have been accomplished in a reasonable time-frame. The floods had caused havoc to roads and bridges. Even three months after the event, it took more than an hour to traverse just 15 kms on the highway with a motorcycle. Less manoeuvrable vehicle like trucks and buses took much longer and there were a large number of trucks which had turned turtle dotting the highway. The condition of side-roads in some cases was much worse. The station director on being asked of this said that they would have used helicopters to evacuate people. On being asked how many helicopters did he have access to, he replied that there were two of them. More than 10,000 people live within just 3 kilometre radius of the plant.
The Dome Collapse at Kaiga
On 13 May 1994, the inner containment dome of the Kaiga reactor caved in for no immediately discernible reason. Reports said that concrete slabs weighing several tonnes came crashing down from a height of about 40 m—the height of a 12 story building. About 40 percent of the inner portion got "delaminated".
The containments of nuclear power plants are supposedly carefully designed and constructed to withstand not only intense radiation from within but also natural disasters like hurricanes and heavy rains, even major earthquakes or a bomb attack by air. It was a lucky thing that the reactor was still under construction and had not started operations. The consequences of such a mishap inside a working reactor would have been nothing short of nuclear catastrophe.
The immediate reaction of the authorities was to cordon off the site and not allow outsiders to talk with workers working at the site. Officially it was claimed that only 14 workers working on the roof of the dome received minor injuries. It was also claimed that since the dome collapsed during lunch hour, there was no body inside the building at the time. However, lunch hour at 11.45 AM at a construction site in India is a little hard to believe. Alsthough the accident took place before noon, even the police was informed of it only late at night by the nuclear authorities.
The Atomic Energy Regulatory Board set up a committee of experts to study the accident and make recommendations. The Nuclear Power Corporation also set up a separate committee to do the same. These two committees predictably came to different conclusions. However, their reports were suppressed by the government and not made public despite strong public demand to do so. The government later did not grant an extension to the chairman of the Atomic Energy Regulatory Board, Dr A Gopalakrishnan, because he was found to be too unaccomodating to the official view of the nuclear establishment on this issue.
Radioactive Fountain in the Gamma Garden
The following is a report filed by Ms Rupa Chinai in the Sunday Observer of 6 September, 1992.
A major radioactive leakage from ill-mantained pipelines in the vicinity of the CIRUS and Dhruva reactor complex at the BhabhaAtomic Research Centre, 15 km. from the heart of Bombay, is found to have caused severe soil contamination. Evidence also points to the possibility of the leakage having taken place for a number of years, thereby causing an outflow of contamination towards the sea.
The leakage was first detected by reactor workers on December 13, 1991, when a fountain of water shot out onto the lawn between the reactor and the sea. The plant management surmised that the sea-water pipeline must have burst, even though the entire area is criss-crossed with many other lines, carrying radioactive and chemical effluents. The establishment set six contract labourers on the task of digging a pit, to reach the burst pipeline, eight feet below the surface. These workers wore no protective gear or radiation monitoring badges.
The presence of radioactivity in the area may never have come to light had it not been for an alert official in the office of the Radiation Health Inspectorate at the complex, who got wind of the incident and sent for a water sample from the puddle in the excavated pit. The activity recorded in the water sample was 40 becquerel/ml.
The contract labourers who had worked for almost eight hours inside the pit on December 13 and 14, 1991, were thereafter hastily pulled out, given a bath, new sets of clothing and packed off home. There is no evidence of the labourers having been subject to radiation monitoring tests.
However, the authorities sought to deduce the dosage the labourers had received. On December 19, department personnel dug a small portion from the bottom of the excavated pit. During a 12-minute period, the whole body dose recorded by the DRD (a radiation monitoring badge) ranged from 10 to 30 millirems (mR). Extrapolating on this observation, the radiation exposure of the contract labourers is held to be in the range of 300 to 1,000 mR. (A normal chest X-ray gives a dose of 70 to 150 mR. This would amount to the labourer receiving 12 X-rays during the course of work.)
Tests done in the excavated pit showed a radiation dosage ranging from 200 to 700 mR/hour, while in one specific spot, described as the "Hot Spot area below the chamber" (inspection chamber along the pipeline), it zoomed to 2,000 mR/hour.
Recording of the "soil specific activity level" revealed the presence of Cs-137. In 50 percent of the samples, Cs-137 activity was 1-10 k Bq/gm, and in another 50 percent of samples it was 10- 60 k Bq/gm. Samples of vegetation in the area also revealed contamination, and birds and insects in this area are its carriers into a wider area.
Meanwhile, 325 drums of contaminated soil has already been sent to the Waste Management Department. The department has said that the solid active storage would get exhausted if the entire quantity of contaminated soil is to be excavated, and has stopped further consignments.
According to publications authored by BARC scientists, the "acceptable limit" for Cs-137 is 0.13 Bq/ml. in sea water. In the UK, the permissible limit of Cs-137 in soil is 900 Bq/kg (or 0.9 Bq/gm). Taking the average activity figures found in the CIRUS drums, around 27 k Bq/gm, it means that the activity is 30,000 times higher than permissible limits in the UK.
Circumstantial evidence at CIRUS points to discharge of Cs- 137 into the Arabian Sea, where despite the impact of dilution, the chances of it being imbibed by marine life are real.
What was the source of such widespread contamination? The radioactive wastes came from the Rod Cutting Building, where all uranium and plutonium fuel used in the reactor is stored for years in large pools of water, to allow decay and cooling of radioactivity before further treatment. To maintain purity, the storage pool is periodically washed with acid, and the effluents are dangerously radioactive. This discharge is piped to the waste treatment facility in a planned manner, and should never be allowed into the sea, atmosphere or land.
Yet, unbelievably, the pipeline carrying this deadly waste, also at other times, acted as a stormwater outlet. The system envisaged that by closing valves, the active discharge would be diverted to waste management, but in reality, for whatever reason, the untreated wastes flowed towards the sea.
The damage to the Concrete Inspection Chamber along the pipeline, where the highest activity is found, as also the sea water outfall pipe (made of half-inch thick steel and lined by two-inch thick RCC) which crosses the ceramic pipe, is evidence of the slow, corrosive force at work.
Worse still, the plant management was aware of leakage occurring in this same pipe, at the same spot, in 1978, but did nothing. At that time, during the construction of the Dhruva septic tank, several hundred metres away towards the sea, Cs-137 was found in the soil. The sample analysis read 20 Bq/ml. The source of leakage was traced to this same pipeline and inspection chamber. Apart from isolating the pipeline and inspection chamber for a while, no attempt was made to replace the decaying pipe-line. The report was filled and forgotten, sources alleged.
Opposition to Nuclear Power
In the early days of the nuclear programme, general public opinion was almost unanimous as to its desirablity. This was the one programme of the government to which people looked with pride. It was the one field where India was in the front rank and people felt that its success would show that Indian scientists and engineers were second to none.
Initially there was opposition amongst the scientific community as to the way the programme was proceeding and especially the fact that a lot of resources which could have supported other useful research were being diverted to it. However, Dr Bhabha was able to convice Nehru that it was necessary and that universities were not in a position to do first rate research and that lot of red tape would stifle scientific creativity. As a result in 1957, the Atomic Energy Commission was reconstituted and Bhabha got everything that he wanted and nuclear energy became the only subject where the scientists were given a free hand and were not subject to usual bureaucratic controls.
Awareness about the need for a balanced ecology that spread throughout the world had its echoes in India too. The 'Chipko' movement in the north and the 'Silent Vally' movement in the South were manifestations of this. Kerala, with the highest literacy rate in the country and a strong peoples' science movement took the lead in opposing the siting of a nuclear reactor in its territory. The Organisation for the Protection from Nuclear Radiation successfully opposed the governments plan of siting the reactor at Kothamangalam in South Kerala.
Before the disaster at a Union Carbide pesticide factory in Bhopal there had been individuals who had opposed different aspects of the programme and especially the fact the performance had been poor, and the plants were "dirty" by international standards.
The disaster at Bhopal shocked some people out of their slumber.
In 1985 a group of Gandhian activists and intellectuals gathered together to question the wisdom of establishing the Kakrapar reactor. Two demonstrations took place at Kakrapar and Surat in May and August respectively. The agitation attracted wide public support a year later in August '86. Sampoorna Kranti Vidyalaya and Anu Urja Jagruti were able to organise a massive rally near the plant site inspite of the government's efforts to prevent it. The repressive measures included promulgation of laws forbidding assembly of more than four persons, stopping of all vehicular traffic, stick wielding and mounted police let loose on the people, and use of tear gas to disperse the crowd. Unfortunately, the rally, which included thousands of local adivasis (tribals) did not remain entirely peaceful and a section of it indulged in stone throwing and causing damage to public property. The Gandhian leadership of the movement later fasted for two days as an expression of their opposition to government provocation and of regret for their inability to control the crowd. The government persisted in its efforts of trying to terrorise the people even to the extent of resorting to firing the next day in which one boy of 13 was killed and another injured. These events received wide publicity in the local press and questions were raised in the state legislature.
The proposal to site a reactor at Kaiga in Karnataka also mobilised a number of environment-lovers to organise an agitation against it. A great moment of this agitation occurred in 1988 when hundreds of women jumped into the foundations of the reactor which was being built. The Kaiga groups also challenged the siting of the reactor on environmental grounds in the Supreme Court which directed the government to take the points raised by the agitation into consideration.
There was also protest led by groups from Delhi at Narora in the neighbouring state of Uttar Pradesh. The decision by the government to order two Soviet built VVER–1000 reactors for the extreme south of the country at Koodankulam also led to protest over there. However, these protests became dormant after the collapse of the Soviet Union. (Recently the government has again reached agreement with Russia to build these plants). Similarly there were protests in the southern state of Andhra Pradesh against the proposed reactors at Nagarjunasagar.
In August 1986, these various groups came together at a seminar on "Atom in India" in Bombay. Here it was decided that the movement should continue on the local level with various independent groups conducting their own forms of protest, but attempts should be made to help each other and that there should be more communication amongst the various groups. A bimonthly journal—Anumukti (Atomic Liberation) started publication in August 1987 and is still going strong.
Forms of Protest
Public education through posters, films, discussion groups, leaflets and articles in newspapers and magazines has been one of the major activities of the groups. There have also been sit-ins, demonstrations, and debates with nuclear authorities. In 1988 after a lot of demonstrations the state Government of Karnataka organised a debate between antinuclear groups and the atomic energy establishment. This was covered widely by the press and the media. But after the debacle at this debate, the nuclear establishment has tried to avoid coming into face to face public confrontation with the critics.
There have been two forms of protest, which deserve special mention. One is what are called cycle 'yatra'. These are long (more than 1000 to 1500 kilometres) marches with about 20 to 25 cyclists going from place to place meeting, talking, singing and doing street theatre with small groups (50–200) of people at street corners. Many such yatras have been done and they have been very successful in terms of raising people's awareness regarding nuclear dangers.
The other 'protest' activity has been to organise door to door scientific surveys of the effects of nuclear power plants on the lives of the people living in the vicinity. These have been very effective in showing the people what price they have had to pay in terms of health. In fact, in Rawatbhata, where a nuclear plant had been in operation for 17 years without much protest, after the survey people took out a demonstration on their own initiative and asked the government to shut the plant down. Interest in doing these surveys has spread to other groups and surveys are now being conducted around Kakrapar and Kaiga plants. There is also a survey being conducted in the uranium-mining region of Jharkhand in the northern state of Bihar.
Opposition to uranium mining activity has been a recent feature. In January this year hundreds of tribals gathered together to protest against the governments action of demolishing houses in Chatikocha village to accomodate a new tailing's pond.
Stories of success and failures:
Most of the protests though they were successful in raising people's awareness, were unsuccessful in shaking the resolve of the government to build the plants. The protests could not be sustained year after year and the government just waited for the protest to die down. However, protests did cause delays and this ultimately had the effect of making the projects even more unviable. It has also made governments vary of siting new facilities at new sites. Today all the new construction that is going on or is even proposed is at sites that already have nuclear facilities. Also the financial backing of the government to nuclear industry has become much less than in the past and this has resulted in scaling down of many of the projects and some have been abandoned. For example although permission had been previously granted for building of four 500 Mwe reactors at Rawatbhata, this has now been withdrawn, though work is continuing on two 220 Mwe which were in the works.
One of the undoubted successes of antinuclear protest has been the abandonment of a proposed reactor at Peringome in northern Kerala. Here a Marxist government was strongly in favour of building the plant but gave up the idea when they saw that this would lead to a strong erosion in popularity which would affect electoral chances.
A sixty kilometre march from the proposed plant site to the district headquarters in Kannur was organised in which hundreds of people participated. Even members of Marxist trade unions defied party leadership and took part.
One of the interesting facts about antinuclear groups in India is that they have amongst them people from all shades of political opinion. From communist trade unionists to right wing nationalist with Gandhian social activists, all have cooperated and learnt to work together.
The overall aim of the movement is to have people oriented and people controlled development which would also be ecologically sound. In recent years there has been an awareness regarding this amongst many groups working on various issues in India and as a result a number of such groups are coming together on common platforms.
Problems faced by alternative sources of energy
Renewable alternative sources of energy have to fight an uphill battle against the entrenched vested interests. First of all they have very little support from the government. Recently, this support has increased somewhat from the earlier pittance but even today the government spends less than ten percent of what it spends on nuclear research.
Secondly, a lot of the bureaucrats in the Department of Non-conventional Energy are old nucleocrats who loose no opportunity of down-playing the contribution that these sources can make to meet energy needs. Thus one always hears these people saying that non-conventional energy sources are very important for remote areas but they are very expensive and cannot meet the ever-growing demand.
Thirdly, whenever the government does give encouragement to alternative energy like it has in recent years to electricity generation through wind-power, it does it so unimaginatively, that some entrepreneurs can make money out of the tax concessions though they produce very little power. This gives the whole technology a bad name and people start associating it with a get rich quick scheme.
Last and most important, most of the schemes proposed by the government for the 'promotion' of alternative energy are run like typical government programmes with no concept of people's participation in it. As a result, like other government programmes they do not work and people take no interest in their success. For example solar panels costing thousands of Rupees were distributed free to villages for water pumping in a tribal area. However, nobody had talked to the villagers and nobody from the village had been made responsible for turning the panels towards the Sun or trained in maintenance of the pump. Thus the panels delivered no water and people found other uses for the panels like using them as support for vegetable climbers and creepers and as double beds.
The biggest source of alternative energy in India has no official recognition. That is muscle power. India has the world's largest cattle population and the world's second largest human population. Even today, larger volumes of goods are transported on bullock carts then on trucks. So improvements which would help in utilisation of muscle power are an enormous untapped energy source. Unfortunately most of the so-called improvements in bullock cart designs are made by people who do not need to use bullock carts for their own use and so the improved designs are unrealistic in practical terms. And when they are successful, people overload the poor bullocks. So this is a matter of continuing education.
Gandhi had a much better understanding of rural India (and 75 per cent of India is still rural) then all the successive Indian governments put together. He had popularised simple hand tools to increase productivity like Charkha for spinning cloth. Even today millions of metres of hand spun, hand woven cloth is produced, but even over here since it has got divorced from the concept of self reliance and has just become a market commodity being sold in government certified stores, it has lost its earlier relevance and is dependent on government subsidies for survival.
Rays of Hope:
The ever-increasing competition in obtaining energy for meeting actual needs has forced people to fend for themselves and not look towards the government for a solution to their problems.
A lot of people from Kerala on the West Coast of India have gone to the Gulf countries for earning a living. Their remittances back home have created a situation that even small villages have many households having all kinds of electric appliances and thus creating a burgeoning demand.
The government's initial solution to this demand has been to propose large dams on rivers. But there has been a lot of opposition to this on environmental grounds. In fact "Silent Valley" became one of the first symbols of resistance to this kind of 'development'. So inevitably the government turned to nuclear power and proposed a nuclear power plant at Peringome.
Peringome has been one of the few success stories of the antinuclear movement in India. But the problem remained. There is a huge gap between demand and supply of electricity especially in the evenings. The result is that voltages drop from the normal 220 volts. Those who could afford it started buying step-up transformers to maintain their own voltages. However, this meant that the voltage for others that could not afford step up transformers became even worse. With the spread of prosperity due to money coming in from the Gulf, a lot of step-up transformers were bought as a result of which the situation became so bad that in the evenings one person needs to constantly attend to the transformer stepping it up every few minutes.
The following is a story written by K.Ramachandran and K.Sahadevan two members of a group of antinuclear activists who had been active in the Peringome struggle
MICRO HYDEL NO PIPE DREAM; BUT A 'FAIT ACCOMPLI'
In spite of the need to struggle against anti-environmental energy projects like nuclear reactors, thermal plants and big dams, the need for finding solution to our real energy needs can't be overestimated. It is in response to this felt need that the search for alternatives, including mini-micro hydel projects was undertaken and experimented. In the light of the fact that Kerala's geographical peculiarities are the best suited for such mini-micro hydel projects, we decided to build a micro hydel project at Asankavala near Karuvanchal in Kannur district. Many of the perennial streams and others which flow for at least eight to ten months down the Western Ghats can be utilised to generate electricity by micro hydels to satisfy rural needs to a great extent, especially domestic lighting needs.
The government does not seem to be interested in any serious study of the possibilities of these streams. Anti-environmental projects like Pooyamkutty, thermal power projects and nuclear plants still occupy high priority in its development concept.
A pioneering experiment which inspired us to study in detail and work out possibilities of micro hydel was the one undertaken and successfully completed by Mr. Peter Patrao at Geddai near Ootty, where there was a perennial stream falling from 60m height. There was a school located nearby which did not have electricity and asked Peter who had come to drop his daughter at the school if he could help them solve the problem. Peter thought of us since he knew us previously and knew that one from our group had a workshop for making step-up transformers. Since the area was close to where we live he came to us to ask us if we could help. The school had previously asked scientists at Indian Institute of Technology at Madras and at the Indian Institute of Science at Bangalore, if they could devise something but had been told that it would cost at least Rs 100,000 for a 400 watt micro-hydro generator and the associated electrical system. The school was willing to spend up to Rs 30,000 on the project.
We all got together and bought an old Cabot diesel generator set from the scrap market for Rs 5000 and then started making pelton buckets to replace the crank shaft. We had read about this in Hydro-Net—a journal on micro-hydro technologies which is published by Intermediate Technology Development Group from Sri Lanka.
A 60m long PVC pipe with 11/4" diameter, a water controlling valve, a nozzle penstock having 3mm dia: constituted the plant. The generator began to work when water out from the nozzle fell on the buckets. the arrangement could generate 400w electricity power this quantity is enough for illuminating forty 10w CFL tubes or in a day time this will do for working of V.C.R, Taperecorder, Fan and Computer.
The school authorities were pleased. But the plant developed a snag within a month. The strong current of water damaged the fragile pelton buckets.
Mr.Ramasubrahmaniam, a mechanical engineer from Tamil nadu, managed to collect a pelton wheel assembly during his Nepal tour. After the substitution of this for the earlier ones, electricity generation could be resumed, and it is continuing to run smoothly up till now.
This whole episode inspired us to visit our neighbouring country Nepal, which has innumerable water falls, which enriched the peoples experience in mini-micro technologies. Nepalese groups such as KMI (Katmandu Metal Industries),ITDG (Intermediate Technology Development Group) and Sri.Mahankal Bahudyesh Bijuli Yojana (Sri.mahankal Multipurpose Electricity Projects) etc, co-operated with our endeavour. The name of Mr.Akkalman Nakarmi is worth a special mention, especially as his family has 200 year's experience in the field. He could complete around 100 micro projects in the interior rural areas of Nepal out of which we visited about ten projects with installed capacity varying from 5KW to 20KW. The visit has served us well in identifying possible snags and innovative technologies to overcome them.
Later, we chanced upon a stream in Asankavala near Karuvanchal in Kannur district, where we thought it fit to try out the lessons we learned from Nepal, especially as the place was an interior non-electrified one. We decided to not go in for funding but collect money for this project from amongst the local people. An old 5HP motor was converted into a generator and a pump with necessary alteration was substituted for a turbine with the help of local technicians. A 120m long PVC pipe with 2.5"diameter was used as penstock to fetch water from a source above. A suitable valve was provided to the pipe, an electronic governor and 3 capacitors were also used. Now the generator was ready for use. We were very happy, that the experiment was a success and that it could generate 1200w at a time.
This is a small example of how electricity could be generated through light, environment-friendly technologies, with local participation alone and without any huge funding or mega-technology, to satisfy the electricity needs of rural population. Local bodies like panchayaths in Kerala can very well undertake such projects, as they are quite within their means and access. According to Mr.P.H.Vaidyanathan, the famous retired Chief Engineer who was responsible for doing a survey of the power potential of Kerala's perennial rivers, "there is no need of big dams to produce electricity from water; it can be done equally well by mini-micro projects, facilitated through construction of thousands of checkdams, all along the many rivers and rivulets of Kerala; and Kerala has a potential of generating 6000MW through hundreds of such projects."
We would be only too happy to provide the know-how, and assistance in building similar micro hydel projects, if interested groups or local bodies point out possible sources, express their willingness to undertake such schemes, and meet the expenditure. Many such schemes are already on the anvil; there chances for many more in Kerala and elsewhere.