Kudankulam project is the single largest nuclear power station in India, is being built by the NPCIL and Russia’s ASE Group of Companies, an engineering division of Rosatom State Atomic Energy Corporation. In an interview with Electrical India, Andrey Shevlyakov, CEO, Rosatom South Asia talks about how the Indo-Russian relationship is strengthening in the field of nuclear power. Excerpts:
What is the current status of the Kudankulam project? How far you have progressed in construction of Unit 3 to 6?
Kudankulam Nuclear Power Plant (KKNPP) is scheduled to have six VVER-1000 reactors with an installed capacity of 1,000 MW each. The Unit 1 of the plant was synchronised with the southern power grid in October 2013 and is generating electricity. The second unit with capacity of 1,000 MW had become critical for the first time in July 2016. It was connected to the grid in August 2016 and it started commercial operation in October 2016.
The construction of Unit 3 and 4 is underway. The ‘first pour of concrete’ for Unit 3 of the KKNPP, which marks the beginning of the construction of the project, happened on June 29, 2017. The Units 3 and 4 Reactor buildings foundation slabs have already been made. The construction is on schedule.
The delivery of equipment has already started. In March 2018 the first batch of equipment for turbine building of Unit 3 of KKNPP was completed and shipped out. Particularly, the first two high pressure heaters (HPH) were dispatched for turbine building of KKNPP. Also, the reactor pressure vessel for KKNPP Unit 3 will be delivered by the end of the current year followed by KKNPP Unit 4 that will be completed next year.
Last year, during the 18th annual India-Russia summit held in St Petersburg, both countries signed the general framework agreement for the construction of Units 5 and 6 of KKNPP and an inter-governmental credit protocol necessary for the implementation of the project was also signed. Currently intensive ground and infrastructural work is underway for Unit 5 and 6.
How safe is the Kudankulam project?
VVER reactors are considered to be among the safest in the world, this technology is the base of the Russia’s nuclear power development program and contributes to the export growth. Over the 50 years of their operation, the NPPs (Nuclear Power Plants) with VVER reactors (VVER-440, VVER-1000) have proven their reliability, stability and competitiveness in the international energy market, ensuring stable growth of the nuclear industry. The experience of successfully operating NPPs with VVER-type reactors has already exceeded 1,400 accident-free reactor-years.
The Russian nuclear power plant projects use light water reactors of the VVER type (water-cooled water-moderated shell-type reactors with pressurised water). At present, VVER nuclear power plants are under various stages of construction in Iran, Belarus, Hungary, Bangladesh and other countries. This type of reactors uses water both as a neutron moderator and as a reactor coolant.
On India’s request, additional safety measures are being put in place in Units 3 and 4 to withstand even higher seismic, climatic and technical impact. All power units are equipped with the modern diagnostics systems, which prevent the anticipated operational occurrences before they start. The main feature of the Indian project is a unique combination of active and passive safety systems that provide maximum resilience against external and internal impacts, including tornadoes, hurricanes, earthquakes and even an aircraft crash. Therefore, we can firmly state that presently India possesses the safest NPP in the world.
Passive safety systems are able to function even under conditions of complete power failure ensuring complete safety even without the contribution of the active safety systems or (human) operational intervention. For example, the Passive Heat Removal System (PHRS) provides long-term heat removal from the reactor core in case of all the power sources’ shutdown. A molten core catcher (MCC) or a “melt trap” is designed to keep the molten core material inside and cool it down in case of a hypothetical accident that could lead to the core damage. A core catcher ensures the integrity of the containment vessel, preventing radioactive leaks into the environment, even in case of a hypothetical severe accident.
The huge attention has been focused towards preservation of biological diversity around KKNPP and save local flora and fauna of the Mannar Bay. NPP cooling sea water intake structures are equipped with the special fish protecting facilities, which preserve not only fish but also fish food plankton. Sea water is supplied from the so called “bucket” constructed in the sea into the special facilities and systems which ensures that fish and plankton return to sea.
Rosatom’s fuel company TVEL has introduced the new fuel TVS-2M for VVER-1000 reactors which is expected to be installed at the Kudankulam plant. What is the difference between the old fuel and the new one?
TVS-2M gives an opportunity to shift the nuclear power plant from operation in 12 months to 18 months fuel cycle. Right now, the fuel campaign consists of three cycles, each lasting for 12 months. After introduction of TVS-2M, we will have three cycles lasting for 18 months, so instead of three years, the fuel campaign will last for 4.5 years (54 months instead of 36 months).
Also, TVS-2M fuel bundles have more advanced thermal-mechanical behaviour during the whole fuel life. This fuel model is more robust, it has a higher stiffness. So, during the exploitation in the reactor core a fuel bundle does not bow and preserves its initial shape. Thus, we have made the reactor operation safer and more reliable.
Have you signed the contract for the supply of TVS-2M to India?
Together with our Indian colleagues from NPCIL, we have come a long way and we hope that this year we will have the contract signed for the introduction of TVS-2M for Units 1 and 2 of the Kudankulam NPP. TVS-2M is supposed to be loaded into the reactors of Units 3,4,5 and 6 of KKNPP from the very beginning.
Is this new fuel TVS-2M licensed?
Yes, we already have the international license but not in India. Before we receive the license, we have to do a certain scope of work already agreed by. This work takes approximately one year and a half, and after that, we will be able to receive a license from the Atomic Energy Regulatory Board (AERB). That work will start after the contract is signed.
How many more units is ROSATOM planning to build in India?
The Strategic Vision adopted in December 2014 for strengthening cooperation in the peaceful use of atomic energy between Russia and India stipulates that at least 12 units of Russian design are to be commissioned in India within the next 20 years. As far as we know, the Indian government is actively searching for sites to build new power plants. In 2015, India declared its intent to allot a new site for the construction of power plant of Russian design with enhanced-capacity units. We are awaiting the new site to be officially presented by the Indian side to the Russian side and further signing of the contracts. Now we are holding talks on the design of the new nuclear power plant units as well as preparing the proposal regarding the localisation of the equipment.
Are there any plans for to work together with India on other markets?
Besides the KKNPP, we are working together with India for the construction of the first nuclear power plant in Bangladesh at Rooppur. This year in March the trilateral agreement was signed by India, Russia and Bangladesh. The document establishes the basis for the interaction of the Russian contractor ASE Group of Companies with Indian and Bangladeshi specialists in the implementation of the project. In particular, the parties plan to cooperate in personnel training, experience sharing and consulting support. Under the agreement, Indian companies will participate in construction and installation work, supply of non-critical materials and equipment for the project.