Indian VVER Reactors Ready for Startup

Two VVER-1000 reactors built and designed by Russian state firm Atomstroyexport under a $3 billion contract are slated to be commissioned this summer in the State of Tamil Nadu in India. The start of India’s largest reactors at the Kundankulam site have been long delayed: Though they were completed just before the Fukushima crisis in March 2011, startup has been stunted by strong opposition as well as technical issues discovered during commissioning (Figure 1).

India’s government, which owns and operates all of the country’s 20 operating reactors through state agency Nuclear Power Corp. of India (NPCIL) approved construction of the two reactors in 1989. The reactors were not fully planned until 2006. Commissioning work at Unit 1 was delayed earlier this year by the replacement of four valves in the passive core cooling system.

Two judges at India’s Supreme Court in May, meanwhile, dismissed protests against the reactors, ruling in favor of NPCIL and the Atomic Energy Regulatory Board (AERB). The case brought by anti-nuclear activists alleged NPCIL, AERB, and the Tamil Nadu Pollution Control Board had violated several safety norms. The high court concluded, however, that Kundankulam was needed for the country’s economic growth. In its detailed 247-page ruling, it said NPCIL had met all safety requirements stipulated by AERB and based on nationally and internationally recognized safety standards.

For three decades, India was excluded from the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty and was subject to a subsequent 1974 trade embargo for acquiring nuclear weapons capability. During this time, India cultivated a robust, largely indigenous nuclear power program and a unique nuclear fuel cycle to exploit its reserves of thorium. With the exception of two boiling water reactors, all 20 reactors are midsize or small pressurized heavy water reactors (PHWRs), and most are domestically built, based on a Canadian design.

Today, nuclear power supplies about 3.7% of India’s electricity. Experts note that crippling coal shortages are driving up investment in nuclear power. Government targets foresee up to 14,600 MWe of new nuclear power by 2020–2021 and 27,500 MWe by 2032. By 2060, the Atomic Energy Commission envisions about 500 GWe will be put online, providing half the nation’s electricity.

1. Indian giant. Two VVER-1000 reactors whose
construction was largely completed in 2011 at the
Kundankulam site in the Indian state of Tamil Nadu
have been awaiting commissioning, delayed by
protests and technical issues. Courtesy: NPCIL

Meanwhile, at the beginning of June, power reserves fell below targets of 5 million kWh, prompting state-run power distributer the Korea Power Exchange to issue a warning. The Ministry of Knowledge Economy has said it will not increase stocks of liquefied natural gas and coal; instead, it will “control demand,” calling on companies such as Samsung Electronics Co. and Hyundai Motor Co. to adopt power-saving measures.

Power demand soared in South Korea at a rate of 9% per year since 1990, and the country expects demand to grow about 2.5% per year to 2020. Nuclear power supplies 21% of the nation’s total power, and the country is banking on nuclear to supply 59% by 2030, which would require doubling its current nuclear fleet. At least 14 new nuclear reactors are scheduled to be online by 2024, and five are under construction.

Sonal Patel is POWER’s senior writer.