Former AERB chief cautions about imported reactors

Our bureau Hyderabad | Updated on April 12, 2011

Dr A. Gopalakrishnan

India should stick to Pressurised Heavy Water Reactors

The plan to import foreign reactors, especially the light-water reactors (LWRs), has the risk of a major nuclear accident in the country, former Chairman of the Atomic Energy Regulatory Board, Dr A. Gopalakrishnan warned here today.

Stating that there were no techno-economic reasons for these reactor imports, which would require thousands of crores, Dr Gopalakrishnan said plans to import 40,000 MW of LWRs between 2012 and 2020, as claimed by the Department of Atomic Energy (DAE) in its policy paper of 2008, was not desirable.

According to the former Atomic Energy Regulatory Board (AERB) chief, this would mean a string of 109 nuclear power parks, each consisting of a cluster of six, 1000-MW reactors, with one such park sited every 55 km along India's entire coast. It would not only mean displacement, he said, but threat to public safety in the wake of the accident in Japan.

India should stick to the tested Pressurised Heavy Water Reactors (PHWRs), about 15 of which have been built since 1974 and are operational. The possible accidents in PHWRs are less severe compared to the LWRs, due to the physics and engineering design, Dr Gopalakrishnan claimed, while making a presentation on the Fukushima nuclear disaster-lessons at a meeting organised by the Jana Vignana Vedika today.

India's long-term nuclear power programme as envisaged by Dr Homi Bhabha and pursued by the DAE has been to move to the use of thorium, which is available in large quantities in India, through the fast breeder reactors in the future. Therefore importing the high burn-up LWRs has no role or usefulness, but holds risks and is exorbitant, he argued.

The Japanese authorities are concerned about the seriousness of the accident. However, Dr Gopalakrishnan said that it was very unlikely that the most severe earthquake-tsunami combination could occur at any of India's nuclear sites. The two Tarapur reactors in Maharashtra are even older that the Fukushima reactors and have suffered safety related incidents, which leads to the question if India should continue to operate them in future, the former the regulator of nuclear power said.

He welcomed the move by the Prime Minister to order an ‘independent' safety audit of all the nuclear power stations by a committee of the AERB, following the Fukushima incident.

Published on April 12, 2011

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