Moment of Truth For NPCIL as India’s First 700 MW Nuclear Reactor Set To Undergo Trials in 2017

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The solution to all of India’s massive energy needs and the gap between the demand and supply of electricity all over the country lies in nuclear energy. Nuclear power plants produce clean energy and a lot of it at that. Now, India’s first indigenous 700 MW pressurised heavy water reactor (PHWR) coming up at Kakrapar in Gujarat, is set to undergo trials and feasibility studies in 2017. These tests and trials are essential before any new nuclear reactors are installed in any country in the world. The safety studies are also important when one remembers the 2011 Fukushima disaster in Japan after the fateful tsunami decimated the entire town.

The Nuclear Power Corporation of India (NPCIL) has released statements confirming the news of the upcoming trials. At the moment, the NPCIL is building four 700 MW PHWRs of which two are at the Kakrapar Atomic Power Station (KAPS) and two at the Rajasthan Atomic Power Station (RAPS) in Rajasthan. B.C.Pathak, Executive Director (Projects) at NPCIL was quoted as stating,”The construction of two 700 MW PHWRs at KAPS is at an advanced stage. The commissioning activities of the first unit have begun. The trial run of the first unit is expected to happen sometime during the middle of next year.” Vineet Kumar, Station Director of the two units (3 and 4 at KAPS) added,”We have started the commissioning activities. It will be done in stages and various milestones have to be crossed.” Kumar also clarified that the unit is expected to start commercial operations as early as 2018.

Reports suggest that the first hydro test will be carried out in May-June 2017. The next step is the ‘hot conditioning’ of the unit, which normally happens around two-and-a-half months after the hydro test is carried out. The systems, extremely complex and expensive, will then be drained and dried. Experts suggest that the critical point of fuel loading is expected in October 2017 and the reactor’s criticality is to happen in November 2017. Criticality, it must be mentioned here, is the state of a nuclear chain reacting medium when the chain reaction is just self-sustaining (or critical), that is, when the reactivity is zero and the chain reaction is about to start. According to Kumar, the unit is expected to start commercial operations early 2018.

The other 700 MW unit at KAPS is slated to start around 6-7 months after the third unit. NPCIL has stated that the total project cost for the two 700 MW units is around Rs 11,500 crores. Construction started in November 2010 when concrete was first poured for the 3rd unit at KAPS and in March 2011 for the fourth unit. The 700 MW reactors are being seen as a major leap for the NPCIL, which has till now built 220 MW and 540 MW pressurised heavy water reactors. The sites have been buzzing with activity as construction goes on and trials are going to commence soon and the testing is started.

In March this year, there was a leak at the KAPS complex which forced the shutdown of Unit-1. The KAPS employs around 350 people and many of them rushed out from the reactor building on learning of the leakage and informed top officials, as mentioned here. Although there was no abnormal release of radioactivity outside the plant or radiation exposure inside, the NPCIL and the KAPS will look for redemption in 2017.

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