Indian nuclear operator officials visit Kalinin plant in Russia to study spent fuel management 

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Representatives of India’s state-run operator Nuclear Power Corporation of India Ltd (NPCIL) visited the Kalinin nuclear power plant (NPP) in Russia earlier this month with a view to study the management of spent nuclear fuel after its removal from the reactor core. 

According to a statement from the Russian state atomic energy corporation Rosatom, the NPCIL officials were accompanied by representatives of the Rosatom subsidiary Tenex in their visit to the Kalinin NPP, which took place over May 3-5 to witness the management of spent nuclear fuel during the overhaul work undertaken at the second unit of the NPP.   

“This visit was organized in order to familiarise NPCIL representatives with the practical experience of the Russian nuclear industry in handling the transport of the packaging (TUK), and the export of spent fuel assemblies (SFA) with the cooling pond of the NPP to the processing plant. The visit is part of the JSC Tenex project on cooperation in the sphere of safe management of spent nuclear fuel for the Kudankulam NPP”, Tenex Deputy Director General, Artemov Elena, said in a statement.     

The first two 1,000 MW units at India’s Kudankulam Nuclear Power Plant (KNPP), being built by NPCIL with the assistance of Rosatom, have been connected to the grid in 2013 and 2016, respectively, while work is in progress to construct four more 1,000 MW reactors – units 3, 4, 5 and 6.    

Rosatom said that the NPCIL representatives were shown the entire “process, from receipt of the empty container, placing it in the soaking pool in the reactor building, the fuel loading in the TUK using a console machine overload, until the final stage of their loading onto the transport platform.” TUK is the transportation packaging set consisting of casks to transport used fuel.  

“For us the experience of Russian colleagues is very important because, in the future at the Kudankulam NPP, we will conduct similar operations. We were impressed by the high level of skill and speed of the specialists of Kalinin NPP. I got a lot of new information that will provide the safe management of spent nuclear fuel at the initial stage of the backend”, said a senior executive engineer at NPCIL, Vinod Tiwari. 

Meanwhile, the Indian Parliament was informed last month that the process to obtain environmental clearance for setting up a storage facility for the spent nuclear fuel (SNF) at the Kudankulam NPP units 1 and 2 is currently in progress.  

Replying to a member’s query in the Upper House of the Indian Parliament, Atomic Energy Minister Jitendra Singh said the spent nuclear fuel storage, also known as the Away from Reactor (AFR) facility, anywhere in the country are set up only after obtaining all statutory approvals, including environmental clearance from the Environment Ministry.  

Moreover, safety clearances are obtained from the regulator and the Atomic Energy Regulatory Board (AERB) to ensure that the spent fuel does not pose any radiological hazard to people and the environment nearby.   

According to the Minister, the AERB is currently carrying out the design safety review of the proposed AFR facility.   

He said environment clearance for the KNPP units 3-6, including storage facilities for the SNF, was granted by the Environment Ministry after careful consideration, following the due process.   

Singh also informed Parliament that the AERB has given its consent to establish the spent fuel facility for KNPP units 3 and 4.   

The facilities for the storage of SNF in the premises of a nuclear power plant, until it is sent for reprocessing, are designed with a comprehensive approach to safety to withstand extreme natural events like earthquakes and tsunamis with provisions of large operational safety margins for safe, sound and reliable performance.  

“These are designed, constructed and operated as per regulatory requirements and subjected to regulatory reviews and audits, which ensure robustness in safety at all stages of the facility, ensuring that there is no adverse impact on plant personnel, the general public or the environment”, the Minister said.  

Such facilities are already functioning at the Tarapur NPP in Maharashtra state and at Rawatbhata in Rajasthan, which are operating safely without any impact on personnel, the public and the environment, he added.