India’s Kalpakkam nuclear power complex withstands Cyclone Nivar fury

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India’s atomic power complex at Kalpakkam in Tamil Nadu has successfully withstood the impact of cyclone Nivar which hit the coastal state last week, according to the Department of Atomic Energy (DAE). Cyclone Nivar made landfall and crossed the Tamil Nadu and Puducherry coasts as a very severe cyclonic storm with wind speeds of 120-130 kms.

The Kalpakkam complex, located 80 kms south of the state capital Chennai, houses the Indira Gandhi Centre for Atomic Research (IGCAR) – the DAE’s second largest establishment after the Bhabha Atomic Research Centre (BARC) – besides the Madras Atomic Power Station (MAPS) operated by the state-run Nuclear Power Corporation of India Ltd (NPCIL), and the under construction 500 MW prototype fast breeder reactor (PFBR) Bhavini.

“Accurate predictions helped make adequate preparations for nuclear facilities at Kalpakkam, Tamil Nadu. Storm has passed without any cause of concern for the facilities and installations at the integrated campus of nuclear establishments. The campus has IGCAR, MAPS and BHAVINI among others. Unit-2 of MAPS was safely taken offline owing to the failure of a power transmission line insulator. It will be brought back on stream after repairs,” the DAE tweeted.

“Early warnings provided by IMD (India Metereological Department) and IGCAR’s in-house data assimilative high resolution weather prediction model based forecasts helped make adequate advance preparation,” the DAE said in another tweet.

Earlier, a senior official had told reporters that the Kalpakkam complex was fully geared up to meet any eventualities arising out of cyclone Nivar, and that the reactor of the Madras Atomic Power Station (MAPS) would continue to generate power if everything pertaining to the grid stayed normal.

“We had a review meeting. We are all geared up to meet Nivar. All our diesel gensets are ready to kick in when needed and there are sufficient diesel reserves. We are also monitoring Nivar’s movement continuously on our own and also with the weather department”, IGCAR Director Arun Kumar Bhaduri said. He also said that workers in high rise structures had been asked to stop their work.

The MAPS, which consists of two 220 MW nuclear power units, one of which is functional, had activated its cyclone protection machinery. According to the MAPS Station Director M. Srinivas all the plant systems were expected to withstand the impact of cyclone Nivar. Placing of sandbags on the coastal side, cleaning of storm water drains, inspection of plant and machinery, and other structures, had been completed, Srinivas said.

The Kalpakkam complex also houses a sodium cooled Fast Breeder Test Reactor (FBTR), based on the French reactor Rapsodie. The reactor, which attained its first criticality in October 1985, has been in operation at its maximum attainable power level of 10.5 MW. A reactor with a small core, it is the first of its kind in the world to use plutonium-uranium mixed carbide as a driver fuel.

According to the Indian government, the indigeneously built prototype PFBR – Bhavini – under construction at Kalpakkam, which will add 500 MW of electrical power to the national grid, is likely to be commissioned and operationalised in December 2021. The PFBR is a key element of India’s nuclear power programme that was conceived in the late 1960s as a closed fuel cycle to be achieved in three stages. The spent fuel generated from one stage would be reprocessed and used in the next stage of the cycle to produce power.

The closed fuel cycle was designed to “breed” fuel and to minimize generation of nuclear waste. This three-stage nuclear power production program in India had been conceived with the ultimate objective of utilising the country’s vast reserves of thorium-232. India has the world’s third largest reserves of thorium. The PFBR in Kalpakkam will use a mixed oxide of plutonium (Pu)-239 – derived from reprocessed spent fuel from India’s pressurised heavy water reactors (PHWRs) – and uranium-238 as fuel to generate energy.

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