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Addressing an International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) meeting, the Russian state nuclear energy corporation Rosatom Director General Alexey Likhachev said that the nuclear industry in Russia had also been faced with challenges posed by the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic and “have passed this test successfully”. “None of our construction sites have halted work in the course of the epidemic. Neither in our country, nor abroad,” he said.

Likhachev also said that Unit 2 of the second Leningrad nuclear power plant (NPP) with the VVER-1200 reactor reached criticality in August. Besides, the construction of two power units at the site of Kursk NPP-2 with the innovative VVER-TOI design is also in progress. “Using this opportunity, I congratulate our Belarusian partners on the commencement of the start-up stage of Ostrovets NPP that took place in August. This is the first NPP with VVER-1200 Generation 3+ reactor located outside of Russia,” he added.

Construction of Bangladesh’s first nuclear power plant at Rooppur (RNPP), for which Rosatom is the equipment supplier and technical consultants, continues in full swing despite the ongoing pandemic, with equal attention being paid to maintaining proper health standards and hygiene. As on date, the RNPP project has completed 30 percent of its total work, while the Bangladesh government has also reinforced the foreign workforce in a bid to meet the construction deadline. RNPP sources told Nuclear Asia that the project, which initially faced difficulties in transportation and imports owing to the COVID-19 lockdown, managed to resolve these issues quickly, thus, allowing the project works to maintain the necessary momentum.

To prevent spread of the coronavirus infection in the RNPP area, the concerned authorities are working as per the guidelines of both the government and the World Health Organisation (WHO). Health and epidemiological safety regulations are being followed in the entire project area. The authorities are checking temperatures of all the personnel working in the project site on a daily basis, and are sending those detected with high temperature to compulsory quarantine. These personnel are only brought back to work once they are confirmed to be fully healthy. There are separate doctors for both Bangladeshi and Russian personnel. The doctors are conducting regular checkups, thus, keeping the total workforce under continuous observation.

In order to follow the rules of social distancing, the workers have been divided into several groups, or shifts, working at different time-shifts over a 24-hour period. Social distancing is also being ensured during dining times in the canteens. If anyone falls sick, all others in that shift are placed in compulsory quarantine, and that particular shift is reintroduced to work with a new group of personnel.

India is the second country of Rosatom operations in South Asia, where it is collaborating with the local operator, the state-run Nuclear Power Corporation of India Ltd (NPCIL), in the construction and maintenance of the Kudankulam Nuclear Power Project (KNPP) in Tamil Nadu state. The first two units of the KNPP are already connected to the grid, while Units 3 and 4 are in various stages of construction.

Speaking to journalists recently on the impact of coronavirus on the working of Indian nuclear plants, NPCIL Chairman S.K. Sharma said that “operating units have continued to operate and all have given very satisfactory performance”. India currently has 22 operating reactors with a total capacity of nearly 6,800 MW.

In late July, India became the first country in the world this year to achieve criticality with its first indigenously built nuclear reactor. India’s own 700 MW pressurised heavy water reactor (PHWR) at the Kakrapar Atomic Power Project (KAPP) in Gujarat state achieved its first criticality, or controlled self-sustaining nuclear fission chain reaction.

The NPCIL Chairman said that work at the new-build Kakrapar reactor Unit 3 never witnessed a stoppage amidst the pandemic, testifying to India’s build up of indigenous capability in this field. “We did not resort to total stoppage of work at any stage in the Kakrapar Unit 3 construction. While the COVID-19 pandemic has affected society and the economy and construction of this kind has specific challenges of a large workforce present in a confined space, we paid minute attention to detail like creating wash basins in all construction areas to maintain hygiene, among other steps,” Sharma said.

“Besides, we conducted a pandemic specific job hazard analysis, which has become an SOP (standard operating procedure). However, just the preparation of an SOP is not enough. Everyday, we conduct a pre-job hazard analysis, and as a result of all these precautions, no one among the Kakrapar construction workforce contracted the coronavirus,” he added.