Is India’s Government Hiding a Serious Accident underway in Gujrat?
The retired chief of India’s nuclear regulator, Dr. A Gopalakrishnan has sent out an urgent note in which he has cautioned that a ‘loss of coolant accident (LOCA)’ might be underway in Gujarat’s Kakrapar Nuclear Power Station (KAPS). A LOCA accidents is the most serious accident that can happen in nuclear plants and it might lead to the meltdown of the reactor fuel core.
The same reactor had a major accident in 1994 when floodwaters drowned Kakrapar. The floodgates meant to release excess water could not be opened and the water kept increasing–which could lead to a major accident–but it was prevented with the efforts of local engineers. Mr. Manoj Mishra, a worker in the power station then who blew whistle on that accident was terminated by the NPCIL. He was denied justice even by the Supreme Court in India which bought the NPCIL’s argument that he cannot be a whistle-blower as he did not have technical degrees. Mr. Mishra had years of experience in the reactor and he was a strong leader of the workers’ union.
Kakrapar is situated not very far from the Vansda-Bharuch earthquake fault line running through Gujarat, which has experienced several major earthquakes.
Exactly on the 5th anniversary of Fukushima, a leak has been reported in the Unit-1 of the Kakrapar Nuclear Power Station near Surat in Gujarat.
Here is the note by Dr. Gopalakrishnan:
The Kakrapar Unit-I nuclear reactor in Gujarat is undergoing a moderately large leakage of heavy water from its Primary Heat Transport (PHT) system since 9.00 AM on March 11,2016. From the very limited information released by the Nuclear Power Corporation of India Limited (NPCIL) and the Atomic Energy Regulatory Board (AERB) of the government , as well as from the conversations I had with press people who have been in touch with nuclear officials, few inferences can be drawn.
Till 7.00 PM on 12 March 2016, the DAE officials have no clue as to where exactly the PHT leak is located and how big is the rate of irradiated heavy water that is leaking into the reactor containment. However, some reports indicate that the containment has been vented to the atmosphere at least once , if not more times , which I suspect indicates a tendency for pressure build up in that closed space due to release of hot heavy water and steam into the containment housing . If this is true, the leak is not small, but moderately large, and still continuing. No one confirms that any one has entered the containment (in protective clothing) for a quick physical assessment of the situation, perhaps it is not safe to do so because of the high radiation fields inside. When NPCIL officials state that the reactor cooling is maintained , I believe what they may be doing is to allow the heavy water or light water stored in the emergency cooling tanks to run once-through the system and continue to pour through the leak into the containment floor through the break .
All this points to the likelihood that what Kakrapar Unit-1 is undergoing is a small Loss-of-Coolant Accident (LOCA) in progress. It is most likely that one or more pressure tubes (PT) in the reactor (which contain the fuel bundles) have cracked open, leaking hot primary system heavy-water coolant into the containment housing. ……….
. It may be possible that, having built more than 20 PHWRs, NPCIL and AERB in recent years have become overconfident and relaxed their strict adherence to this Aging Management Program, which might have been the reason for the current accident.
Let me caution the reader that the above conjecture is based on bits and pieces of reliable and not so reliable information gathered from different people close to the accident details and in positions of authority. Future detailed evaluation may or may not prove my entire set of conclusions or part of them to be not well-founded. But, technical experts are compelled to put out such conjectures because of the total lack of transparency of the Indian civilian nuclear power sector and the atomic energy commission (AEC), the Dept. of Atomic Energy (DAE), the NPCIL and the AERB. Public have a need to know and , therefore , the AEC and its sub-ordinate organizations need to promptly release status reports on the progressing safety incident which could affect their lives , to alleviate their concerns and anxieties . It is a series of such lapses in communication over the years which has built up the ever-increasing trust deficit in the DAE system among the general public. All future plans for expanding the civilian nuclear power sector should be put on hold until a truly independent nuclear safety regulator is put in place, who is not controlled by the AEC or the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO), who will then be answerable to openly communicating with the public on all civilian nuclear power matters.
Kumar Sundaram is a senior researcher with Coalition for Nuclear Disarmament and Peace (CNDP).