N-safety concerns after Fukushima disaster
The 1979 coined term 'the China syndrome' seems to be true with the Japanese experience at Fukushima and at the same time the disaster sent a clear cut message to every nuclear-embedded nation to take adequate measure to protect their nuclear installations from the deadly repercussion of nuclear mishap. The term China syndrome refers to the loss of coolantaccident and describes a nuclear reactor operations accident characterized by the severe meltdown of the core components of the reactor. This was the third major disaster after one in the US (Three Mile Island) and the second in the erstwhile Soviet Union (Chernobyl).
It is true to a great extent that an absolute leak proof and impeccable system of prevention cannot be installed and the margin of error remains as a part of human's limitations.
About Jaitapur project: Jaitapur is a small port situated in Rajapur Tehsil of Ratnagiri district, Maharashtra State, India. Jaitapur lies on the Arabian Sea coast. Under 968 hectares, the nuclear plant site covers five villages: Madban, Niveli, Karel, Mithgavane, Varliwada, all in Ratnagiri district, Maharashtra. Jaitapur project will be implemented in a phased manner, with the first two reactors of 1,650 MW each to be operational by 2019. It is proposed to construct 6 reactors each 1650 megawatts, thus totaling to 9900 megawatts. A comprehensive environmental impact assessment of these reactors will be done when both are operational. The environmental adherence to the project was provided in November 2010. If commissioned, the 9,900 MW Jaitapur Nuclear Power Station will be the largest in the world, overtaking the current largest 8,200 MW Kashiwazaki-Kariwa Nuclear Power Plant in Japan.
Why nuclear-energy is important for India?
With 436 nuclear plants operating worldwide, nuclear energy provides almost 14 per cent of global electricity, with France relying on it for 75 per cent of its electricity needs. Japan currently meets 30 per cent of its energy requirements from nuclear plants and this is expected to increase to at least 40 per cent by 2017. In the US, currently 104 operating nuclear plants produce around 20 per cent of the total US energy profile. China currently has the most ambitious nuclear programme, with 13 nuclear power reactors in operation, 27 others under construction, an additional 50 reactors in the planning stage, and more than 140 others at the proposal level. India's energy needs are vast and growing and nuclear energy is an important clean energy option and this will be pursued with full regard to the safety, livelihood and security of the people.
The World electricity demand will continue to grow even faster, tripling by 2050 and further, the earth-systems science will continue to warn that we must cut carbon emissions by 80 per cent or risk radical changes in Earth's climate posing a threat to all civilization.
Jaitapur is a concern:
- India is in a seismic zone and as the power plants have to be sited near the coast because of huge quantities of water needed for cooling. It has pointed out that India is well within the range of Tsunami. Jaitapur area falls in the seismic zone 3 category, and data from the Geological Survey of India shows that between 1985 and 2005, there were 92 earthquakes. The biggest earthquake in Jaitapur, recorded in 1993, measured 6.2 on the Richter scale.
- The practice of storing spent fuel rods at or near the reactor buildings adds to risks, and safer and more secure storage sites must be found for this material. The storage of spent fuel in unsecured sites results in a serious security risk, as terrorists can target these facilities.
- There is no scientific, technical and economic justification for the project which is going to adversely affect the livelihood of thousands of people, and cause unimaginable damage to biodiversity and environment in the area.
- Aftermath of Fukushima, Germany has decided to shut down all its nuclear reactors by 2022. Germany has 17 nuclear reactors, eight of which are currently off the electricity grid. To make up for the loss of nuclear energy, the German government will begin to switch to renewable energy and increase investments in energy research. Further, While Thailand has halted the project for five nuclear plants; Malaysia has decided to review its earlier plan to build its first nuclear station in 2021. The Swiss government has decided to phase out nuclear power by 2034, which would require the closure of its five nuclear reactors that currently provide 40 per cent of the country's power. Spain and Portugal, however, have called for the gradual phase-out of nuclear energy.
- It has been said that nuclear experts worldwide have described India's nuclear power plants as amongst the 'most dangerous in the world'. There have been at least 300 accidents at India's reactors, for example the accident at Narora in Uttar Pradesh in 1993 and Kakrapar in 1994. And under these circumstances, how the government can ensure nuclear safety to this area is a matter of concern.
- The Japanese are the world's best experts in earthquake-resistant designs. They are also most knowledgeable in protective designs against tsunami impact and if they cannot handle the situation then how Indian experts can do. India has a much disorganized system to tackle the disasters in terms of management.
- India has mastered the PHWRs design with 18 reactors through carefully learning from the mistakes of the past, and is currently moving on to build 700 MWe units of this type. We have three generations of Indian engineers who are familiar with the PHWR. If we need more nuclear power, the safest route is to consolidate and expand on our PHWR experience, import natural uranium, and build more PHWRs and therefore, in the case of Jaitapur PHWRs should have been preferred and not EPRs. The higher burn-up spent fuel from EPRs has its own unique hazards at the storage and transportation stages, unlike in the case of current LWRs, which use lower burn-ups.
- Besides that Jaitapur's six proposed EPRs were cleared in an extraordinarily sloppy Environment Impact Assessment by National Environmental Engineering Research Institute (NEERI) that has no competence in seismic or nuclear safety-related matters. It evades biodiversity issues and one of the greatest problems with nuclear power - generation and storage of large quantities of radioactive wastes.
Why Jaitapur is safe?
- The site selection for putting up a nuclear plant is a long and stringent process and the Jaitapur site was cleared somewhere between 1985-88.
- It has been argued that sites in India are located in a lower category seismic zone and not the Himalayan one, and that the Indian coastline is shielded from out-sized tsunamis etc, do not cut ice with nuclear skeptics.
- India has 20 nuclear power reactors, out of which only two at Tarapur are boiling water reactors of the type at the Japan's Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear plant and therefore, there is no need to excessively worry about that. It has to be noted that The Fukushima I complex has six Boiling Water Reactors (BWR) with a total power output of 4.5 GW. These are the second most common type of commercial reactors after the Pressurised Water Reactor (PWR).
- At the same time, the 18 others are Pressurised Heavy Water Reactors (PWHRs) of CANDU design, developed in Canada, suppose to have outright strength to withstand high seismic stresses. Besides, India does not have the high level of seismic risks that Japan has.
- All reactors built in India will have to meet safety standards certified by the regulatory authority, including on imported equipment and technologies.
- The outfall of the Jaitapur project was not directly opening out into the sea, but an undersea tunnel would run 1.5 to 2.5 km under the coastline with a diffuser to distribute water. Therefore, the ecology is not going to be affected.
- Further, Jaitapur was in seismic zone III, while the Fukushima facility was in seismic zone IV. Moreover, the proposed nuclear power project in Jaitapur is about 72 feet above the sea level. In case of a tsunami striking the Maharashtra coast, the waves will not reach to the level where the project has been planned.
- The EPR reactors proposed to be deployed at Jaitapur are of the evolutionary design. They have been evolved from the N4 and KONVOI reactors successfully in France and Germany.
The government has decided to go ahead with the 9,900 MW Jaitapur nuclear power project in Maharashtra with added safety measures and a new compensation package for displaced people. This would be increased to 6 per cent by 2020 and to 13 per cent by 2030. The Government has claimed that of the nine recommendations made by a task force appointed by NPCIL for nuclear safety, six are being implemented while the other three require permission of the regulatory authority. Those not implemented include recommendation related to automatic shutdown on sensing seismic activity and inerting of TAPS-1 and 2 containment.
Besides that the government is going to partner with various top scientific academic institutions like the Saha Institute of Nuclear Physics to enhance the safety of the country's various nuclear reactors.
- All reactors and technologies, whether indigenous or imported, without exception will meet the safety standards that are stipulated by the regulatory authorities and there will be complete transparency in the functioning of the nuclear power programme.
- The government has also decided that the initial results of the six safety review committees set up by the prime minister after the Fukushima accident will be made public and action taken on previous safety reviews will be put in the public domain.
- The government will invite the Operational Safety Review Team (OSART) of the International Atomic Energy Authority (IAEA) to assist its own safety reviews and audit.
- The government will introduce a bill in the next session of parliament to create an independent and autonomous Nuclear Regulatory Authority of India that will subsume the Atomic Energy Regulatory Board (AERB).
- India has set up a panel to look into backup power and cooling water sources at all nuclear plants, as the failure of these two sources triggered the Fukushima crisis.
- EPR technology proposed at Jaitapur would have to be evaluated for safety from the context of earthquakes and tsunamis coming together. Although the EPR was not an untested reactor and once set up at Jaitapur, it would be the 11th one in the world.
- Referring to the issue of impact on land-based biodiversity and marine life in the Konkan region, eight universities and ecology departments had carried out studies on the possible impacts of the project on the environment and they have concluded that hot water discharged from the plant would not raise the sea temperature by more than 4.5 degree Celsius and this is well within the recommended range. Europe allows a raise of 10 degree Celsius in sea water temperature. In India, considering the tropical condition, this has been capped at seven per cent.
- NPCIL will strictly comply with all the 35 conditions stipulated by MoEF while giving environmental clearance. The government of Maharashtra and NPCIL have signed the relief and rehabilitation package to give adequate compensation to all the affected persons. NPCIL would provide Rs. 2 crore (Rs. 20 million) per village to upgrade existing civil amenities and facilities, make provision of Rs. 25 lakh per year per village to maintain civil amenities.
- First, the reactors must be able to do a cold shut-down in a scenario of zero off-site power and failure of main back-up power. Independent cooling systems must be incorporated. Containment structures should be designed to cope with hydrogen explosions.
- Emergency procedures to deal with the consequences of seismic events must be put in place, including measures to inform and safeguard the population. <
- Nuclear reactor control systems need to be protected against cyber attacks as has recently happened in Iran with the Stuxnet worm.
- There is a need for additional design features such as providing core cooling with additional means of power source at site are recommended to bring plant to a safe shutdown state and maintain the same in a prolonged period.
- In addition, procedures and guidelines for severe natural event handling, emergency preparedness, conducting staff training and simulating mock up drills for all operating nuclear power plants will be extended.
- A proper awareness campaign must be initiated to educate the common people about the nuclear technology and its advantages and disadvantages. All the preventive measures to ward off nuclear accident must be clearly delineated to everyone so that at the time of a disaster people can cooperate and participate in the mitigating its impact.
- India needs to take inspiration from Germany that gets 17 percent of its energy supply from renewable business. Economic growth has to be met with the demands to conserve biodiversity, food security, access to natural resources. Green economy is not an alternative economy but is very much a thing of the present.
- New technologies should be adopted, for example, the US-based Radiation Shield Technologies (RST) has got the patent for Radiation Detectable and Protective Articles. This company has developed a protective material against all types of chemical, biological and radiological incidents.