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SC clearance to Kudankulam project a big relief for Centre, Tamil Nadu

Ruling on a bunch of petitions filed by the activists, a Supreme Court Bench has said the plant was safe and necessary for the larger public interest and economic growth of the country.

K. R. Balasubramanyam | May 6, 2013 | Updated 15:46 IST

{mosimage}The Supreme Court has paved the way for the commissioning of the nuclear power plant at Kudankulam in Tirunelveli district of southern Tamil Nadu, dismissing concerns about its safety and security raised by anti-nuclear activists.

Ruling on a bunch of petitions filed by the activists, a Bench comprising Judges K.S.Radhakrishnan and Dipak Misra said on Monday that the plant was safe and necessary for the larger public interest and economic growth of the country.

The Tamil Nadu state government had already come out in support of the plant, conceived and built by the Nuclear Power Corporation of India Ltd (NPCIL) - a PSU under the Department of Atomic Energy.

The Kudankulam plant will be the first reactor to go critical during the 12th Plan period (2012/2017). Kudankulam is also the first Greenfield nuclear power project to be built in the country after Kaiga in Karnataka went on stream a decade ago. No doubt, new units have been added to some of the existing plants, such as the ones at Kaiga and Tarapur, but they were small in scale compared with Kudankulam.

It is also the first after the Fukushima nuclear plant in Japan was damaged following the earthquake and tsunami there in 2011 - a development which reignited worldwide fears of nuclear safety.

Built at a cost of Rs 15,000 crore, the plant consists of two reactors of 1,000 MWe each (with a provision for four more). It will use pressurized water reactor (PWR) technology imported from Russia. Indeed, it will be the first PWR to be built with imported technology. Other nuclear plants in India use pressurised heavy water reactor (PHWR) technology.

Nuclear power plants currently under operation have a lifespan of 30 to 35 years, extendable by another ten years. But Kundankulam will have a lifespan of 60 years extendable by another 20. That is why it will be able to supply power at about Rs 2.50 per unit.

As shortage of coal and natural gas cripples power generation in India, nuclear plants are going for higher capacities. Having successfully built 220 MWe and 540 MWe capacity reactors, the NPCIL is now going for higher capacities. It is building two PHWR units of 700 MWe each in Rajasthan and Gujarat.

The currently operates 20 reactors with an installed capacity of 4,780 MWe.  In the 12th Five-Year Plan period beginning April 2012, it aims to add 7000 MWe under PHWR capacity and 20 LWR plants.

Considering the summer prices for electricity, electricity from Kudankulam will be one of the cheapest available - about Rs 2.50 per unit. (Spot market or short-term power can cost between Rs 5 and Rs 11 per unit depending on the season.) When both reactors go critical (operational) Tamil Nadu will get a share of 925 MWe. Tamil Nadu's share is enough to meet the demands of four million consumers.

The first and second units of Tarapur station in Maharashtra, each with a capacity of 160 MWe and built in 1969, however, produces the cheapest power in India at 92 paise per unit. The third 540 MWe unit has been showing a terrific performance with load factor of 96 per cent.   

Now, with all decks cleared, the first 1000 MWe unit at Kudankulam will go online anytime. The second unit, however, is expected to start commercial generation in December this year.   

The people of Tamil Nadu could not have asked for more when the summer temperature has breached 35 degree Celsius, and the power supply situation has worsened to leave a gap of 2000 MW or about 15 per cent of the demand.

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