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Kudankulam unit-1 goes critical, to start power generation in August

The first reactor at the Kudankulam Nuclear Power Project in Tamil Nadu, went critical at midnight on July 13, but will start pumping power to the southern grid only from mid- or end-August.

K. R. Balasubramanyam | July 15, 2013 | Updated 13:50 IST

The first 1,000-MW reactor at the Kudankulam Nuclear Power Project in coastal Tamil Nadu, went critical at midnight on July 13, but will start pumping power to the southern grid only from mid- or end-August.

"There is no generation as of now as some tests are underway," Station Director R.S.Sundar told Business Today. "Initially we will start with 400 MW, and slowly increase it based on regulatory clearances."

This is the first pressurised water reactor (PWR) belonging to the Light Water Reactor (LWR) technology in the country. At 1000 MW, the unit, built using the technology imported from Russia, also has the distinction of being the largest single power generating unit in India.

"We will generate power from the first unit and give it to the grid. It is for the government agencies to decide which state should get how much of the power," Sundar said.

Tamil Nadu's power crisis has come down following copious rainfall in southern states which eased the load on the grid, as well as the state's own healthy generation from windmills. According to Central Electricity Authority (CEA) data for July 10, the state's electricity generation is meeting the restricted demand.

The commissioning of the first reactor at the Kudankulam project will increase the nuclear power capacity in the country to 5780 MW.

The Nuclear Power Corporation of India (NPCIL) is also building another 1000 MW unit at Kudankulam, adding two more units of 700 MW capacity each at Kakrapar and Rajasthan Atomic Power Projects. The second unit at Kudankulam is targeted for commissioning by March next year.

Once these too are completed, country's installed nuclear power capacity will reach 9580 MW.

The Supreme Court had, on May 6, paved the way for the commissioning of the Kudankulam plant, dismissing concerns about its safety and security. 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).

Considering the summer prices for electricity, the tariff for the power from Kudankulam will be one of the cheapest - at 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 Tamil Nadu will get a share of 925 MW. The state's share is enough to meet the demands of four million consumers.

The nuclear power plants currently under operation have a lifespan of 30 to 35 years, extendable by another 10 years. But Kundankulam will have a lifespan of 60 years, extendable up to 80 years, and that is what makes it feasible for the plant 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.

Two pressurised heavy water reactor (PHWR) units of 700 MW capacity each are under construction in Rajasthan and Gujarat, using an indigenous programme.

After successfully trying its hand with 220 MW and 540 MW capacity reactors, the Nuclear Power Corporation is now going for higher capacity reactors of 700 MW.

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

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