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Event | November 2011

Our nuclear plants are fail-safe

There is also a continuous endeavour to emulate and improve on the global safety benchmarks, Dr Srikumar Banerjee, Chairman, AEC, said at the third edition of India Nuclear Energy 2011. R Srinivasan reports.

The third edition of India Nuclear Energy 2011 international exhibition and conference was inaugurated by Dr Srikumar Banerjee, Chairman, Atomic Energy Commission (AEC), at Bombay Exhibition Centre, Mumbai. The conference was organised by UBM India, co-partnered by the Department of Atomic Energy (DAE) and supported by the Indian Nuclear Society (INS). It was organised to enumerate and elaborate the various markers and check-points on India's road map for the sustainable growth and development of its nuclear energy programme.

Giving the audience at the conference an in-depth presentation of what occurred at Fukushima and educating them about the technical preparedness of Indian nuclear power plants in view of the various safety systems that have been integrated following the event, Dr Srikumar Banerjee, Chairman, Atomic Energy Commission (AEC), said, "The government in tandem with AEC has been closely monitoring the safety standards being followed in the case of any eventuality. Indian nuclear power plants are definitely fail-safe, and there is a continuous endeavour to emulate and improve on the global safety benchmarks."

Speaking on the topic of 'Nuclear Energy bearing in India', SK Malhotra, Head of Public Awareness Division, Department of Atomic Energy quoted, "The relevance of nuclear energy in a developing country like India is a significant topic prior to discussing the safety, security and other aspects of nuclear energy."

India's indigenous nuclear power programme is expected to contribute 20,000 MWe through nuclear capacity by 2020 and is aiming to achieve a 63,000 MWe output by 2032. India's fuel situation, with a shortage of fossil fuels, has led to the unique development and utilisation of a nuclear fuel cycle that exploits the reserves of thorium, due to the lack of indigenous uranium. This unique and indigenous 'fast reactor' technology is driving the nuclear investment for electricity for 2050 when 1,094 GWe of base-load capacity will be required to power the nation and its population.

On the topic on 'Safety and emergency preparedness post Fukushima' speaker SS Bajaj, Chairman, Atomic Energy Regulatory Board (AERB), gave a presentation on 'Safety performance of Indian reactors and safety measures initiated post Fukushima'. Speaking of incidents in nuclear power plants, he said, "The biggest incident in India was the fire in the Narora atomic power station in the turbine building in 1993. It was a major fire and there was a total loss of power for 17 hours i.e., a station blackout. But the incident was well managed and even in that incident the reactor core was safe and there was no radiological impact."

Speaker MC Abani, Senior specialist (Nuclear), National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA) gave a presentation on 'Emergency preparedness in Indian nuclear power reactors'. He said, "If you look at the record of the facilities in the last 50 years, there have been 140 major or minor accidents and 150 persons have died. It is not desirable but it is small as compared to the 5,000 deaths annually in coal-mine related accidents and 1.2 million deaths in automobile accidents every year. The number is small but due to lack of awareness and dissemination of critical information, such incidents get blown out of proportion."

Speaking of safety margins, he said that nuclear reactors are so conservatively made from a safety point of view and the margins in a reactor design are so large that if an aircraft was made along similar lines, it would not be able to fly.

Speaking of reactor safety he mentioned the three Cs as controlling the reactor power, cooling the fuel and containing the release of radioactivity into the public domain. On the basis of emergencies he said that they are classified into three zones such as exclusion zone of 1.6 km, sterilised zone of 5 km and the emergency zone of 16 km. He ended his presentation with a very valid suggestion that there is a dire need for medical preparedness in view of an emergency. He said, "We need sufficient number of trained doctors for such an event. An efficient, emergency preparedness and response system for nuclear emergency in a state of readiness will keep the morale of people high."

The first day itself witnessed the arrival of over 325 delegates, 120 exhibitors and over 1,700 people from various fraternities from the nuclear, power and affiliated sectors. With an excellent response from corporate and country pavillions from France, Russia, USA and individual companies from UK, Germany, and Canada, the exhibition provided an opportunity to tap into the immense potential in the Indian nuclear industry.
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