India's nuclear plants under high alert

Dec. 19--KALPAKKAM -- All 17 nuclear power reactors across the country have been placed under very high alert and security forces contingents augmented, even as a 'No-fly zone' has been declared over the huge nuclear complex in Kalpakkam, 70 km South of...


Dec. 19--KALPAKKAM -- All 17 nuclear power reactors across the country have been placed under very high alert and security forces contingents augmented, even as a 'No-fly zone' has been declared over the huge nuclear complex in Kalpakkam, 70 km South of Chennai.

This up-scaling is a direct fallout of the November 26 unprecedented terror attack on Mumbai, amid the security cordon around the complex in Kalpakkam tightened under the direct supervision of the Atomic Energy Commission (AEC) Chairman, Mr Anil Kakodkar.

The Kalpakkam nuclear complex includes two nuclear power plants (Madras Atomic Power Station -- MAPS 1 and 2 of 220 mw each), the Fast Breeder Test Reactor (FBTR), the Indira Gandhi Centre of Atomic Research (IGCAR), the Kalpakkam Reprocessing Plant and the up-coming 500 mw Prototype Fast Breeder Reactor (PFBR). Only a few days back scientists successfully completed the Herculean task of filling up the first batch of liquid sodium into the storage tanks which will be the 'coolant' in the PFBR.

Briefing reporters on the sidelines of a National meet on Safety and Occupational Health for all Department of Atomic Energy (DAE) units in Kalpakkam on Thursday, Mr SK Sharma, Chairman of the Atomic Energy Regulatory Board (AERB), and Mr S Basu, Director of the Bhaba Atomic Research Centre (BARC) facilities, said that though "all our nuclear installations are already well protected, in the changed security scenario the alert level has been increased after the Mumbai terror attack."

In Kalpakkam in particular, which faces the sea-front, the security measures both for physical protection of the plants and access control were reviewed soon after the Mumbai tragedy with the local Police, Central Industrial Security Force (CISF) which is the main security provider for all DAE installations, and the IB, said Mr Basu.

But there was no cause for alarm, as even after the Tamil militant group LTTE's attack on the Colombo airport in 2000, security was moved top gear anticipating possible sudden enemy air-strikes at the Kalpakkam nuclear complex, he emphasized.

Mr Kakodkar who in the past one week has been shunting between Mumbai and Kalpakkam, given the latter's strategic importance in India's nuclear power programme as the first unit of the second generation FBR programme is being built here, today also met the Chief Minister, Mr M Karunanidhi, at Chennai and discussed measures to further tighten the security ring around Kalpakkam.

"The enforcement of a no-fly zone over Kalpakkam is very good for us," said Mr Basu and confirmed that the army contingent has also been augmented here. As a threat by the sea-route is also there, the Navy and the Coast Gurad "are also helping us with additional security," he added.

Given the double containment walls, the outer wall and the inner wall, the core of the nuclear reactor or vessel which is placed inside them was unlikely to face any serious damage even in the event of a sudden attack, explained Mr Sharma. But it was no reason to be complacent, he said, adding, security at new construction sites like have also been beefed up.

On the progress of the design for the Advanced Heavy Water Reactor (AHWR), a 300 mw electrical power system which will use both uranium and thorium as fuel and developed by BARC, Mr Sharma said the AERB has made certain suggestions which involved some experiments. The IIT-Bombay was making "excellent progress" on the latter, he added.

Another important development, Mr Sharma said was the AERB extending the requirement of 'probabilistic safety analysis' (the chances of all systems in a nuclear reactor failing at the same time) for new nuclear plants to existing old plants also. This was by way of taking safety measures to a higher level which was a continuous process, added Mr Sharma.