The Atomic Energy Regulatory Board (AERB) gave its nod yesterday to load real fuel in the first unit of the 1,000 MW Kudankulam Nuclear Power Project (KNPP) at Kudankulam, paving the way for the running of the Tamil Nadu facility delayed by villagers' agitation, said a senior AERB official. The Kudankulam plant in Tirunelveli district is being built by the Nuclear Power Corporation of India Ltd. (NPCIL). The project will start generating power from September. “It will take us around 10-15 days to load the fuel. We have to intimate the IAEA (International Atomic Energy Agency) about the fuel loading,” S.A. Bhardwaj, director (technical) at NPCIL, said.

AERB chairman S.S. Bajaj said, “The sanction is always subject to certain stipulations, like flushing of the reactor and other primary systems with borated water. It will take a week for NPCIL to complete our conditions so that they can load the fuel.” He said the AERB's advisory committee reviewed the reports submitted by NPCIL about KNPP earlier this week and the sanction order was issued yesterday.

AERB sanctions Kundankulam

AERB sanctions fuel loading at Kundankulam Nuclear Power Project

As KNPP falls under the safeguard agreement signed by India with the IAEA, the latter has to be informed about fuel loading. According to Bhardwaj, some components have to be loaded into the reactor before the fuel. He said NPCIL is not working towards any specific date to load the 163 fuel assemblies into the 1,000 MW light water reactor (LWR) supplied by Russia.

NPCIL is building two 1,000 MW reactors in Kudankulam. Work at the project came to a standstill in August last year after local villagers, fearing for their lives in case of a nuclear accident, mounted an intensive protest under People's Movement Against Nuclear Energy banner. S.P. Udayakumar, coordinator of PMANE, said, “The Madras High Court is hearing a case against the Kudankulam project. As the country is waiting for the judgment, the sanction to load the fuel is authoritarian and undemocratic.”

The Tamil Nadu government had last year passed a resolution asking the central government to halt work at the plant and to allay the fears of the locals. To resolve the issue, the central and state governments set up two committees. The central panel submitted its final report on January 31. Another expert committee set up by the Tamil Nadu government also favoured the project. In March this year, the state government gave the go-ahead to the project and announced Rs. 500 crore for local area and infrastructural development. Following that, work at KNPP was restarted with police protection.

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