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Nuclear power plant accidents in India[23][24]

Cost
(in
Date Location Description millions
2006
US$)
Fast Breeder Test Reactor at Kalpakkam
Kalpakkam,
4 May 1987 refuelling accident that ruptures the reactor core, 300
India
resulting in a two-year shutdown
Operators at the Tarapur Atomic Power Station
10 Tarapur,
find that the reactor had been leaking radioactive
September Maharashtra, 78
iodine at more than 700 times normal levels.
1989 India
Repairs to the reactor take more than a year
Tarapur, A malfunctioning tube causes the Tarapur
13 May
Maharashtra, Atomic Power Station to release 12 curies of 2
1992
India radioactivity
The Narora Atomic Power Station suffers a fire
Bulandshahr,
31 March at two of its steam turbine blades, damaging the
Uttar Pradesh, 220
1993 heavy water reactor and almost leading to a
India
meltdown
The Rajasthan Atomic Power Station leaks
2 February Kota, Rajasthan, radioactive helium and heavy water into the
280
1995 India Rana Pratap Sagar River, necessitating a two-
year shutdown for repairs
Almost 100 kg radioactive sodium at a fast
22 October Kalpakkam, breeder reactor leaks into a purification cabin,
30
2002 India ruining a number of valves and operating
systems

It is estimated that before the accident at Tarapur, lack of proper maintenance exposed
more than 3000 Indian personnel to "very high" and "hazardous" radiation levels.
Researchers at the American University calculated at least 124 "hazardous incidents" at
nuclear plants in India between 1993 and 1995.[22]

NEW DELHI

Kakrapara Atomic Power Station (KAPS), in the western city of Surat, is India's well-
groomed nuclear workhorse. Huge concrete domes enclose its two reactors, which
generate a surplus of power for the country. And when it comes to controlling radiation
leakage, KAPS is "our best station," says S.P. Sukhatme, chairman of India's Atomic
Energy Regulatory Board (AERB).

That, it turns out, is bad news. KAPS may be India's prized nuclear plant, but radiation
emitted from its reactors is three times as much as the international norm, says Mr.
Sukhatme.
It's a shocking admission that puts the rest of the country's nuclear-power plants in grave
perspective. "The main implication is that other nuclear-power plants are much worse
than even Kakrapar," says Suren Gadekar, considered to be India's top antinuclear
activist.

Four months ago, world leaders fretted about the possibility of two nuclear-weapons
rivals, India and Pakistan, approaching the brink of war. That problem apparently on
hold, India's nuclear scientists say the country could still face an equally devastating
nuclear catastrophe – without a shot being fired.

This time, the threat is not Pakistan or terrorists, but India's power plants themselves.
Some scientists say that the plants are so poorly built and maintained, a Chernobyl-style
disaster may be just a matter of time.

"The fact that India's nuclear regulator acknowledges that reactors in India are not
operated to the standards of reactors in the US and Europe is not much of a surprise,"
says Christopher Sherry, research director of the Safe Energy Communication Council in
Washington. "But it is very disturbing."

India tested its first nuclear device in May 1974. In 1998, the country successfully
conducted five underground nuclear tests, heralding its entry into ga select group of
countries capable of waging nuclear war.

Today, the country has 14 nuclear power reactors including two at KAPS. Most are
modeled after a design first built in Shippingport, Penn. in 1957, and considered by
experts to be the most cost-effective way to produce electricity through nuclear energy.

However only three of those nuclear reactors fall under International Atomic Energy
Agency (IAEA) standards. The rest – which were built with local technology – are
accountable only to national standards set by the AERB.

This February, Sukhatme asked the Nuclear Power Corporation of India Ltd – a
government-owned manufacturer of nuclear plants – to plug leakage of water
contaminated with tritium, a highly radioactive substance, from reactors. "There is a clear
need for reducing the exposure to workers," he says.

Also earlier this year, the AERB ordered the closure of India's first nuclear plant in the
state of Rajasthan. The reactor that put India on the nuclear world map developed a series
of defects, starting with "turbine-blade failures." Gradually the reactor was wrecked by
"cracks in the end-shields, a leak in the calandria overpressure relief device, a leak in
many tubes in the moderator heat exchanger."

While the government releases no information about leaks or accidents at its nuclear
power plants, Dhirendra Sharma, a scientist who has written extensively on India's
atomic-power projects, has compiled figures based on his own reporting. "An estimated
300 incidents of a serious nature have occurred, causing radiation leaks and physical
damage to workers," he says. "These have so far remained official secrets."

According to critics like Mr. Gadekar, India's nuclear-power program has always been
secretive because politicians use it as a cover for the country's weapons program. "Right
from Jawaharlal Nehru [India's first prime minister] onward, our leaders have always
claimed that the nuclear-power program is a 'peaceful' program, whereas the weapons
implications were always there in the background," says Gadekar. "As a result, secrecy
has become a way of life for these people."

The chairman of India's Atomic Energy Commission, Anil Kakodkar, has repeatedly
asserted that his group is doing what it can to ensure that the country's power plants are
safe. Still, leaks continues to raise serious questions about safety.

Part of the problem, says N.M. Sampathkumar Iyangar, a former manufacturer of nuclear
reactor components, is that well-connected manufacturers are able to cut deals with
politicians in India's Department of Energy, often selling defective parts, which are then
used to build reactors.

But others, like Dr. Kakodkar, say the real problem is that new technology designed to
upgrade safety at power plants is too expensive for developing countries like India.
According to Kakodkar, India should not be held accountable to international standards
until the international community helps make such technology available to developing
countries.

"Safety and technology cannot be divorced," he says.