Nuking the public interest?
Atomic power is a perilous choice for Koodankulam, say "The Friends of the Earth"
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April 1999: The southernmost tip of India is considered by Hindus to be one of the major holy places. The very southernmost tip of the subcontinent is known as Kanyakumari, and it is the only place in India from which the sun can be seen to rise in one ocean and set in the other ocean. Sometime last century, Swami Vivekananda went out to a large rock situated just off the southernmost extremity and meditated there for a number of years. It's a popular pligramage spot and an exceedingly pleasant place to contemplate life the universe and everything. Sunrise and sunset are magical.

The Indian government has sought to site not one but two monster Russian nuclear reactors of the VVER1000/392 type, a very short distance away in the village of Koodankulam. The villagers in Koodankulam are poor fishermen; many of them have either been convinced that they may obtain jobs in the new reactor project, or have been intimidated into silence. However, opposition to the project is now growing. The Indian National Social Action Forum, (INSAF) the National Association of Peoples Movements, (NAPM) and Peace Trust have all sent letters protesting the project and pointing to safety problems with the VVER1000/392 reactor design, to the Prime Minister (whose portfolio includes the Department of Atomic Energy), to the Department of Atomic Energy, and to the Nuclear Power Corporation.

I have agreed to help coordinate an international sign on letter to the PM. Non-governmental Organizations (NGOs) and others are invited/urged to sign on to this letter addressed to the Prime Minister of India, Mr.A.B.Vajpayee, drawing his attention to concerns over the safety of the VVEER1000 design, and asking that the project to be abandoned.

Note: The letter has been painstakingly agreed between Indian activists. It may not be absolutely perfect, but at this stage it isn't possible, in the interests of being fair to everyone, to alter it. I urge you and/or your organization to sign it. You may sign on to this campaign by sending me email expressing your support. Please be sure to include your full name, and the city where you reside.

John Hallam
April 1999

Text of Letter


  • Friends of the Earth, Sydney, Australia
  • MINATOME RUSSIA, +7-095-239-2535
  • DEPARTMENT OF ATOMIC ENERGY, DR. R. CHIDAMBARAM, Fax 91-11-301-3843, 022-204-8476.
  • NUCLEAR POWER CORPORATION OF INDIA FAX 91-22-555-7278, 91-22-556-3350
Dear Prime Minister, Minatome, Minister for Energy, Department of Atomic Energy, Atomic Energy Regulatory Board, and Chief Ministers of Tamilnadu, Kerala, and Andhra Pradesh,

The above and undersigned organisations and people express deep concern over the Indian Government's decision to commission 2 x VVER1000/392 nuclear power plants on the east coast of Southern India at Koodankulam in Tamilnadu. The reasons for our deep concern are as follows :

  • There are grave and serious unresolved technical and safety questions in the Russian VVER-1000/392 reactor design chosen for the Koodankulam project. (discussed below). If these important technical and safety questions are to be resolved satisfactorily, it would cost an additional US $ 1-2 billion, in addition to the present cost of US$4billion, (16,000 crores of rupees approximately). It is an undesirable drain of India's hard - earned revenue. It is sure to affect India's overall development in the next millennium. Moreover, the decommissioning cost will be not less than US $5 billion, an avoidable burden on the future generations. It is essential that the Detailed Project Report now in preparation, deal with these problems, and that it be released in full for public comment.

  • Accidents in nuclear power plants can never be ruled out. Unlike accidents in other engineering fields, accidents in nuclear power plants would always be devastating as was the case with the Chernobyl accident in the former USSR. The Chernobyl accident affected badly farm life and forests in Sweden over 2000 Km from Chernobyl. An accident in Koodankulam plant would affect not only the Tamilnadu and Kerala States but also the entire Indian sub-continent and even neighbouring Sri Lanka.

    The VVER-1000/392 design will be the first of its type any where in the world. It is nothing but propaganda to say that VVER-1000/392 design is a safe and proven design. The control system for this design intended for India is being developed by Siemens Germany as a new assignment and Koodankulam will be the testing ground for it. Problems with control systems and I&C in European VVER plants have been compounded and made worse by attempts to

    The specific technical and safety problems of the VVER1000/320 series, are briefly outlined in the next paragraphs. It is clear that DAE and the NPC and AERB have not considered these problems and it is essential that they do so. The Detailed Project report is an appropriate forum in which to discuss these matters in detail, so that they may be the subject for a process of public comment.

    The NPC has reassured us repeatedly that the design of plant chosen is 'completely safe'. According to Mr. S. K. Jain, chief engineer of the Koodankulam project, the Russian reactors are 'extremely safe' and have 'many significant safety enhancement features'. It may be true that the VVER-1000/392 reactor design that has been chosen has some advantages over some western- style reactors, and it is true that the VVER type reactor is not the same as the Chernobyl-type RBMK design.

    But the fact is that all reactor designs without exception are inherently risky. There is no reactor design and no reactor type that presents acceptable levels of risk for the society as a whole, and the consequences of any accident will last for hundreds of thousands of years. It is also the case that the VVER-1000 reactor design has quite specific safety problems which Mr. Jain's reassurances do nothing to clear up. The specific variant of the VVER 1000 design that has been chosen, the VVER1000/392 design, will be the first of its type anywhere in the world, and will therefore be a prototype.

    This means that India will be building two of a completely untried reactor design. The concerns over the collapse of Russian construction infrastructure outlined above, and the delays and cost overruns in other VVER projects are not even acknowledged by DAE. It is essential that these be taken into account.

    The VVER-1000/392 reactor design is based on the VVER-1000/320 reactor design, which has many operating reactors in Russia and Eastern Europe. A variety of problems have arisen with attempts to complete and 'upgrade' these reactors to so-called 'western' nuclear safety standards. While the commitment by the NPC to the latest international design standards is laudable, NPC makes no reference to the problems with the VVER1000/320 model which have been indicated in IAEA documentation, especially with reference to the R4K2 plants. It is not at all clear if adequate design changes have ben made in the VVER1000/392 design, to deal with these problems.

    These problems are set out by the International Atomic Energy Agency in a publication known as the 'Issues Book'. According to the Issues Book, these problems are the following:

    • The possibility that the steel reactor pressure vessel may become brittle, due to the effect of neutron bombardment of the steel. This would make it possible for the vessel to crack open violently during an emergency. This would probably (according to safety analyses by the US- DOE) propel the head of the pressure vessel out through the containment roof, causing a major radioecological catastrophe. The government, when the detailed project report is done, needs to ask very detailed and searching questions about steel composition, neutron flux, and RPV integrity. Concerns over RPV integrity and embrittlement have surfaced in hearings on US plant safety in the 1970s, and again in hearings on plant life extension in the 1990s. Concerns over RPV integrity in the VVER1000 plant design due to a high concentration of nickel in the welds opposite the core region have been outlined in the IAEA Issues Book [IAEA-EBP-VVER-05 March 1996p17]
    • The possibility that control rods may fail to insert properly during an emergency. This has already occurred at a number of VVER-1000 plants in Russia and Eastern Europe, as well as in French PWR plants. In many plants in France, costly replacement of the entire control rod mechanism has had to take place. Failure of the control rods to insert during an emergency is a serious failure, akin to having no brakes on a car. According to the IAEA, Rovno-3 has experienced control rod drop problems repeatedly. Problems have also been experienced in 1992 at the Zaphorozhye-1 plant.
    • The possibility that small tubes in the plants steam-generators may fail, leading to uncontrollable leakage of very highly pressurized and radioactive primary coolant into the low-pressure secondary system. This can lead to a loss of coolant accident with subsequent core meltdown if it is large, as well as causing damage to other parts of the plant. This has been a concern with respect to the VVER1000 design since the early 1990s. Steam- generator problems, according to 1992 IAEA workshop, account for 21% of all VVER1000 outages. In 1982, half the bolts of the closure head of the steam-generator header at Rovno-1 actually sheared off.
    • Problems with instrumentation and control systems and with properly integrating Western (presumably Siemens) control systems and Russian components, which have proven very difficult at the Temelin plant in Czech Republic, accounting for much of the large cost overrun. * Problems with the detailed plant layout that have resulted in there being a particular spot in the plant where main steam-lines cross with important emergency systems. A main steam-line break such as might be caused by a big primary to secondary leak, can here result in the main steam line rupturing, and in turn destroying other essential safety systems. It is essential that when the DPR for Koodankulam is done that this issue of design is tackled.

    We have outlined a series of specific issues that pertain to VVER-1000 safety. It does not follow from this that only VVER-1000 reactors or even only Russian reactors have these kinds of safety problems. These are in many cases problems that have been recognised for many years in Western (US, French and German) reactor designs also. It is simply the case that safety issues of one sort or another are inherent in ALL nuclear technology, and all reactor designs. We would oppose any specific plant design at Koodankulam. No plant type, and no plant design, is the right design, since all nuclear technology without exception is inherently unsafe.

  • VVER1000 projects in Eastern Europe suffer from unreasonable escalating cost estimates and hence have become the subject of strongest controversy and opposition. The Temelin nuclear plant in the Czech Republic is currently three years late in start-up, and the cost escalation is expected to be over US$1billion (4,000 crores of rupees). According to recent Czech government reports, it will be at least another 2 years delayed and another US$1.2billion in cost overrun. It is quite possible that the Temelin VVER project will collapse. Opposition both at domestic and international level to the R4K2 project in the Ukraine has also been growing.

  • The collapse in the Russian nuclear construction infrastructure is even more a cause for concern. Most of the best Russian engineers have left the country, and construction programs for nuclear reactors within Russia have all come to a grinding halt. It appears that the Department of Atomic Energy of India has not made a full and correct assessment of these serious developments and for reasons not known the Government of India is not being given a full and complete picture of these serious developments which are bound to reflect in the installation and commissioning of 2000 MW Koodankulam project.

  • The temperature rise of the sea at Koodankulam is bound to affect fishing and the discharge of radioactive pollutants into the sea is bound to damage the health and the environment of the people there. The experience already gathered shows that while the Madras Atomic Power Plant at Kalpakam near Madras runs and discharges to sea at its present rated capacity of 350 MW, the sea water temperature rises from 85 to 140 degrees F. As a result, the fishermen at Kalpakam are able to catch only dead fish. More over, the radiation levels mounted from the nuclear waste discharge has already damaged the health of the people and the environment at Kalpakam sea coast. If 350 MW could inflict such a damage at Kalpakam, what would be fate of the fishermen and their environment at Koodankulam when 2000 MW nuclear plant (discharging roughly 6-7,000MwTh into the sea) goes into operation ? Will it not turn the Tamilnadu coast into killing fields ?

  • The problem of safe disposal of spent nuclear fuel coming out of nuclear power plants, could not be resolved even by the developed countries. Public opposition to the construction of nuclear power plants led to abandoning the plans to construct new nuclear power plants in USA, Canada, UK, Germany, Sweden, Russia and other countries and it will be unwise for India not to learn from the experience in these countries which are already paying a heavy price for cultivating nuclear power to meet their energy requirements.

  • The additional fuel processing needed for feeding the Koodankulam nuclear plant would further pollute the already polluted under-ground water belt in Hyderabad, the capital city of Andhra Pradesh. The fuel needed for all the India's nuclear power plants is processed by the Nuclear Fuel Complex (NFC) at Hyderabad a land locked city. The present installed capacity of the ten nuclear rectors in India is 1845 MW. While processing the fuel for the existing 1845 MW capacity, the NFC is discharging daily 50,000 tons of nuclear waste water and much of this radioactive discharge has already polluted the under ground water belt upto 10 kilometres radius around the NFC. The Department of Atomic Energy itself has warned the people of Ashok Nagar village near NFC not to drink well water. If the present 1845 MW fuel processing has already polluted the underground water belt at Hyderabad, what will be the situation at Hyderabad if an additional 2000 MW fuel for Koodankulam is to be processed ? Will it not make Hyderabad a burial ground?

  • India is blessed with rivers. The utilisation of hydro potential of India is not even 25 percent. By constructing small and medium size hydro-power plants, one could get not only electrical power but also, irrigation, drinking water, navigation and fisheries and damage to the environment will be nil or negligible. On the other hand, the nuclear power plants pollute the environment with dangerous nuclear radiation the effect of which remains for thousands of years threatening all forms of life on earth. By avoiding the costly Koodankulam project, India could also find funds for developing alternate sources of energy such as solar, wind and tidal power.

Therefore, a relevant question is whether any nuclear reactor development of this kind is in the interests of the Indian people? We believe that the interests of the Indian people will be put to total jeopardy by the Koodankulam project and a public review of the entire project is urgently needed. The failure of the NPC, DAE and AERB to consider or even to acknowledge the safety problems of VVERs in Eastern Europe is a matter that is in urgent need of correction. These matters must be dealt with in detail in the project report, which must be made available for public comment in full.

We call on you to cancel the entire project forthwith. Yours Sincerely,

John Hallam, Nuclear Campaigner, Friends of the Earth Sydney
Uday Kumar, Research Associate and Co- Director of Programs, Institute of Race and Poverty, University of Minnesota
Valdimir Sliviak, Social- Ecological Union, Russia
Alisa Nikoulina, Antinuclear Campaign in the Ex-USSR
Alexandra Koroleva, Baltic Regional Resource Centre of Ecodefense
Galina Ragouzhina, 'Ecodefense' Russia
Profesor Alexey Yablokov, Centre for Russian Environmental Policy
Michel Marriotte, Nuclear Information and Resource Service, US
Kamlesh Pandey, Pune, India

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