SC Judges, Says No to Stop KKNPP Commissioning .

Supreme Court cleared today the hurdle in the commissioning of nuclear reactors 1 and 2 of Kudankulam Nuclear Power Plant (KKNPP). The judgment was on expected lines since ‘all the experts had unanimously’ concurred with a thumbs up given to plant’s safety and security aspects. It had no difficulty in dismissing objections by anti-nuclear activists, such as People’s Movement Against Nuclear Energy (PMANE). Justice K S Radhakrishnan on the bench was also part of another bench that delivered only last month what could prove to be a landmark judgment in Niyamgiri Bauxite case. That judgment, unlike this one, did not disappoint the activists (concerned about the rights of Adivasis). Crucial difference was probably made in both the cases by “experts’ opinions”, which went against the establishment in Niyamgiri case. KKNPP judgment called for “respecting  the national policy that is meant for ‘larger public interst,’ ( and added) the bench said that the plant had to go on for controlled use of nuclear energy… the court added that nuclear energy had become necessary for the welfare of the people and asserted that nuclear energy could minimise problem of power shortage in the country. It also said that when all the safety measures were already in place, nuclear energy was not to negate the right to life of people but to protect the right of life since it would help achieving larger public interest“. Massive (public) investment has already been made in the KKNPP project, and nowhere in the world any establishment would have faced permanent judicial roadblock in commissioning the plants.
Since the original petition was filed, several new allegations emerged regarding the quality of crucial plant equipment such as reactor vessel and valves’s material of construction. The procurement director of Russian supplier of these equipment, JSC Machine Building Plant ZiO-Podolsk, had come under investigation of Russian authorities. This company is part of Rosatom, which is a major contractor to KKNPP. Chinese government had flagged some 3000 quality issues in material supplied by very same companies, which apparently propelled usually comatose and opaque atomic regulators into a flurry of activity. “The investigation into the embezzlement in the production of units for nuclear power plants in Rosatom was sensationally developed. The technological aspects of the case were outlined quite clearly. According to the SK (the Investigation Committee) of the Russian Federation version, the equipment for nuclear power plants was made from cheaper steel, than it should have been. The proceeds from these scams were divided by heads of major companies of the nuclear industry. Some representatives of Rostechnadzor (the Federal Service for Ecological, Technological and Atomic Inspection), associated with the technocrats through a system of bribes, were related to the fraud as well. The inspectors gave the necessary conclusions and licenses right to enter into and licenses and didn’t pay attention to violations. A criminal case with the damage for a total sum more than 100 million rubles (more than $3,125 million) was initiated.
As well as in the case of the Ministry of Defense, some new negative newsmakers appeared and found the all-Russia popularity: Director General of Atom-Industry Dmitry Golubev, Commercial Director Olga Fedorova, Purchasing Director of the Machine-Building Plant ZiO-Podolsk JSC Sergey Shutov. The ZiO-Podolsk is one of the largest Russian manufacturers of equipment for nuclear industry, in particular, it supplies machines for nuclear power plant in Iran, India, Bulgaria and China. It was the Chinese government who sent to the Rosatom about three thousand comments on the quality of the equipment supplied. It is possible that the troubles with foreign partners demanded so hard and fast solutions“.

When this news reached India it caused severe consternation among some of the nuclear experts, who had headed nuclear establishment prior to their retirement. Former Atomic Energy Regulatory Board Chairman A Gopalakrishnan flagged his worries, “KKNPP may have sub-standard reactors and needs inspection, especially since there are allegations of corruption against Zio-Podolsk, the subsidiary of Russian firm Rosatom, which is involved in the building of the plant“. Dr. V T Padmanabhan wrote for Transcend Media Service, “we had no information about the quality of the rector pressure vessel (RPV) installed at KKNPP (Koodankulam Nuclear Power Project) during the month of Aug 2006. After scanning a couple documents from the Russia, Europe and IAEA (International Atomic Energy Agency), we are now fairly confident that the vessel was constructed during the mid-eighties for one of the six reactors under construction since the early eighties and cancelled post-Chernobyl and the Berlin wall. Vessels of that vintage would not have been allowed in Russia after 1988 updating of pressure vessel standards in the Soviet Union. It seems that Russia had inherited several such sub-standard pressure vessels, which are not permissible in the major markets“. This casts entirely different, but not less frightening  shadow on the quality of reactor vessel based on its “antiquity”. However, both allegations clearly can’t be true. That something is wrong with the quality of supply was acknowledged when AERB confirmed, “…the performances of four valves of a particular type were found deficient. As corrective measures, the valve components are being replaced by NPCIL (Nuclear Power Corporation of India Ltd) and their performance is further being subjected to regulatory review“.  PMANE has argued consistently that NPCIL, AERB, and KKNPP Dodge the Substandard Equipment Issue.

AERB has dismissed all concerns about the quality and safety saying that it has stringent quality assurance norms and codes in place, which mandate stage wise inspection during the entire manufacturing cycle. If any process or material doesn’t meet its QA program, then without change/ rectification the manufacture wouldn’t be allowed to move ahead. This is how undoubtedly complex and critical equipment and components are monitored by buyer’s/ regulator’s inspectors at vendors’ sites during every stage of manufacture. However, The St. Petersburg Times had reported in 2004: “St. Petersburg’s Izhorskiye Zavody on Thursday shipped a new nuclear reactor body that will be the first power unit of India’s Kudankulam nuclear power plant to the city’s sea port. Izhorskiye Zavody, which are part of United Machinery Plants (OMZ) holding, signed a contract with India for the construction of two nuclear reactor bodies for Kudankulam’s station in 2002. We were so sure of our partners that we started to produce the first reactor bodies four months before the official contract was signed,” said Yevgeny Sergeyev, general director of Izhorskiye Zavody, said at a ceremony sending off the reactor. Sergeyev said the reactor was completed six months before deadline“.  The obvious conclusion is that NPCIL/ AERB inspectors could not have been at the manufacturer’s premises to witness adherence to QA program at least during the first four months. 

Did today’s SC judgment factor these crucial findings into its judgment?
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