“We are sitting on the brink of disaster with Tarapur,” says Former Chairman of Atomic Energy Regulatory Board.

A Gopalakrishnan in conversation with Prabir Purkayastha, Newsclick (Part 1)

Published on Newsclick YouTube Channel on 18 February 2013. 17 mins 40s

English transcript available below. 2456 words. Download the transcript in .doc format.

PP: Hello and welcome to Newsclick. Today we have with us Dr. A Gopalakrishnan, Former Chairman of the Atomic Energy Regulatory Board. We’ll discuss the nuclear energy programme in India and what’s happening to nuclear energy in the world.

Gopal, Jaitapur issue has again become hot because the President of France Hollande is to be in India and also because EPRs (European Pressurized Reactors) seem to have run into further trouble. (Ref: France, India committed to Jaitapur project, WNN)

What do you think is the issue with respect to the EPRs? Why is it suddenly that the cost of EPRs has gone up by almost 30% and Flamanville now is going to cost a whopping 8.3 billion euros, if the figure that EDF (Électricité de France) is saying are correct? (Ref: EDF raises French EPR cost to over $11 billion, Reuters)

AG: The EPRs, which are the reactors, which are meant for Jaitapur, they’re under sharp focus even in Europe, everywhere. Especially after the Fukushima accident, because as you know, the European Union conducted a series of stress tests among the European countries to look at what modifications need to be done if any to the European nuclear reactors. So, in doing this, France, of course, took on the task of looking after their reactors and so also did Finland.

And the reason I mention Finland is, the EPRs today are in three places. There is the first reactor which was started, the EPR couldn’t be sold in France initially, so they went and convinced the Finnish people and they bought one reactor, which is under construction since 2008 and it was promised to be completed way earlier. I mean it was, in four years time, but it never took place. And because it has already run in to various problems in its.. earlier stages, the Finnish people were very particular that they should reexamine the EPR design, which they have. And at the same time, the French nuclear regulator, who is one of the strictest in the world, I mean, it is very impartial and competent regulatory agency…

PP: It reports directly to the President of France.

AG: Yes and they have a transparency law, a nuclear transparency law under which the public have to be kept informed about it. Basically, quite a model that if half of that can be followed in India we’ll be much better off. In any case, so, they have also done the same thing and they have come up with various things in the system, which they think can be strengthened. Mainly because, now we are talking about beyond design-basis accidents. Earlier, you know, it was really designed only to full care of the design-basis accidents, nothing beyond design-basis, which means this extraordinarily high earthquakes, floods, etc. Now it has been made mandatory that those things also, you should show that under those circumstances also public safety will be ensured.

So, I think, the French after a detailed study, in about six or nine months they completed it, and they have made it mandatory that certain corrections will have to be made, and its an extensive list. It would require hardware changes. It also asks for, some substantial changes are being made that ultimately the entire safety analysis report will have to be redone so that the Integrated System Safety can be studied and also a probabilistic safety analysis will also have to be repeated.

So, it would imply even for the Flamanville reactor, which is the French reactor, this will imply a substantial increase in cost plus also increase in schedule, it will also get extended. And the Finnish having seen this they certainly don’t want to be one step behind the French and they wanted all those corrections also to be made in the Finnish reactor, EPR reactor. But in addition the Finnish inspections and studies also pointed to some new further changes that they wanted, which in turn the French also accepted. Therefore, what the Finland people thought of is also getting incorporated in the French reactor there. Ultimately, the EPR and Areva is getting overload with all the changes which they have to do if they want to sell these reactors anywhere in Europe. And this going to add about 25 to 30% more cost. The EPR was one of the costliest reactors even before all of this. And now, as you know, it has all come down to about 36 crores, in our terms, 36 crores per megawatt.

PP: That’s the interesting part. When it started it was 3 billion euros for Flamanville, 3.3 billion euros for the Finnish reactor, now they are all talking about 7 to 8 billion. Électricité de France, in fact, said it’s going to be 8.3 billion euros, which calculated in Indian terms, comes to 36 crore per megawatt.

Now, coming to one particular point that you had mentioned about the stress tests, which the European regulators did for the European existing nuclear reactors. India seems to have done a stress test within a month and declared that all the reactors are safe and there’s nothing to be done, including the Tarapur reactor, which as we know has the same problem as the Fukushima design had. In fact, there is a problem over the power system, which is not backed up, and so on. And yet, in the report of Tarapur it says yes back-up power systems have to be provided, they’ve given them two years and in this meanwhile in these two years Tarapur reactors are still supposed to run. How do you look at that?

AG: I think we are sitting on the brink of disaster with Tarapur. In 1995, when I visited United States as the Atomic Energy Regulatory Board, I had an opportunity to talk to the Department of Energy officials. I had gone on a sort of a sensitive mission trying to get some spare parts, some essential spare parts for the Tarapur reactor. Now, it can be said. That time I was sent with a list of spare parts written, typed up in a plain sheet of paper, with no signature, with no letterhead of the Department of Atomic Energy. And I was supposed to go discuss and tell them, this has come from Department of Atomic Energy and could you sell us these parts. And they were all for the Tarapur reactor.

So, I, Hazel O’Leary, was the Secretary of Energy at that time, she had come before that to India. So, I had also met her at that time. She said, you’re welcome. Come to Washington. We’ll see. So, I took this along with various other things which we wanted to discuss, but I gave this paper to her and she was sympathetic, because she understood the public safety aspect of it; that is if this reactor melts down it’s also a bad name for the United States.

Mind you, the days when I was doing all this were pre-2008 and post-1990. I mean not the 1998’sbut we were still under sanctions, U.S. sanctions. To make a long story short, she took this list and there’s a White House group which has to clear such requests first, and that included their National Security Advisor, and others. And they.. Next day, she called me up and said, Please come, I want to talk you. I went there and she said, I’m very sorry the White House group is totally against it. So, I was told to tell you to inform the Government of India that if they feel that strongly about the safety of Tarapur, it will be best if they shut down those reactors and not operate them.

This is a very considered opinion that these reactors have to be shut down. They are one of the oldest reactors. We’ve talked to the General Electric people and they also advised that this should be done. Then they gave me couple of the old-timers from General Electric who were in Washington D. C., put me in touch with them and told me a story. And some of them were involved with the Tarapur construction at that time. They said, look we ourselves don’t even have the  drawings of any kind of that and we’re on telephone giving instructions to Tarapur people to make this change and that change, and they were cutting and re-welding all that inside that reactor, what is left there and the state of health we are not aware. And it will be good if those, I’m telling it as from a technical person to technical person, it will best if those reactors are shut down. And this was the year 1996.

And today, we are sitting here about what…

Both simultaneously: seventeen years down the line.

AG: And of course in between the Nuclear Power Corporation has gone ahead and done some revamping and all that they have said they have done. And we’re still running them. These reactors are an even older version than the Fukushima reactors, which went into trouble. And many things, I mean the containment is shared by two reactors share the same containment building. And various things in there the emergency core-cooling system are not the ideal ones, even today…  This is why when India recently decided to get, invite the IAEA (International Atomic Energy Agency) team to review one of our reactors, one of our reactor plants, I thought that they would at least ask Tarapur to be reviewed, because you know it would have been the most relevant reactor to select. If you want an independent honest opinion from a multinational group, and that’s just not Americans. It’s not that all of them are going to gang up and say shut down this reactor, unless there is technically good reasons.

So, anyway, this reactor was not given. And what we put before the IAEA team was, what I would consider some of the best, two of the best reactors of our current generation PHWR (Pressurised Heavy Water Reactor), obviously we didn’t get much of a criticism, because those reactors are reasonably okay and new. We had placed Tarapur to for such a study, I’m sure in fourteen days of their inspection they would have come out and given us a list of hundred and fifty things which need to be changed. Much more likely that they would have said it is best that you shut down.

PP: So, Tarapur is a ticking bomb.

AG: Tarapur is.

PP: Tarapur Unit 1 and 2 are ticking bombs

AG: And I think in the same way among the projects, which say that we are concentrating on the safety of a lot of these imported plants, etc., but the similar ticking bomb among the projects is the Fast Breeder Reactor which we are building very quietly down there [in Kalpakkam], knowing very little about it. This is a big scale of act from a 40 megawatt thermal to 100 megawatt electric fast breeder, which is about a step of 40 increase, a factor of 40 and the two don’t look alike at all.

Fast Breeder technology, you know, I myself worked for three years on a fast breeder on the operating side. I can tell you that it’s not a benign technology at all. It is not a forgiving technology. If something goes wrong, it will boom the whole countryside will go.

So, I can only keep my fingers crossed. I wish much more transparency comes out in these programmes. Both Tarapur and here. And you know, why, what are we risking all this for? In Tarapur with all the de-rating and all that today, ultimately there are 160-megawatt per reactor we are getting. So, two reactors put together we are getting we have about 320-megawatt electricity. You can just as well set up a coal based plant or something else. If Tarapur is not that close to major cities, you could very well set up that and decommission this, or use that site or the neighbouring site, already there are two other PHWRs there which are producing 1000 megawatt altogether.

So, I think we are doing a lot of foolish things and pushing our luck far beyond. And this going for the Jaitapurville is also a similar situation of pushing our luck beyond.

PP: Jaitapur brings me to this issue of cost, of course, because apart from the safety issues, there is a issue of cost. And we already have in Maharashtra they show Enron, where we went in again for a foolish project where the cost of electricity today from Dabhol is so high that it virtually runs, it doesn’t run at all, or if it runs, it runs at one-sixth of its capacity. So, if we have 36 crore per megawatt, the electricity cost is going to be Rs. 12 to Rs. 14 a unit, and that cost is really not viable. So, why is Government of India really pushing for such an unviable nuclear path? That doesn’t seem to be clear.

AG: It’s a very clear thing, now that I look back. Now, I have been studying the Indo-US Nuclear Deal threadbare from day one. The whole thing has its origin in deception, in a way. I think the Prime Minister did not start this entire nuclear power programme, imported reactor programme, was not set up with power enhancement of electric power in the country but basically it was… As Kakodkar himself, as previous Chairman of the Atomic Energy Commission, accepted in one of his interviews with a Marathi newspaper it was really a gift to three or four nations, which helped us in getting this energy clearance, Nuclear Supply Group clearance for the deal. And I’ll tell you that in 2005 July the Prime Minister went to America, came back with this agreement for out of the nuclear pariah status. And interestingly in 2006 the, Montek Singh sitting as the Deputy Chairman of the Planning Commission creates a Integrated Energy Policy (IEP), in 2006. And in there, it is built in that 63,000 megawatt of nuclear power will set up by 2032. That’s the date, 2032. It is part of 63,000 megawatt of nuclear, if you analyze you find that in a you’d find that in DAE’s earlier books you’ll find that 23,000, which was their projection of the indigenous programmes’ capability by 2032. So it is clearly a 40 added to the 23 that was already in the books. And lo and behold, up to 2008 when the deal was signed, Kakodkar announced that we need a surge by introducing 40 gigawatt of imported light water reactors. Then only we can really move forward to something like 600 gigawatts, that is 600,000 megawatts of nuclear by 2050. And that would be at that point about 50% of the energy.

Grand over projection, but nevertheless to achieve that he said it was imperative that 48,000 megawatt should be imported, light water reactors should be imported, with 20 years. Now, that is how the case for a nuclear import is built in… and then you go back in history and even Kakodkar said this in 2008. And 2006 we have letters written by the Foreign Secretary to the American State Department promising that we will buy at least 10,000 megawatt of US reactors from them.

PP: Gopal, let’s take this out from India for the moment, let’s look at what’s happening to the programme elsewhere . We’ll do that in the next part of this discussion. So, keep watching Newsclick and the next part of the discussion for what’s happening to the nuclear programme in the world.

***

This English transcript was done by volunteers in Chai Kadai. Feel free to share, copy, distribute and translate this transcript under this Creative Commons license. Please attribute the video interview to A Gopalakrishnan and Newsclick.

Chai Kadai. (chaikadai.wordpress.com | chaikadai@gmail.com)

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One thought on ““We are sitting on the brink of disaster with Tarapur,” says Former Chairman of Atomic Energy Regulatory Board.

  1. The Reality at Jaitapur, Mr. Hollande by Anuj Wankhede and Cressida Morley | Impressions

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