The nuclear disaster looming at the Fukushima Daiichi plant in Japan in the wake of Friday's devastating earthquake and tsunami has sparked a serious debate over the safety of India’s nuclear reactors.
News of Fukushima have Indian government worried
As Japan scrambles to avert a nuclear meltdown at the Fukushima nuclear plant complex after it was damaged in last week’s earthquake and tsunami, Srikumar Banerjee, chairman of India’s Atomic Energy Commission is a worried man.
His concerns also come at a time when the opposition parties have been demanding that the government reconsider the environmental clearance given to a proposed 10,000 MW nuclear plant in Jaitapur, Maharashtra.
Indian Environment Minister Jairam Ramesh said India may impose additional safeguards
At a conference organised specially to address safety concerns over the plant, Banerjee said that a thorough review was on. He said that Indian plants are all designed to withstand seismic activity and also tsunamis, but added, "Our colleagues are working out all the details that both tsunami and earthquake can come together, how we would respond, how the plant would respond? Whether add-on safety features need to be put in. All that analysis is being done."
India has seven nuclear plants with 20 nuclear reactors which are operated by state-run Nuclear Power Corporation of India as the country doesn't let private sector companies operate nuclear plants.
Environment Minister Jairam Ramesh said India may impose additional safeguards for its nuclear power projects. "Based on the technical review...if additional safeguards are required as part of environmental clearance, we will certainly look at it."
Many of India's nuclear power plants are located near the coast and in seismically active zones
Unlike Japan's nuclear plants which are located in highly seismic areas - Fukushima is located in Zone 5 - most of India's nuclear plants are situated in the moderately seismic Zone 3.
Plants in seismic zones
So when an earthquake of 6.7 magnitude hit Gujarat in 2001, operations at the nuclear plant went on uninterrupted. When the 2004 tsunami battered the Tamil Nadu coast, the Kalpakkam nuclear power plant's grounds were flooded and the reactor went through an automatic shutdown process and did not operate for a few days.
18 of India's 20 reactors are indigenously built and use pressurized heavy water reactors (PHWRs) and only two - those at Tarapur - use boiling water reactors (BWRs), like the ones in Fukushima.
India is now planning on boosting safety standards
"Prepared for any situation"
Major General J K Bansal from the National Disaster Management Authority is confident that India has the ability to handle nuclear emergencies. He said in case any eventuality occurs, "then we are prepared to handle any situation." He added, "We have already issued national guidelines on handling radiological and nuclear emergencies. For safety pruposes, NDMA has already issued guidelines and ensured all our reactors are safe."
India plans to spend billions of dollars on importing reactors in the coming years and is unlikely to change its plans beyond re-evaluating and boosting safety standards.
Author: Murali Krishnan
Editor: Sarah Berning