72 hours and counting: Greenpeace calls for an immediate investigation into India’s aging heavy water reactors post Kakrapar accident

Press release - March 15, 2016
Mumbai, 15 March 2016: Following a serious accident at the Kakrapar Atomic Power Station in Gujarat on March 11, Greenpeace India has called for an immediate investigation by independent experts, of all aging pressurised heavy water reactors (PWHR) in the country. The demand for investigation comes as the Indian nuclear regulator failed to identify the leak within 72 hours of the accident. [1]

“The Kakrapar accident was likely caused by degrading components and we’re concerned similar aging effects could cause accidents at other aging heavy water reactors.  We need independent expert investigation into the Kakrapar accident and the immediate inspection of all other aging heavy water reactors,” said Hozefa Merchant, Greenpeace Campaigner.  

On Friday, the fifth anniversary of the Fukushima disaster, a major leak from the reactor’s cooling system was detected and an emergency was declared at Unit 1 of the Kakrapar Atomic Power Station.  Although the reactor was shut down, the Atomic Energy Regulatory Board (AERB) has stated that the leak is significant enough to be considered a level 1 accident on the International Nuclear Event Scale (INES) [1].  

The Kakrapar unit 1, a pressurised heavy water reactor based on CANDU (CANada Deuterium Uranium) design, is over twenty years old. There are another seven similar reactors in India of the same design that are over 20 years old. Any mishap in these reactors could endanger the lives of over 4 million people living around a 30 km-radius around these eight reactors [2].

The risk of accidents increases with age in CANDU reactors, with the inevitable degradation of hundreds of pipes that hold the fuel and transport heavy water. Due to increasing accident risks, CANDU reactors typically need to be shut down and “completely retubed” after about 25 years of operation in order to continue operating safely.

In a statement on the Kakrapar accident released yesterday [1], the AERB said that only the reactor’s “pressure tubes”, which hold the fuel bundles, were replaced in 2011, but that it is unclear whether all safety-sensitive aging components were replaced. “Neither Kakrapar’s operator, nor the regulator, have disclosed exactly what components or tubing failed and caused the leak. This is why an investigation into the causes of the Kakrapar accident and the condition of India’s other aging reactors is urgently needed,” says Merchant.

“The emergency at Kakrapar reminds us that all of India’s heavy water reactors are aging and more prone to accidents. The impacts of aging are not entirely well understood, so it is vital to adopt a precautionary approach to protect public safety,” added Shawn-Patrick Stensil, a Greenpeace Canada campaigner with expert understanding of the Canadian CANDU reactor design. “All of the heavy water reactors over twenty years of age should be immediately inspected so we can ensure what happened at Kakrapar doesn’t happen at another station.  All inspection results should be made public and subject to independent review,” he added.

Eight of the current 18 PHWRs in India are of the CANDU design, and are over the age of 20 years. The four of the oldest reactors are located in Rawatbhata in Rajasthan and Chennai in Tamil Nadu. The total population from these eight sites that live within the 30km radius is over 4.16 million people. The population within the 30km radius around Kakrapar is close to a million people. (3)  

Notes to Editors:

1-  AERB statemenst: http://www.aerb.gov.in/AERBPortal/pages/English/prsrel/p11032016.pdf

http://www.aerb.gov.in/AERBPortal/pages/English/t/incidentkaps/kapsincidentupdate1.pdf

2- Reactor information gathered from NPCIL website

3- Population gathered from census 2011

4- Data on re-tubing compiled from AERB’s annual reports

5- Table: Current pressurised heavy water reactors (PHWRs) and Population placed at risk from each

NAME

START DATE

REACTOR TYPE & CAPACITY

AGE

Last retubed (EMCCR)*

POPULATION WITHIN 30KM RADIUS**

KAPS 1

May 6, 1993

PHWR - 220mw

22

2008- 11

Kakrapar, Gujarat

Population: 960,000

KAPS 2

Sep 1, 1995

PHWR - 220mw

20

? - unknown

RAPS 1

Dec 16, 1973

PHWR - 100mw

42

2003

Rawatbhata, Rajasthan

Population: 460,000

RAPS 2

April 1, 1981

PHWR - 200mw

35

2007

MAPS 1

Jan 27, 1984

PHWR - 220mw

32

2003-06

Chennai, Tamil Nadu

Population: 500,000

MAPS 2

March 21, 1986

PHWR - 220mw

29

2002-04

NAPS 1

Jan 1, 1991

PHWR - 220mw

25

2005-08

Narora, Uttar Pradesh

Population: 2,240,000

NAPS 2

July 1, 1992

PHWR - 220mw

24

2007-10

*EMCCR: En Masse Coolant Channel Replacement, **Based on census 2011

Contact for further information:

Anindita Datta Choudhury, , +91 9871515804

Hozefa Merchant, , +91 9560706856

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