The strike in Neyveli Lignite plant is still going on causing havoc in the power production and distribution in Tamil Nadu. Fortunately, the Kudankulam Nuclear Power Plant has gone critical and is likely to generate power and supply to the Southern grid, but starting with supplies to Tamil Nadu
It has taken quarter of a century to fulfil the dream of former Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi when he signed an agreement with President Mikhail Gorbachev of USSR to set up a nuclear power plant at Kudankulam in Tamil Nadu, where Soviet Union was to supply the necessary reactor and the fuel to run the plant.
With the collapse of the Soviet Union, the Project got derailed. Around this time, India had also stood its ground in refusing to sign the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT). Pressure from the US and sanctions on India after the Pokhran tests only delayed this project further.
However, inspite of the USSR collapse, Russia stood by India and finally in 2001 it signed a memorandum of understanding (MoU) to set up the 2000 MW Kudankulam Nuclear Project. A few months later, the work began.
And it has taken a little more than a decade to complete the project when agitation started as a sequel to the Fukushima disaster in Japan, with the public being supported by various parties.
Over the next two months, the first of two units of 1000 MW each will start pumping electricity into the Southern Grid. As the home state for the nuclear plant, Tamil Nadu will get 460 MW of power, though there is demand that the entire power generated be given to that state. When the nuclear power plant gets fully operational, three other southern sisters will get the balance power. For the time being, it is conservatively estimated that Kudankulam will be able to attain a 90% capacity, and eventually, Tamil Nadu's share will be 960 MW of power.
Once the power flows into the system, it is expected that this agitation will also die down.
All the southern states have experienced power shortages on a regular basis, with several hours of load-shedding being the norm of the day. Power companies have had to incur substantial loss when they buy power from the open market. As the tariff for the consumer is fixed, they do not have much choice in the past. However, with the commencement of power supply from Kudankulam, it is expected that the power tariff will come down to around Rs3 per kWhr as against more than Rs5 at present.
The Kudankulam plant went critical last week, and the power flow is expected by the end of this month. Commercial production is expected to start in about 45 days as this much time is required to ensure that all the equipments are functioning in the designed and expected manner.
Press reports indicate that work on Unit-I has been satisfactory so far based on the various tests carried out. In the meantime, work on Unit-II is also on schedule where dummy fuel loading is going on at the moment. If the work continues smoothly, like the first Unit, it is expected that the 2nd Unit will also be commissioned over the next six-eight months.
It is expected that official inauguration of the Kudankulam project may be in the middle of August to coincide with the Independence Day, though no details have been officially announced.
It may be borne in mind that the Southern Grid is not linked to the National Power grid so far, but which has been planned for the next year. Kudankulam will cover the void until this happens.
(AK Ramdas has worked with the Engineering Export Promotion Council of the ministry of commerce and was associated with various committees of the Council. His international career took him to places like Beirut, Kuwait and Dubai at a time when these were small trading outposts; and later to the US.)