Scientists probing how 2 nuclear reactors contracted ‘small pox’
Mumbai: In a highly guarded Indian nuclear reactor complex, toughened radiation resistant pipes have contracted ‘small pox’. As a consequence, literally in a plot similar to a Bollywood thriller Indian scientists are burning the midnight oil to unravel the mysterious nuclear leak at the Kakrapar Nuclear Power Plant in Gujarat.
This 21st century atomic pot boiler is actually unfolding through the hard work of scientists, who actually share a wall with the famous property where renowned Bollywood film star Raj Kapoor used to live. Here, they are working over-time to find out the real cause of the cryptic leaks at twin reactors in southern Gujarat.
To avoid any panic and any further accidents, the Indian nuclear watchdog—the Atomic Energy Regulatory Board (AERB)—has shut down the affected plants till the cause has been found. Nuclear experts say pipes, made from a rare alloy, have contracted what seems like ‘small pox’ and this contagion has spread all over the critical tubes in two Indian Pressurised Heavy Water Reactors (PHWR) at Kakrapar in Gujarat.
And, to make the matters worse, after more than a year into the investigation, the teams of scientists really do not understand what has gone wrong. It was on the morning of 11 March 2016, and as fate would have it exactly five years after the Fukushima reactors in Japan started exploding, unit number 1 of the 220-MW PHWR at Kakrapar developed a heavy water leak and had to be shut down in an emergency.
The indigenously built nuclear plant suffered a heavy water leak in its primary coolant channel and a plant emergency was declared at the site. No worker was exposed and no radiation leaked outside the plant, confirmed India’s department of atomic energy. India’s nuclear operator, Nuclear Power Corporation of India Limited (NPCIL) said “reactor had shut down safely” and “no radiation leaked out”. It confirmed that safety systems had functioned normally.
The atomic thriller really begins when experts are trying to find out why a leak recognition system failed, in the first place it should have given an alarm. “There is a leak detection system in place in all PHWRs, but in this case it failed to detect the leak on 11 March 2016,” confirms AERB chairman S A Bhardwaj.
AERB speculates that the crack developed so rapidly that the electronic leak detection system just did not had the time to react. Subsequent investigations revealed that the leak detection system was fully functioning and the operator had “NOT shut it down” to cut costs.
Nothing in the core of a nuclear reactor can be done in a jiffy and several weeks after the first leak, initial probe using a specially designed tool revealed that four big cracks had formed on a coolant tube which led to the massive leak. PTI