Wednesday, August 24, 2011

India upgrades its nuclear reactors for tsunami, earthquake threats

Syed Akbar
Indian nuclear reactors will get a facility that automatically shuts them down in case of a devastating earthquake, as part of the ongoing upgrade of safety features that is being implemented after the nuclear disaster in Japan.
The other safety features include options for power sources for cooling the plant including harnessing solar power and use of nitrogen gas from liquid nitrogen tanks to control pressure. There will also be shore protection structures to protect nuclear power plants from tsunamis.
The Nuclear Power Corporation of India Limited (NPCIL) is reinforcing safety features of nuclear reactors during natural calamities like earthquakes and tsunamis. The timeframe for the upgradation is about one year.
This follows the recommendations of the task forces set up by the NPCIL. Though the interim reports were submitted in April, the final reports are yet to be readied. The reports were sought after the damage to the Fukushima reactors inJapan after the devastating earthquake and tsunami in March.
The NPCIL says the Indian scenario is different from that of Japan. The location of tsunamigenic faults in the Indian context and seismic map shows that there will not be simultaneous occurrence of earthquake and tsunami.
“The safety features of nuclear power plants in the country are designed for earthquake with a return period of 10,000 years. The effects of earthquake, cyclone, storm surge and tsunami have been considered while designing the plants. But in view of the task force recommendations, safety measures are being further upgraded,” said the NPCIL report on safety.
Officials have designed computer simulations to measure the height of sea waves if an earthquake of 9 magnitude strikes at the Makran or Sumatra faults. If an earthquake hits Makran, it may create a tsunami on the west coast. If it occurs in the Sumatra region — like the one in December 2006 —the east coast is vulnerable.
The nuclear power plants located on the coast are linked to the Indian National Centre for Ocean Information Services in Hyderabad for prompt tsunami alerts.
For instance, the Madras Atomic Power Plant located on the east coast has a tsunami alert system. Even if an earthquake of 9.2 magnitude in the Sumatra region triggers a tsunami, it will take at least three hours to reach the nuclear plant. With the Incois setting off an alert within a few seconds, officials will have sufficient time to attend to the emergency.

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