The first nuclear reactor of the Rs 17,000 crore country's 21st nuclear power plant in Kudankulam, which attained criticality on Saturday night, is functioning smoothly on Sunday and all the parametres are normal, a top official said.
"At 2305 hrs (last night), the first nuclear reactor attained criticality(also known as atomic chain reaction) and all the parametres are normal. Sustained nuclear chain reaction has been achieved. Everything is normal," R S Sundar, site director of the Kudankulam Nuclear Power Plant (KNPP) told PTI.
Overcoming a series of protests and legal hurdles that delayed the commissioning of the plant, the 1000 mw pressurised water Reactor (PWE) finally attained criticality, prompting the nuclear establishment to rejoice the "red letter day."
The Boron Dilution process, witnessed by the top guns of Indian and Russian nuclear establishments, signalled the end of an agonising wait for scientists who could finally heave a sigh of relief as much as the people of the state affected by a near 4000 mw demand-supply gap.
"Great achievement... It is a historic moment every Indian (has) to be proud of... A red-letter day indeed," said J Daniel Chellappa, Senior Scientist at Bhabha Atomic Research Centre (BARC), and Technical Coordinator, Central Expert Group on KKNPP.
The criticality milestone was achieved at 11.05 PM after the "Boron dilution process" allowed neutron concentration to go up and start nuclear fission, generating heat.
Experts from Nuclear Power Corporation of India Limited, Russian Kursatov Institute of Atomic energy, and Atomic Energy Regulatory Board observers monitored the process.
The reactor will start its initial production of 400 MW electricity within 20 days, Union Minister V Narayanasamy said.
"Yesterday, they started the criticality. Now the reaction of nuclear in the plant has started for the purpose of development of electricity. The production of electricity will be started in next 20 days," Narayanasamy told PTI over phone from his constituency Puducherry.
M Kashinath Balaji, top official of NPCIL, said, "We are very joyous when the reactor became critical at 2305 hrs on Saturday night.
He said it was almost a "copybook" type of criticality and the reactor "behaved perfectly well".
"Its absolutely safe. Its like a baby born. The bay is going to grow into a big child and as an adult," he said.
NPCIL said that the next step following the crticiality will be to increase the reactor power in stages to generate 1000 mw electricity as per the laid down procedures and regulatory clearances.
Initially, the plant will be synchronised to the southern grid with about 400 mw power within the expected period of criticality.
Subsequently, power will be increased in a step-wise manner to 50 percent, 75 percent, 90 percent and full power after obtaining necessary regulatory clearances.
Reiterating that it was a safe structure, NPCIL said that a combination of safety features provides enhanced safety, making it "one of the safest in the world."
It said KKNPP-1 is the first PWR belogning to Light Water Reactor category and 'harbinger' of the large-size LWR technology in India, and at 1000 mw it was the 'largest single power generation' unit in the country.
"KKNPP-1 is the twenty-first nuclear power reactor in the country. India stands sixth in the world based on the number Atomic Energy Commission Chairman S K Sinha stated that the process of criticality was started at 11:45 PM on Thursday, when the control rods were removed to allow boron
The first unit will add 1000 MW to the southern grid and increase the contribution from nuclear power to 5,780 MW.
While the locals led by SP Uthayakumar of the People's Movement Against Nuclear Energy (PMANE) have resorted to a series of protests delaying the project, the government had placed its bet to address the power shortage atleast to some extent.
The state is likely to get around 463 mw out of the 1000 mw the first unit will produce, even as Chief Minister J Jayalalithaa has pitched for the entire share citing the acute power crisis, a legacy she has often described as left behind by her party's main rival, the DMK.
The locals, who intensified their protests after the Fukushima nuclear plant tragedy in 2011, have vowed to continue with their agitations even as the Supreme Court had given the go ahead to the project in a case filed by a city-based activist.
The PMANE has announced a black flag demonstration on Monday in Kudankulam.
The apex court had dismissed G Sundarrajan's petition in May but issued a series of directions to NPCIL, AERB, Union Ministry of Environment and Forests and the state government which it said should be followed.
Union Minister Narayanasamy, initally sent as an emissary by the Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to meet the protestors, said that the near 18 month struggle for the operationalisation of the atomic power plant, which even figured in Singh's discussions with Russian President Vladimir Putin recently, had ended.
Steps to commission the 1000 MW second unit would be taken soon, he added.