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Tsunami pushes up nuclear reactor

Chennai, March 9: The waves rose, so will the nuclear reactor.

The 500-mw prototype fast breeder reactor coming up at Kalpakkam, about 60 km from here, will be slightly taller than planned ' a modification prompted by the tsunami.

Water had surged into the reactor's foundation pit when the December 26 tsunami devastated coastal stretches of Tamil Nadu.

The huge foundation pit, close to the Madras Atomic Power Station, was filled with over six metres of seawater and chunks of silt and sludge, prompting the Atomic Energy Regulatory Board to take a fresh look at the entire plinth area and suggest modifications.

Baldev Raj, director of the Indira Gandhi Centre for Atomic Research that has designed the nuclear power plant to be built at a cost of Rs 3,492 crore, told a news conference today the salt water had partly 'infected' the concrete basement. So they would go in for an extra concrete tier at the bottom which would eventually raise the core height of the reactor by 1.2 meters over its initial design of 10 meters.

Prabhat Kumar, project director of Bhavaini, the company formed to execute the project, explained that 10 mm of the 'top layer' of the 'concreting work' at the bottom has been chipped off. The basement that had already come up to a height of 1.2 metres will now be used as a buffer and the overall height would correspondingly go up, increasing the reactor's height, Kumar said.

The scientists said the safety measures could raise the overall project cost to Rs 5 crore. Though work on the reactor has resumed after a delay of about two months, they said 'we hope to still complete the project in time by 2010'.

Raj said a high-level panel, including experts from the Structural Engineering Research Centre, Chennai, Indian Meteorological Department, Delhi, Central Water and Power Research Station, Pune, and the National Institute of Oceanography, Goa, deliberated on ways to protect the installation against all possible natural disasters.

The new height proposed for the reactor will give it a maximum level of 9.4 metres from the mean sea level at Kalpakkam, which the committee, he said, found to be a 'safe margin'. The maximum water level rise in Kalpakkam during the December 26 tsunami was 4.7 metres, the scientist added.

The panel also suggested 'additional features' for the atomic power station which will be carried out, Raj said, adding that another 3.5-metre-high concrete wall was being built near the reactor site to check future seawater intrusion into the foundation pit.

Among the long-term measures being taken up to protect the nuclear facilities and the Kalpakkam Township is the construction of a reinforced concrete peripheral security-cum-boundary wall. Work on the 4-km-long wall has already started, Raj said. Installation of a local area warning system in the coastal stretch and a new wireless communication system powered by solar energy are among the other safety measures being initiated, he added.

Raj said a memorial for tsunami victims would also be put up at Kalpakkam, which lost 37 people, including four employees of the atomic energy department.

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