Kakrapara Atomic Power Station (KAPS), in the western city of
Surat, is India's well-groomed nuclear workhorse. Huge concrete
domes enclose its two reactors, which generate a surplus of power
for the country. And when it comes to controlling radiation leakage,
KAPS is "our best station," says S.P. Sukhatme, chairman of India's
Atomic Energy Regulatory Board (AERB).
That, it turns out, is bad news. KAPS may be India's prized
nuclear plant, but radiation emitted from its reactors is three
times as much as the international norm, says Mr. Sukhatme.
It's a shocking admission that puts the rest of the country's
nuclear-power plants in grave perspective. "The main implication is
that other nuclear-power plants are much worse than even Kakrapar,"
says Suren Gadekar, considered to be India's top antinuclear
Four months ago, world leaders fretted about the possibility of
two nuclear-weapons rivals, India and Pakistan, approaching the
brink of war. That problem apparently on hold, India's nuclear
scientists say the country could still face an equally devastating
nuclear catastrophe - without a shot being fired.
This time, the threat is not Pakistan or terrorists, but India's
power plants themselves. Some scientists say that the plants are so
poorly built and maintained, a Chernobyl-style disaster may be just
a matter of time.
"The fact that India's nuclear regulator acknowledges that
reactors in India are not operated to the standards of reactors in
the US and Europe is not much of a surprise," says Christopher
Sherry, research director of the Safe Energy Communication Council
in Washington. "But it is very disturbing."
India tested its first nuclear device in May 1974. In 1998, the
country successfully conducted five underground nuclear tests,
heralding its entry into ga select group of countries capable of
waging nuclear war.
Today, the country has 14 nuclear power reactors including two at
KAPS. Most are modeled after a design first built in Shippingport,
Penn. in 1957, and considered by experts to be the most cost-
effective way to produce electricity through nuclear energy.
However only three of those nuclear reactors fall under
International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) standards. The rest -
which were built with local technology - are accountable only to
national standards set by the AERB.
This February, Sukhatme asked the Nuclear Power Corporation of
India Ltd - a government-owned manufacturer of nuclear plants - to
plug leakage of water contaminated with tritium, a highly
radioactive substance, from reactors. …