03 May 2011

DOSE's Critique of Dr.L.V.Krishnan's Post Tsunami Interview

Doctors for Safer Environment (DOSE) a Coimbatore-based non-governmental organisation has posted a critique of Dr. L.V. Krishnan's interview.

Monday, January 31, 2005
No Tsunami Effect on Kalpakkam Nuclear Complex: Should it be a cause for national pride?

7th January, 2005, the web news portal www.rediff.com had carried its senior editor Sheela Bhat’s interview with Dr L V Krishnan, the former director, safety research and health physics at the Indira Gandhi Centre for Atomic Research (IGCAR) at Kalpakkam, on the issues related to Kalpakkam nuclear complex and the December 26 Tsunami in its website. The introduction part of the interview states that the event of Kalpakkam reactors escaping the wrath of the ‘Big Wave’ is a cause of pride for India, as these reactors had been built solely by indigenous efforts.

That the Nuclear Complex had escaped without the tsunami has certainly made everyone in India and abroad a lot relieved. However, should it be celebrated as a cause of national pride? This is the point that we need to explore and reflect over in depth.

Doctors for Safer Environment (DOSE) has found many of the views expressed by Dr.Krishnan in the interview as scientifically wrong and baseless. Also, DOSE has been saddened by Ms.Bhat’s acceptance of the views of Dr L V Krishnan’s replies lock, stock and barrel. Being the senior editor of a popular web news portal, and at a very crucial time, it was expected that Ms.Bhat should have done a thorough homework before conducting that important interview. The following pages carry DOSE’s point by point critique of Dr.Krishnan’s replies and their implications.

DOSE expresses its hearty thanks to Ramesh Gopalakrishnan, London, for his suggestions comments and inputs in this critique.

Sheela Bhat: Was a tsunami taken into consideration when the Kalpakkam nuclear power reactors were being built?

Dr Krishnan: No, tsunami was not taken into consideration. Nowhere in India people had thought a tsunami could strike the Indian coasts. But we had taken into account the worst cyclonic storm surges. Before a  cyclone hits, a storm surge comes. We had provided for the worst cyclone that could hit the coast looking at historical statistics.The maximum water level that could be expected if the cyclone coincided with highest of high tides was estimated at 6 metres or so. The Kalpakkam plant site is built to withstand that. The construction of Kalpakkam began in about 1968 but it was completed in 1983 because around 1974 outside help was discontinued and we found that we will have to build the plant indigenously and that took some time.The first unit of Kalpakkam was commissioned in 1983 and the second was commissioned in 1984. Since then, it is functioning extremely well.The tsunami storm surge that we saw on that day was not much more than that, in fact it (intensity of tsunami storm surge) was less than that!

Doctors for Safer Environment (DOSE):
Dr Krishnan admits that tsunami was not considered as a determining criterion for the design of MAPS reactors. But what about the most recent 500 MW Prototype Fast Breeder Reactor (PFBR) which is under
construction? Does its design include tsunami as a determining criterion?

The Kalpakkam nuclear complex is not just about two MAPS reactors and it accommodates a number of other nuclear installations about which Ms Bhat has failed to put the right questions to Dr Krishnan. Apart from the MAPS I & II and PFBR, the following are the reactors and installations:

The 12.5 MW Fast Breeder Test Reactor (FBTR) which was commissioned in 1985; The KAMINI Test Reactor which was commissioned in 1996; The Kalpakkam Atomic Reprocessing Plant (KARP), for which the construction commenced in 1985. The plant was commissioned in 1997. It can reprocess 125 tons of spent fuel from the DAE’s pressurized heavy water reactors including MAPS-1 and 2. According to international figures available, one ton of spent fuel will yield 10 kg of plutonium. The KARP produces
3 kg plutonium per ton of spent fuel available from pressurized heavy water reactors;
The Fast Reactor Fuel Reprocessing Plant (FRFRP) which has a capacity to reprocess 500 kg of Fast Breeder Spent Fuel;
The Central Waste Management Facility (CWMF) located at Kokkilamedu which possesses concrete trenches to store intermediate and high level radioactive wastes;
The Advanced Technology Vehicle (ATV) Testing Facility (Nuclear Submarine Project);
The Tritium Extraction Plant and
The Sea Water Desalination Plant.

Whom does Dr.Krishnan call as ‘people’? Way back in 1999, Tad S Murty and Arun Bapat have published their paper(1). Bapat, a Pune-based seismologist, is known to DAE and has consulted him on the issue of
tsunami risk for the Kudankulam reactor site in late 1980s. Tad S Murty is an expatriate Indian, now at J B Baird Company, Canada.

Construction of the MAPS-1 reactor commenced way back in the late 1960s and of MAPS-2 in the seventies. Even if the Department of Atomic Energy (DAE) had then not considered the 1881, 1883, and the 1941 tsunamis that have hit the east coast of India, it should have considered them at least in the year 2001. It was only in this year that MECON, Ranchi, had released its Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) for the PFBR.(2)

If Ms Bhat had bothered to go through the MECON report, she would have been surprised to find that it contained no reference to any tsunami at all. Nor did the report refer to the above crucial 1999 paper by Murty and Bapat. If this is the case, how could one have expected the DAE or MECON to consider or analyse the 2003 paper by Choi et. al. on the Krakatau tsunami of 1883?
(3) Tsunami experts around the
world have time and again referred to the 1883 event. Even a separate book has been published on it and a host of animations are also available on it over the net. Hence, Dr Krishnan’s statement “Nowhere in India people had thought a tsunami could strike the Indian coasts” is nothing but a botched-up attempt to hide the DAE’s scientific negligence.

Dr Krishnan: “But we had taken into account the worst cyclonic storm surges….We had provided for the worst cyclone that could hit the coast looking at historical statistics. The maximum water level that could be expected if the cyclone coincided with highest of high tides was estimated at 6 metres or so. The Kalpakkam
plant site is built to withstand that.”

1. How does one take into account the worst type of storm surges while designing reactors and other nuclear installations? Historical storm surge data is one important factor that determines the height at which these installations should be located. A thorough knowledge of the bathymetry of the sea nearby, topography and morphology of the coastal stretch is also mandatory as these factors have the capacity to influence the storm surge at the micro level. It should also be confirmed whether the coast is an erosional or a prograding one. If it
is concluded that this is an erosional coast, then the extent of erosion occurring here should be calculated and this data should be incorporated in locating the reactor’s site. Apart from these, one will require wave and tide data for the area during normal periods.
The 1964 December 23 cyclone that hit the Pamban Bridge (of Rameshwaram) and demolished it had generated a storm surge of 6 meters; but oceanographic experts are warning us that we might have to face still
severe storm surges as the northern Indian Ocean is becoming more and warmer.
(4) Is a 12 meter storm surge possible in the Kalpakkam coastal stretch? Say, is an inundation of 100 km possible? For instance, the
October 1737 tidal wave that hit the Hooghly estuary did exactly that.
(5) Can we state that Hooghly is very far-off Kalpakkam, and so, this
historical fact should not be considered as a design basis event? To
arrive at that statement, one should answer, why exactly such a
scenario cannot occur here at Kalpakkam site - is that not so? Did the
MAPS designers consider that question at all? What was the answer that
they had arrived at? Ms Bhat should have asked Dr Krishnan how the DAE
had tackled this question. Even if she had not been aware of the 1737
tidal wave, she would certainly have known about recent events
including the 1977 wave which hit Divi in Andhra Pradesh or the 1999
cyclone which wrecked havoc in Orissa.
2. The EIA done for PFBR by
MECON considers the Kalpakkam coast as a prograding one. The IGCAR,
which is responsible for the PFBR design, has accepted this statement
without any critical comment. All the experts in the field of coastal
geomorphology, who have worked in this area, on the other hand,
consider it as an erosional coast. (6) The effect of a storm surge of 6
meters in a prograding coast will not be similar to the one that hits
an erosional coast of the same elevation. While flooding will be the
major problem that a prograding coast has to face, excessive erosion by
the storm surge itself will be the additional consequence in an
erosional coast.
3. In fact, continuous historical statistics of
cyclones for the east coast of India is available only from the year
1891. But much had happened to places near Kalpakkam before this time.
The two most important places demolished by the sea were Poompuhar and
Mamallapuram (Mahabalipuram). Mamallapuram is located 8 km north and
Poompuhar (Kaveripoompattinam) is located 140 km south of Kalpakkam.
the DAE consider the reasons for the historical fate of these two
important ports used by ancient coastal communities, while designing
its Kalpakkam reactors? Ms Bhat could have put this question to Dr
Krishnan. To our knowledge, no DAE expert has published any scientific
paper on this issue. The MECON’s EIA, the first-ever public document on
an Indian reactor site, never mentions the issue.
4. What are the lessons from these historical destructions?
of the Mamallapuram coast has been undertaken by many research groups.
Mohapatra and Hariprasad’s 1999 study is one important work among them.
(7) Apart from their work in the Mamallapuram area, they have found out
that the longshore currents in the Kalpakkam coast are causing an
erosion of around 55 cm per year. (The DOSE’s own study in the year
2001 suggests that Oyyalikuppam and CISF barracks area sea shore were
having a still higher erosional value).
With this, an immediate
projection can be made that the nuclear complex that lies east of the
road to Chennai (located within 500 meters from the sea) will be inside
the sea in the next 1,000 years. This would be valid if the next 1,000
years did not witness any surges or tsunamis. However, if they do
occur, the Kalpakkam nuclear complex would be submerged well within
that period. So, in that case, the reactors would be rendered into
submerged sarcophaguses and one will have to deal with their effects on
the ocean and coastal environment. With the IGCAR and DAE pursuing
their delusive belief that the Kalpakkam coast is a prograding one, how
can they ever be expected to wake up to such a bewildering possibility!
1997 paper by Sundaresh et. al. on Poompuhar archeology (8) tabulates
the possible reasons for the submergence of the Poompuhar port,
possibly between 8th and 10th centuries AD. This event is clearly
described in Chapters 25:199-208, 28:80, 29:35 of the Tamil poetical
work Manimekalai.

These authors have noted that while there
are abundant evidences of erosion exists for Poompuhar and Tranquebar
for the past 2000 years, erosion has dramatically increased over the
last 100 years. They have identified five issues that are responsible
for the current increase in erosion in this stretch:
a. Increased
number of dams constructed across Cauvery has caused a dramatic
decrease in the quantity of sand available for deposition in the coast;
b. Increased activity of sand mining in the river augments the above issue still further;
c. Cyclones of Bay of Bengal;
Narrowness of eastern continental shelf; this shelf is less than 50 km
in width, in contrast to the western shelf which is a few hundred
kilometers wide; wave propagation over narrow shelf results in low
frictional loss of energy and thus expends much energy on the
coastline, causing a great degree of coastal erosion
e. Global rise in sea level; the rates reported are about a meter per century over a time period of 500 to 1000 years.

these points are true for the Kalpakkam coast also. Residents of
Oyyalikuppam (accepted as a high erosional area, even by MECON which
did the Environmental Impact Assessment for the PFBR reactor), a
fishing hamlet located 9 km south of the Kalpakkam nuclear complex have
reported during a survey conducted by DOSE in July, 2001, that within a
period of 10 years the sea has encroached upon the shore by around 200
meters.(9) This coincides with the observation made by Sundaresh et al.
in their 1997 paper:

The coastal erosion in Poompuhar and
Tranquebar region has been occurring for 2000 years. The archeological
records suggest that, the erosion has become more vigorous in the last
100 years…. It is worth mentioning here that, in 1973 the Kannaki
statue was installed at the shore of Poompuhar about 200 m away from
the high water line and in 1994 it was shifted about 150 m landward
because the structure was destroyed by the sea. Similarly, other
monuments at Poompuhar were also destroyed by sea… At Tranquebar, which
is situated 15 km south of Poompuhar, there is a clear indication of
coastal erosion from the last 300 years.

Increased sand mining
activity at the Palar River should be seen as one of the major causes
for the erosion of the Kalpakkam coast. This should have been the
direct reason for the increased erosion noted at Oyyalikuppam and CISF
quarters. However, the DAE and IGCAR have been reluctant to study this
issue. Had it studied it earlier and taken the scientific steps to
mitigate this, probably many lives that have been lost in the coastal
stretch between Oyyalikuppam, the DAE quarters and Sadras would have
been avoided. In fact, the present tsunami had actually broken the sand
dunes present along the coastal stretch between Oyyalikuppam and

Hence, DOSE has to conclude that the DAE and the IGCAR
have neglected a proper bathymetric study, or a study of the erosion of
Kalpakkam coastline, despite one of India’s foremost technological
research outfit being located right there.

5. Dr Krishnan’s
reply implies that, by merely locating the reactors 6 meters above sea
level, the DAE has deployed a succinct scientific policy of protecting
the nuclear complex from cyclones. By doing so, Dr Krishnan ends up
hiding the DAE’s reluctance and negligence to study the issue of
erosion, the issue of the consequence of increased warming of the ocean
leading to cyclones producing bigger storm surges and the role of
bathymetry and coastal geo-morphology in causing destruction on
selective areas along this coast. These studies, even before the
tsunami, were a necessity. If DAE smugly persists on its present
course, there will be enough scientific basis to conclude that the
Kalpakkam nuclear complex will not be able to withstand the wrath of
the sea.

Sheela Bhat: Really?
Dr Krishnan: Yes. These nuclear reactors, for cooling purposes, draw water from the sea; that is why they are located in the coastal area.
Kalpakkam, half a kilometre into the sea there is a huge well that has
been dug. That well is connected to another well on the shore on land.
These two wells are connected by an under seabed tunnel. As the storm
surge comes in and the water level rises in the well in the sea, the
level of water also rises in the well on the shore.
The moment the
water level rises beyond prescribed limits in the well on the shore,
the seawater pump trips. The moment it trips the operator sitting in
the control room knows that something is wrong and he trips the
reactors. Even before the wave hits the shore, I would say, that the
reactors were shut down. Imagine if the waves would have been higher
than what was anticipated by planners and if they would have come in,
then, what would have happened to the reactors? Nothing at all.
well in the sea and well on the shore are also connected by a jetty. On
the shore there is a horizontally spread building that has turbines
installed inside. Behind the turbine building lie the domes of two
reactors. Even if the tsunami waters had come in they would have hit
the turbine building first, not the reactors. And the reactor buildings
have walls that are one meter thick (http://www.npcil.org/maps.asp). So
even if waves had affected the site, sea water simply could not have
entered the reactors. The reactors are pretty safe. It so happened that
this time the water didn't even enter the turbine building. Even the
turbine building is so designed that the ground level is sufficiently
raised to withstand earthquakes and storms. Also, all our reactors have
a buffer zone of one-and-a-half kilometres between residential
localities and the reactor building. If that buffer zone had existed in
Bhopal, the death toll would not have been so high. I know from my
experiences that district collectors are worried more about oil
refineries than the nuclear reactors' safety measures.

We do agree that the district collectors are more worried about oil
refineries than nuclear reactors; but not for the reasons suggested by
Dr Krishnan. We shall quote our own experience in this issue.

On July 27th 2001, the public hearing for the PFBR reactor was
conducted at Kanchipuram District Collectorate. Before this, DOSE had
published its critique on MECON EIA with the title PFBR – A Threat to
Life. (10) This monograph became popular among the officials of Tamil
Nadu Pollution Control Board (TNPCB) and the District Environmental
Engineer rang up DOSE and congratulated us without hesitation. He said
that only after reading this work, he came to know what was going on at
the Kalpakkam nuclear complex. On many occasions, the TNPCB asked DOSE
(of course informally) whether we could share any new study that would
throw more light on the Kalpakkam nuclear complex. Similar observations
have been made by the World Bank. And the World Bank has stated in a
1999 paper that since it did not have enough expertise to know what
exactly was going on within the nuclear industry, it made a policy
decision of not providing any monetary loan to nuclear establishments
around the world. (11)
2. Let us quote another incident when the
district collector was actually present at Kalpakkam. It occurred on
28th July 2001 and was reported as follows by The Hindu the next day:

“An off-site emergency evacuation exercise of villages
around the Madras Atomic Power Station, Kalpakkam was conducted on the
day that followed the ‘Public Hearing’ (28-07-2001). This was organised
by the MAPS authorities and the Collectorate.

During this
exercise...people complained of health problems, lack of the ‘promised’
job opportunities at the MAPS, dearth of radiation-free water and
successive indifferent crops. At Meyyur village, villagers refuse to
believe that this was just an exercise. “We have been having health
problems for long. Why should there be an exercise, when there is no
problem,” asks Mr Ezhumalai, a contractor. Many women too held on to
similar beliefs, indicating that the earlier awareness drives did not
have any effect. Mr Pannerselvam, a daily wage earner, said some
youths, who tried for jobs in the Middle East, could not clear their
medical examination. “We were told that the radiation in our bodies
were higher than normal. Who will give us jobs,” he asked.

team of officials including the Collector, Mr Rajaraman and the MAPS
director, Mr K Hariharan, went round the selected villages. Mr
Rajaraman told the people that blanket accusations would not suffice
and there should be a proof. “We can work with the MAPS to find
solutions,” he said.

For most part, this “trial” run was
conducted with the seriousness associated with trials – the station
director’s wireless set did not function. ‘It produced just a kee-kee
sound’, complained a staffer who brought the set to the wireless centre
at the P Krishna Government Higher Secondary School, Kadappakkam,
nearly 30 km from Kalpakkam. Some other wireless sets pressed into
service also ended up as fashion statements in the hands of officials
in transit. That was not the end. Though some heads of cattle too were
to be evacuated, none was found at the relief centre.” (Emphasis ours)
Oil refineries do not have any tool to protect their secrets or
fallacies; but the DAE has the 1964 Atomic Energy Act that gives it the
power not to reveal any of its information in the public domain. Will
Dr Krishnan be ready to discuss the provisions of this act which
promotes the culture of negligence within the DAE? Why is Ms Bhat not
raising this issue with Dr Krishnan?

Sheela Bhat: What were the reasons for the high number of casualties in Kalpakkam?

Dr.Krishnan: The
casualties were not at the plant site at all. The causalities were in
the township. In the construction of the township we have not taken
into account all of these things.

Sheela Bhat: Why?

We had no fears of radiation there. Second, as I said we had not
anticipated a tsunami. As far as a cyclone is concerned, one always
gets advanced warning. But in the case of a tsunami if you don't have
any advanced warning, the sea comes in silently. Many more people would
have died if the tsunami had hit at 5 am instead of 9 am.

Dr Krishnan wants to convey the following argument: for cyclones, we
have advanced warning (and mitigatory measures). Radiation warrants
additional mitigatory measures to protect structures and life. India
does not have a tsunami warning system, and so, the DAE or the
Kalpakkam authorities cannot be blamed for the deaths that have
occurred at the DAE quarters. The truth is very much contrary to this:

Out of all the structures affected in the DAE quarters, CISF barracks
and the DAE hospital were the ones that got affected more seriously.
Initial reports had stated that 21 adult patients in the hospital had
died because of tsunami. According to a web news report, “a doctor in
the Department of Atomic Energy hospital, Sampat Kumar, said water
brought down the hospital wall and costly equipment, like ultrasonic
scanners and dentist chairs, were washed away.” (13)
2. Similarly,
the high wall constructed to protect the CISF quarters had been
literally blasted away by the tsunami. It is not necessary to mention
here the importance of these two institutions during normal and
critical times for the Kalpakkam nuclear complex. Sadly, both these
structures are located in one of the lowest areas in the entire
coastline. Dr Krishnan suggests that the Kalpakkam nuclear complex had
put in place a well-organized evacuation plan during cyclones. If that
is the case, why is that these two most important structures had not
been shifted to higher locations in the first place?
3. Kalpakkam
has faced many cyclones. The most recent ones were in 1985 and 1998.
The 1985 cyclone wreaked havoc in the area and the link between Sadras
and Puthupatinam (the ends of the township) was cut off. The 1998
cyclone caused floods in the area.(14) Despite these events, it appears
that the DAE has not learnt any lesson. Also, it has become clear that
the Emergency Control Centre in the DAE quarters did not function on
the fateful tsunami day. (15)
‘The Emergency Control Centre present
inside the Environment Survey Laboratory (ESL) located in the DAE
quarters is responsible for coordinating evacuation of people in times
of radiation emergency. It has a wide range of facilities like a slew
of wireless sets, hotlines to the district collector, police and
revenue officers and other first aid facilities like stretchers and so
on. That the building that normally buzzed with hectic activity during
the mock emergency drills, wore a desolate look when a real emergency
gripped the people of the township, has made many wonder if any real
emergency control system is in place at Kalpakkam.’
To this, Dr B S Panigrahi of the Kalpakkam nuclear complex’ establishment had replied as follows:
Emergency Control Centre at ESL in Kalpakkam is meant for a situation
arising out of nuclear accident. As far as tsunami is concerned, the
preparedness necessary for it was in connection with evacuating people
from low lying zone to high lying zone, which was done within a few
hours of water invasion into the township on 26 December. For
evacuating people, buses were necessary and all the bus stands
including departmental and state-owned are situated near GSO office in
Kalpakkam Township. This apart, inpatients from the DAE hospital, which
was flooded, too, were to be evacuated. Incidentally, the hospital is
also situated near the GSO office. Therefore to coordinate this
immediate task, the emergency control center was opened the same day at
GSO office itself for the coordination.”
Here is a note from a DAE resident that answers Dr Panigrahi in the local township website, www.kalpakkam.com):

“1. No public addressing systems were available; we had to borrow
loudspeakers from the village!! Even if people had to warn about the
second and third wave, we could not have done it... how many people
could I inform if I went screaming on the roads?? The intercom and sat
view are equally useless when u need to warn people in a short time...

Lack of awareness of possible natural calamities and no disaster
management plan ... till the day the tsunami hit, most of the
well-educated crowd in Kalpakkam did not know what tsunami was…”
the above statements it is easy to conclude that Dr Krishnan’s implied
statement that the DAE quarters has had a well-designed mitigatory
policy of evacuation in times of cyclones is incorrect and simply

Dr Krishnan was the former director, safety research
and health physics at the IGCAR. Ms Bhat introduces him to the readers
in www.rediff.com as follows: “He retired from Kalpakkam nine years ago
and is a well-known safety expert on nuclear plants. For many years, Dr
Krishnan, has been closely associated with the Kalpakkam nuclear power
generating plants. He continues to advise DAE in selective matters. He
visited Kalpakkam immediately after the tsunami hit the town killing 56
people including 5 nuclear scientists.”
Why should a high-ranking
person like Dr Krishnan try to hide the facts that are evident even for
laypersons? And why does senior editor of a web newspaper swallow this?
Will this attitude help to prevent future disasters at Kalpakkam?
interview starts with the statement that ‘India is proud of its
reactors as it has withstood the Big Wave’. A more responsible
introduction should have been: ’It is the high time that the DAE starts
using its brains before choosing a place to locate its hospitals and
quarters, let alone nuclear installations.’
From the above, DOSE
has to regretfully conclude that Dr Krishnan and Ms Bhat are trying to
defend the DAE, presenting its very failures as achievements. It is
sadder that they are doing this in the name of the Nation. It is better
that this habit is shed, at least after the tsunami. The best way of
doing this is to abrogate the 1964 Atomic Regulation Act. If this is
not done, DAE will continue to wallow in ignorance, and God knows, what
more bewildering futures are in store for India.

Sheela Bhat: What kind of earthquakes did you take into account when the final designs were made?

All earthquakes don't cause tsunamis. Certainly we didn't take into
account earthquakes of a magnitude of 8 or more. While planning, we
take more into account the earthquakes on land. We thought the fault
line near Indonesia is quite far away from the Indian coast. Also,
historical statistical data didn't suggest that a magnitude of 9 is a
possibility and we didn't anticipate it.

DOSE: So, is Dr
Krishnan suggesting the following: ‘We, the experts at Kalpakkam, know
that earthquakes in the sea bed can cause tsunamis. We take into
consideration earthquakes of magnitude up to 8 on the Richter scale for
designing the reactors, based on historical data. Even though we
concentrate on land based earthquakes, we do consider sea based
earthquakes. But earthquakes of this order (up to 8R), usually, do not
cause tsunamis. Also, we thought that the fault line near Indonesia is
quite far away from the Indian coast.”

Fine; but DAE calls
itself a scientific body and this is the basis on which it draws such a
huge amount of funds every year from India’s research and development
budget. Shouldn’t there be a scientific basis upon which this belief
that the ‘the fault line near Indonesia is quite far away from the
Indian coast?” What was that scientific basis?
1. Let us quote
from J Paul et. al on the importance we should place on historical
earthquakes to act as guides for the future ones: ““...the recent
earthquakes (of the peninsular India) do not represent the recurrence
of earthquakes that may have occurred since the development of script.
That is, a Historical search for identical seismic predecessors to
ongoing seismicity is likely to be fruitless. The seismic hazard
surrounding recent events is likely to be now reduced compared to areas
that have not experienced recent earthquakes in South India.” (16)

this study tells us that we cannot come to any conclusion on the
seismic potential of an area that is located in the Indian Peninsular
Shield just with the help of the data on the frequency and intensity of
the earthquakes that have occurred in the past in that area. Hence, the
only choice left is to go in for a thorough seismo-tectonic,
geophysical study of the area as a whole. Will the DAE carry out such
tests at least now?

2. At a general level, studies related to
seismology like the Gravitation (Bouguer anomaly) Study is available
for the whole of Tamil Nadu. (17) However, we do not know whether a
detailed Gravitational study has been attempted for the Kalpakkam
Region. Such a study has not been published in professional science or
geology journals yet. The DAE’s Atomic Minerals Division might have
done such a study. Apart from this, other studies like, Aeromagnetic
survey of the region, Geodetic Positioning Survey, Deep Seismic
Sounding (DSS) study, we are sure, are nonexistent for this region. The
Geological Survey of India has conducted an Aeromagnetic survey (in
1982) only for the places at and below the 120 N Latitude of South
India. Kalpakkam is located at 12032’N.

However, Dr Krishnan
would like us to believe that all the information on seismotectonics of
the Kalpakkam region had been studied in detail by the Kalpakkam
nuclear experts. This is also simply misleading. To understand this,
let us take an example: consider the earthquake data presented in the
PFBR EIA (2001): “The Gauri Bidanur Assay (GBA) and WMD (World
Meterological Department) data were used to assess the seismicity
associated with various faults. Based on the study, a magnitude of 6R
scale (compare this with the statement by Dr Krishnan – he states this
as 8 on the Richter scale) is taken as safe shut-down earthquake for

Gauri Bidanur Assay is near Bangalore. Its records
have been used for assessing the seismotectonics of Kalpakkam! So, what
happened to the data from its own seismograph? What is Dr Krishnan’s
reply to the question whether the seismograph at Kalpakkam was
functioning or not when the tsunami waves hit?

3. On 27th July
2001, when the PFBR Public Hearing was conducted at the Kanchipuram
District Collectorate, the then MLA of Chenglepet constituency, Mr
Thirukatcur Arumugam, had raised the following question: “The officials
are saying that this place falls under an Earthquake Zone II; but as
far as I know, this Kalpakkam Nuclear Complex is not having a
Seismograph for the past 20 years. How can we be so accurate that this
place falls under an Earthquake Zone II, when it does not have a simple
instrument to record the local tremors for the past so many years?”

this question, no one from either IGCAR or MECON had any answer. Dr
Bhoje, the then IGCAR chief and Ms Sudha Bhave, the DAE Joint
Secretary, were very much present at the public hearing venue. They did
not say that the Kalpakkam nuclear complex did possess a seismograph!
The question now is: whether the Kalpakkam nuclear complex acquired a
seismograph, that too a dysfunctional one, after this Public Hearing?

After this event I have read only two reports on the historical data of
tsunami in the Indian context. R N Iyengar, professor at the Indian
Institute of Science, said, on November 28, 1945, Pasni, a trading town
about 100 kms from Mekhran, was washed away by a wave of about 15
meters, after an earthquake measuring 6.7 on the Richter scale hit the
coast which is now in Pakistan. But that could not have been the basis
of our designers in Kalpakkam. Another report claimed that a tsunami
once hit some parts of Bangladesh.

DOSE: We would rather
expect a scientist like Dr Krishnan to quote the 1999 paper by Tad S
Murty and Arun Bapat. In fact, Mumbai had been attacked by a tsunami
27th November 1945 which had originated 75 miles south of Pasni of
Pakistan and 750 miles North West of Bombay. It was produced by an
earthquake whose magnitude is estimated between 6.6 and 8.3 R. It had
produced a wave height of 8.5 feet at Bombay. Much loss of life and
damage had been reported. It had produced a wave height of 40 to 50
feet at Pasni.

The Bhabha Atomic Research Centre (BARC), which
has been the nerve centre of India’s nuclear establishment for decades,
is located close to Mumbai. Is it correct to conclude that the decision
to locate BARC there had failed to consider a possible tsunami as a
risk factor? Even when Bombay had been hit by the tsunami a few years

How could the DAE experts right down to Dr Krishnan
have been so sure that Mumbai would not suffer the same fate as Pasni
did? What data, do they have, to back up their statements?

Sheela Bhat: Is Kalpakkam absolutely safe after the tsunami?

Dr.Krishnan: It
is safe. I visited the plant site two days after the tsunami hit us.
Water had come in some places but it had just wet the ground. It didn't
enter the building, it came just outside it. There are two reactor
units in the Madras Atomic Power Station at Kalpakkam. One unit was
already shut down for maintenance and the other was operating and the
sea water pump house of that unit had registered the higher level of

Adjacent to the Madras Atomic Power Station a new fast
breeder reactor is under construction. To make such vital buildings
withstand earthquakes, first a large concrete base mat is built. So if
the structure moves it will move all together without getting cracked.
On the location of the fast breeder reactor they had dug up a huge area
several metres below the ground level for the base mat. Sea water has
flooded that place. Now, they will have to pump out the waters and
start construction again.

DOSE: We would like to know
whether Dr Krishnan visited the injured and the tsunami-affected in the
DAE quarters before making that statement. Also, if Kalpakkam is safe,
we would like to know for whom?

1. As we read through the many
postings in the local news section of www.kalpakkam.com, we have to
sadly conclude that, post-tsunami, life at the DAE quarters has not
been easy at all. The IGCAR and the NPCIL websites have not released
the names of the dead or the injured employees even a month after
December 26.
The DAE’s top officials did not immediately visit the
affected ones at the DAE quarters to convey their condolences. The DAE
Chairman, Anil Kakodkar, who came to the Kalpakkam nuclear complex, did
not visit the tsunami devastated DAE quarters. This has made the
National Federation of Atomic Energy Employees to send out a general
plea seeking help for the affected ones at the DAE quarters. Here is
their plea posted at www.kalpakkam.com:

“15th January 2005

Tsunami attack on 26th December 2004 caused havoc on the lives and
belongings of the Atomic Energy Township, Kalpakkam Community,
TamilNadu and unleashed psychological assault. Around 60 precious lives
have been lost out of 4 are employees, 1employee is missing, 34 family
members died and remaining are from nearby helmets. Around 1500 houses
affected, out of which around 750 employees lost every belongings
acquired through hard-earned salary over the years.

incident caused unimaginable sufferings and the employees and their
dependents are unwilling to return to their houses. Children are most
fear stricken and they could not cope with the mental agony caused out
of the same.

With all these sufferings, the employees and their
dependents lost the left over tsunami fury by way of looting and
organized theft. Even after the passage of 25 days, township community
still pleading for relief is the saddest part of the incident.

the care of dislocated people of Kalpakkam Township community to be
cared immediately as no help is forthcoming neither from the state
government nor from Department. Worst employees are put to share the
houses and the condition continues

In Toto, around 750
dislocated employees and their dependents are in dire need of help at
least to start with. It is our humble appeal to all democratic minded
people and humanitarian organizations extend a helping hand by
contributing generously. In the absence of no-confidence and loss hope
of getting relief and rehabilitation in time, we solely depending the
public help.

(A. Sathasivam)
National Federation of Atomic Energy Employees“
To this letter, (probably) someone from the establishment had replied on 16 January 2005:
“I assume you support the BARCOA Kalpakkam Tsunami Relief Fund.
this post,

It looks like the officer association doesn't support the tsunami fund.”
To this a reply had been posted by anonymous at the same site on 23rd January:
Apart from these mails, here is a
very crucial letter sent by Srikanth from haisrikanth@gmail.com to the
same portal on 25 Jauary 2005:

“It was disheartening to see
there was a minor panic on Tsunami again on 24th Jan (yesterday).It all
was created after SUN NEWS flashed news about earthquake in Andaman

& Chennai. Interestingly no other channel not even said a word
about it on the whole day. To start off around 11:00 am students of
AECS & KV schools were are asked to leave the school fearing of
another Tsunami. The worst part of it was the students were allowed to
walk to thier homes. There was no bus facility made available for
school students. Now what would have happened if anything serious could
have happened. Instead the authourities at the school must have asked
the children to be in upstairs. Though with gods grace nothing
happened, hope nothing wont in future.

Even after a major disastour these people havent learnt things.
Safety of children was put in question mark.

Hope they never repeat such blunders.”

Dr Krishnan describes the construction site of PFBR vividly. He says
“on the location of the fast breeder reactor they had dug a huge area
several meters (17 meters) below the ground level for the basement. Sea
water has flooded that place. Now, they will have to pump out the
waters and start construction again.”
It was here a lady named
Kanthammal (d/o Mr Thathaya, URC Company) was confirmed dead; but, it
was also here, around 150 contract laborers, most of them brought for
work by Gammon India from Orissa and Bihar, were working when the
tsunami struck. It was the crane operator who first saw the rising sea,
and it is said, that he had alerted the people working in the place.
The establishment says that all the workers had fled the place
immediately and only Kanthammal was found dead. But, it is very hard to
believe in that statement. It is said, even during normal times, it
will take at least 15 minutes for every person to come out of the huge
pit dug for the PFBR basement, as they have to climb over many
makeshift coir ladders. The tsunami waves engulfed the area suddenly
and had left the place within 15 minutes. So, Dr Pugazhenthi , a
popular local doctor asks, how can we believe in the establishment’s
statement that all have escaped? It is very difficult to verify these
workers, he adds, as they were not local residents, but from other
states. There are also allegations that the dead bodies of these
workers from Orissa and Bihar were given a mass burial near the PFBR
site by the establishment and Gammon India.

A query made at www.kalpakkam.com has the following anonymous reply:

the contract labourers are safe. God was with them, I believe, because
it was the last day of the concreting work that Gammon India was doing.
.Yes the pit was totally flooded and so was all the employees’ house.
All are still continuing without any reimbursement in the same houses.”
(posting dated 25 January, 2005)”.
All these points point to the
demand that this issue should be probed by a civilian group,
unconnected to the nuclear establishment, immediately and thoroughly
before arriving at any pertinent conclusions. However, the
establishment contends that these workers have all gone back to their
respective states because of fear. In that case, it is clear that the
DAE follows a policy of letting its contractors follow unsafe working
conditions. Has Dr Krishnan verified all these issues before making his
statement that Kalpakkam is safe?

Sheela Bhat: The
operator of the operating nuclear reactor unit was alert which saved
the situation. Right? What about the people in the pump house?

Dr Krishnan: There
is no need to have operators present in the pump house all the time.
Once the water level goes up there are water level indicators that trip
the pump. And once the pump trips the reactors have to be shut down. As
the water level rose in the well on the shore, the pump tripped and the
operator saw it and he tripped the reactors. The operator's action is

DOSE: Dr Krishnan is making a hypothetical
proposition. He has not verified the fate of the two persons who were
on duty when the tsunami hit. One is said to have escaped, and another
is said to be seriously injured, and is now under medical care.

Sheela Bhat: How is the situation at the Kudankulam Atomic Power Project?

Dr Krishnan:
I have not been there but Mr S K Jain, chairman and managing director
of the Nuclear Power Corporation of India, was present at Kudankulam
when the tsunami struck. The Kudankulam Atomic Power Project is under
construction with the help of Russian scientists and he said the same
thing -- that none of the building is affected.

DOSE: Yes.
The structures in the site possibly were not damaged; but, we do not
know the fate of the multi-crore temporary boat jetty that was being
built, and the sea water desalination plant that was set up at
Perumanal for providing desalinated water to the residents of Atomic
Energy quarters.
The important issue here is not whether
Kudankulam site was damaged by the tsunami or not. It is that tsunami
has to be considered as a high risk factor for the reactor site from
now on. Similarly, DOSE had placed its plea in March 2002 based on
proven geological facts, that rock melt extrusions occurring in near by
areas from the year 1998 should be considered as a high risk factor and
hence the design of the reactor should be modified in such a way that
it will be able to withstand the impact of these rock melt extrusions;
based on this fact, it had demanded the Government of India to order
the DAE to conduct an EIA for the reactors and conduct a public hearing
which it had been refusing all along. A public interest litigation had
been a Gandhian group at the Supreme Court in 2002 May, asking the
court to order the Government to appoint a panel of geologists to look
into this issue independent of the nuclear establishment. When the
appeal came up for hearing before the Chief Justice on May 10th, he
summarily rejected it stating that the court could not look into this
issue as the Government has spent much money into the project, that it
was a policy issue and that the people filing the litigation had
approached the court quite late as the reactor programme has been
started way back in the year 1989.
The DAE had been saying that it
is not necessary to do an EIA or conduct a public hearing for the
Kudankulam nuclear power plant project. The DAE has stated that that
this is not legally necessary, as the project was cleared in 1989 that
was well before the enactment of the 1994 Environmental Protection Act
which made it compulsory for all the projects above a capital of Rs 50
crore to have an EIA and a public hearing done. Also, the rock melt
extrusions in southern Tamil Nadu have started appearing from the year
1998. And, on the fateful day of 26th December 2004, the risk of
tsunami has become comprehensible at least to the public irrespective
of what the DAE would like everyone to believe. So, leaving narrow
legal questions apart, is it not scientifically and existentially
necessary to conduct the EIA under the presently changed environmental
circumstances? Is it not necessary to conduct a Public Hearing on the
reactors under these new circumstances?
We demand the Government
to immediately order the DAE to do an EIA for the Kudankulam nuclear
power plant project and conduct a public hearing under the presently
changed environmental scenario.

Sheela Bhat: If somehow the water had entered the turbines building what would have happened.

Dr.Krishnan: In
the turbine hall there is no radioactivity. The turbines are at a high
level. Waters could only enter in the condensers and not in turbines.
Now, if any part of the entire system is affected reactors will
automatically shut down. And once the reactors stop functioning there
is no risk.

Sheela Bhat: And if tsunami waves would have entered the nuclear reactors building, then?

Dr.Krishnan: There
is no way waters could get into the reactors buildings. The reactor
will shut down automatically before water enters the building. The
in-built system is such. We know nature is mighty. But we know the
upper limit of what all nature can do. At least we can estimate. I
agree scientists didn't anticipate a tsunami so the devastation has
followed. But the cyclone was well anticipated and was taken into
account. We anticipate something and then built the building. In Japan
earthquakes are common but their nuclear reactors are safe and ongoing
because of their designs of structures. Because man can anticipate
safety is possible.

DOSE: We have already seen that the
Kalpakkam nuclear complex has more than just two MAPS reactors. We
would like to know whether all these structures could withstand a
future tsunami? We want a worst-case analysis done, not just for MAPS
reactors, but for the entire Kalpakkam nuclear complex, and also for
all the reactors situated on the Indian coasts.

Sheela Bhat: But we cannot even think of a scenario if a tsunami had hit it badly.

Dr.Krishnan: Yes.
We too think like laymen and ask questions. Somebody designs the
reactors. Another group builds it. And another group which is
independent of it keeps asking questions as you do. What if the
instrument fails? What if the operator makes mistakes? What if the
back-up system fails too? We make sure that even if all these errors
occur together the reactors will not release radioactive material.

does one make sure that the reactors and other nuclear installations
will not release radioactive material? Has the DAE done a worst case
analysis for the nuclear complex already and based on it has it drawn
its policies of safeguarding the complex?

Sheela Bhat: Since the tsunami has hit India so badly that doubts keep rising about the safety issue?

The tsunami has hit India in the most vulnerable part. But if you are
well protected you are safe. It so happened that our plants were well
protected but our township was not so we lost 30 people. We didn't
anticipate a tsunami but we anticipated a cyclone of this nature and it
helped us tremendously. This time the velocity of water may not be as
much as it is during cyclones but the volume of water was tremendous.
See, the cyclone will have much higher wind speed as well. In
Kalpakkam, the massive turbine building is able to protect the
reactors. I can assure you on the safety of Kalpakkam because often I
am asked to assess the safety by the Atomic Energy Regulatory Board. I
cannot afford to be lax on safety issue. I have to speak honestly. I
don't see any problem at Kalpakkam in the post-tusnami period too. I
don't know however, what will be the case if an earthquake of magnitude
10 occurs in the Sumatra region. It is not enough to anticipate an
earthquake, it is not enough to predict that an earthquake can cause a
tsunami. It is also necessary to find out the impact of the tsunami
along the coastline. If you have an earthquake there, its effects may
not be uniform everywhere on our coast. Along the coastline the depths
of the sea are different. At some places sand gets piled up forming
contours. The depths can be shallow there. The energy of the tsunami
waves can be focused differently at particular point because depth
varies along the coastline.
In India's coastline, the intensity of
the tsunami is variable at different points along the coastline. Now,
it is important to find out if there is likelihood of magnified impact
because of the contour of the seabed underwater. Now the measurement of
depth in the sea is necessary.The bathymetric data of the sea should be
available. We need to have it now to estimate wave heights and design
accordingly. India will have to measure the depth of the sea and
contours on the seabed. Then, we will be able to project the severity
of waves and its impact at any particular point.

So, after this long interview, Dr Krishnan accepts that the DAE does
not have in its possession the bathymetric data of the Kalpakkam sea.

Sheela Bhat: What will be your advice for the other power plants now?

Dr.Krishnan: I
am sure the Atomic Energy Regulatory Board will begin a review of the
safety aspects. It is their objective. Every event of the country where
unforeseen things have occurred, they assess and take corrective steps
if necessary. Even in our reactors when some surprises are noticed or
when some component fails, immediately we shut down all other reactors
which may have similar components. Only when we have understood why it
failed, we restart the reactors. This is a common practice, everywhere
in the world.In this case, an earthquake of magnitude 9 will have to be
taken into account. The mean return period of earthquakes of these
magnitudes will be calculated. If something is likely to happen in the
next thousands years we take that into account. But something is likely
to re-occur in say the next 5,000 years, you have to give less
importance because somewhere you have to draw a line. On the basis of
historical data, we will have to project the future of tsunami
re-occurrences and also have to look at the possibility of an
earthquake measuring 9.5. This is called extreme value analysis.As I
told you we will have to take into account seabed contours and its
effect on the tsunami wave height. I am sure AERB will re-examine
seismic designs of all the vital structures. Importantly, we will have
to review the communication network. Meanwhile, what we can do best is
to observe also the movement of the seabed. There we should have buoys
that have sensors on the seabed. If the seabed sensors move up because
of earthquakes then they immediately relay the information to you. We
don't have this system yet.
We should also be prepared for the
events we cannot anticipate. We didn't anticipate a magnitude of 9.
It's a huge earthquake. The fault lines off Sumatra extend from 2
degree to 10 degree north latitude. All along the fault line there is a
disruption. It's mind-boggling. Nobody disputes that nature is superior
to man but preparedness is possible. Safety is a question of attitude.
When I visited Kalpakkam, scientists were happy that the design has
withstood the tsunami and the reactors could be brought back in line.
They had full faith in their own systems.

Krishnan’s above suggestions are all fine, but are not adequate. The
Atomic Energy Regulatory Board (AERB) of which Dr Krishnan speaks is
now not an independent body, but is under the direct control of the
DAE. The AERB should be made an independent watchdog agency with full
technical expertise and power to analyze and decide on the fate of
these reactors and other nuclear installations. In fact, India should
allow an independent group of civilians to study the impact of the
current tsunami on the reactors and other nuclear installations
operating in the Indian Coast. And post-Tsunami, India should freeze
forthwith all coastal nuclear activities. A transparent Worst Case
Analysis should be conducted for all such installations. Only after
this, work at these installations should be allowed to resume, that too
after carrying out all necessary design and other modifications, in
consonance with India’s disaster prevention policy.


1. Tsunamis of the Coastlines of India, Science of Tsunami Hazards, Vol 17, No.3 (1999), p. 167-172
2. MECON Limited, Environmental Impact Assessment and Environmental
Management Plan for the 500 MWe Prototype Fast Breeder Reactor, October
3. B H Choi, E Pelinovsky, K O Kim and J S Lee, Simulation of
the trans-oceanic tsunami propagation due to the 1883, Krakatau
volcanic eruption,Natural Hazards and Earth System Sciences, Vol. 3
(2003), p. 321–332.
4. M Lal, Tropical cyclones in a warmer world, Current Science, Vol. 80, No. 9, 10 May 2001, p. 1103-1104.

5. Antonio Mescarenhas, Oceanographic validity of buffer zones for the
East Coast of India: A hydrometeorological perspective, Current
Science, Vol.86, No.3, 10 February 2004, p 400.
6. V J Loveson, G
Victor Rajamanickam, K Anbarasu., Remote Sensing applications in the
study of sea level variation along the Tamilnadu coast, India” in
G.Victor Rajamanickam (ed), Sea level variation and its impact on
coastal environment, Tamil University, Thanjavur, 1990, p 184.
7. G
P Mohapatra and M H Prasad, Shoreline changes and their impact on the
archaeological structures at Mahabalipuram, Gondwana Geological
Magazine. Vol. 4, p. 225-233 quoted in Sundaresh, A.S.Gaur, Sila
Tripati, K.H.Vora, Underwater investigations off Mahapalipuram, Tamil
Nadu, India,Current Science, Vol. 86, No.9, 10 May 2004
Sundaresh, A S Gaur and R R Nair, Our threatened archaeological
heritage:A case study from Tamil Nadu Coast, Current Science, Vol. 73,
No. 7, 10 October 1997.
9. Interview conducted by DOSE on 12.07.2001 with the residents of Oyyalikuppam.
10.R Ramesh, PFBR – A Threat to Life, DOSE, Coimbatore, July 2001.
11. World Bank, Environment Assessment Source Book, 1991, p 83-89.
12. The Hindu, July 29, 2001
13. www.siliconindia.com
14. Babu Jayakumar’s report, News Today, January 10, 2005.
15. ibid
J Paul et al., Microstrain stability of Peninsular India 1864-1994,
Proceedings of the Indian Academy of Sciences (Earth Planet Science),
Vol. 104, No.1, March 1995, p-145.

17. N Krishna Brahmam, Memoirs of the Geological Society of India, No.25, p.167.

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