India nuclear reactor attains 'full capacity'

NEW DELHI (AFP) - The first reactor of India's largest nuclear plant - dogged by protests and multiple delays - reached full capacity for the first time Saturday, an official said.

The Russian-backed Kudankulam plant, in the southern state of Tamil Nadu, is designed to help meet surging demand for electricity in Asia's third-largest economy where blackouts are frequent.

"It's really an emotional experience for us," said R.S. Sundar, site director of the state-run Nuclear Power Corp of India, according to The Hindu newspaper's website.

Work was completed on the 1,000-megawatt (MW) first unit last year and the second 1,000-MW reactor is expected to be brought into service by mid-2014, despite local protests delaying construction.

Plans for the Kudankulam facility were first drawn up in 1988. It was supposed to open in 2011 but large, often violent protests, by residents worried about the possibility of a nuclear accident delayed the startup.

Opponents of the plant, which lies on the same coastline devastated by the 2004 Asian tsuname, say it is located in a seismically sensitive area and fear a Fukushima-style disaster could kill thousands.

The plant is one of many India hopes to build as part of its aim of generating 63,000 megawatts of nuclear power by 2030 - a planned near 15-fold rise from current levels, according to the Nuclear Power Corp.

With the first unit of the Kudankulam plant fully onstream, the nuclear power contribution to the country's energy supply will increase to 5,789 MW.

The plant is the 20th nuclear power station connected to India's power grid.

The Kudankulam nuclear plant project attained "criticality" - the point when a nuclear chain reaction becomes self-sustaining - last July.