The nuclear plant at Kalpakkam can withstand winds stronger than those accompanying cyclone Nilam, scientists in charge of the complex have assured, as the monster storm made landfall with the Tamil Nadu coast on Wednesday evening.
But India's nuclear establishment remained on edge, aware that any discovered flooding or leakages pointing to a lack of preparedness could add fuel to protests further down the east coast at Kudankulam.
"All the structures and equipment were designed to withstand wind speeds of up to 160 kmph," K Ramamurthy, director of the Kalpakkam plant said on Wednesday afternoon, 70 km south of Chennai. Nilam struck the coast with winds of a speed of about 110 kmph. Cyclones lose intensity and moisture as they move inland.
Officials are likely to examine the reactors on Thursday to check for any damage, sources at the Nuclear Power Corporation of India Limited (NPCIL), India's sole nuclear operator, said.
The Kalpakkam complex houses two 220 MW nuclear reactors, two test reactors and a 500 MW fast breeder reactor scheduled for commissioning in 2013. It is elevated - to protect against lashing waves during high tides. The complex was fortified further after the 2004 tsunami.
Unlike the US, which shut down nuclear plants along its mid Atlantic coast ahead of Hurricane Sandy, the Kalpakkam reactors were operating late Wednesday evening.
"We are confident that we can handle whatever the cyclone hits us with," a senior official who works on safety measures at the Nuclear Power Corporation of India Limited (NPCIL) told HT. "But we also know that any unforeseen problems - and you can never rule them out - could damage more than just Kalpakkam."
The nuclear reactors in Fukushima were shut down when the tsunami waves hit Japan's east coast last year. But even though reactors can be shut down almost instantly, the fuel rods inside take time to cool down.
In Fukushima, sea water that leaked into reactor chambers turned them into pressure cookers after generating steam once it came in contact with the hot fuel rods - leading to explosions.