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India's first fast breeder reactor by 2010

August 17, 2009 13:03 IST
India will commission its first 500-Mw fast breeder reactor (FBR) for generating commercial nuclear energy by the end of next year. The reactor, when commissioned, will mark the country's entry into the second phase of its three-stage nuclear energy programme, reports Sudheer Pal Singh.

The first prototype FBR at Kalpakkam (in Tamil Nadu) will be commissioned by the end of 2010, said R Chidambaram, principal scientific adviser to the government of India.

The government plans four more FBRs in the country by 2020. The site for two of these additional FBRs have been identified at Kalpakkam.

Of the three stages, the first one is about natural uranium fuelling pressurised heavy-water reactors (PHWRs). The second stage involves FBRs, based on plutonium extracted from the spent fuel of the first stage. Finally, the countrys vast thorium reserves will be used to generate electricity.

The FBR would use over 75 per cent of the natural uranium fed into it as compared with the dismal 0.3 per cent utilisation of the radioactive fuel in the conventional PHWRs currently installed in India. FBRs produce more fissile material than they consume, making the process near-renewable.

The prototype FBR, being developed at an estimated investment of Rs 3,492 crore (Rs 34.92 billion), is a forerunner of Indias future FBRs and is expected to provide energy security to the country.

The reactor is being set up by the Bharatiya Nabhikiya Vidyut Nigam Ltd (Bhavini), the special purpose vehicle set up by the government in 2003 for constructing FBRs in the country under the Department of Atomic Energy (DAE).

It has been designed at the Indira Gandhi Centre for Atomic Research (IGCAR), DAEs research body developing the FBR technology in India.

Experts believe the Kalpakkam FBR may be commissioned ahead of schedule as a 13-Mw fast breeder test reactor is successfully operating in the country since 1985.

The FBR technology is expected to allow the country's nuclear power generation capacity to grow to over 300,000 Mw without additional uranium. This it because it uses the spent fuel from the already-installed PHWRs.

India has an installed nuclear power generation capacity of over 4,000 Mw, contributed by the state-owned Nuclear Power Corporation of India Ltd (NPCIL) through its 15 PHWRs and two boiling water reactors (BWRs). NPCIL alone produces nuclear power in the country, as the Atomic Energy Act, 1962, prohibits private entry into nuclear power generation.

The government plans to raise nuclear power generation capacity five-fold to over 20,000 Mw by 2020.

Sudheer Pal Singh in New Delhi
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