Rama Setu and Bhavini

Rama Setu and Bhavini

Bharatiya Nabhikiya Vidyut Nigam Ltd (Bhavini) – A Thorium Breeder Reactor

Introduction

Three villages near Rama Setu constitute the nuclear resource zone of the world: Manavalakurichi (Tamilnadu), Aluva and Chavara (Kerala) accounting for 32% of the world’s reserves of thorium. It is imperative that the private sand godowns which have come up along the Setu coast (trading in monazite, ilmenite, zircon, rutile, garnet sands all of which contain traces of thorium) should be brought under the control of Defence Ministry and declared as a high security zone for India’s strategic nuclear program.

Rama Setu and Bhavini are metaphors for energy security of the nation.

Kalyanaraman

India’s uranium resources are smaller (about 50,000-65,000 metric tons) than the amount of thorium which is about 330,000 metric tons. When natural thorium-232 in a reactor is bred with neutron uranium-233, it can be used as fuel. India has a so-called “three-stage nuclear program”. In the first stage, plutonium is created in its pressurized heavy water reactors (PHWRs) and extracted by reprocessing. In the second stage, fast breeder reactors (FBRs) use this plutonium in 70-percent MOX-fuel to breed uranium-233 in a thorium blanket around the core. In the final stage, the FBR’s use thorium-232 and produce uranium-233 for other reactors. http://www10.antenna.nl/wise/index.html?http://www10.antenna.nl/wise/461/4577.html

July 7, 2007

Indian scientists designing thorium reactor

Bangalore, ians:

A team of scientists at a premier Indian nuclear facility has made a theoretical design of an innovative reactor that can run on thorium available …

A team of scientists at a premier Indian nuclear facility has made a theoretical design of an innovative reactor that can run on thorium —available in abundance in the country —and will eventually do away with the need for uranium. But the success of the project largely depends on the US playing ball.
The novel Fast Thorium Breeder Reactor (FTBR) being developed by V Jagannathan and his team at the Bhabha Atomic Research Centre (BARC) in Mumbai has received global attention after a paper was submitted to the International Conference on Emerging Nuclear Energy Systems (ICENES) held June 9-14 in Istanbul.
Power reactors of today mostly use a fissile fuel called uranium-235 (U-235), whose “fission” releases energy and some “spare” neutrons that maintain the chain reaction. But only seven out of 1,000 atoms of naturally occurring uranium are of this type. The rest are “fertile”, meaning they cannot fission but can be converted into fissionable plutonium by neutrons released by U-235.
Thorium, which occurs naturally, is another “fertile” element that can be turned by neutrons into U-233, another uranium isotope. U-233 is the only other known fissionable material. It is also called the “third fuel”.
Thorium is three times more abundant in the earth’s crust than uranium but was never inducted into reactors because —unlike uranium —it has no fissionable atoms to start the chain reaction. But once the world’s uranium runs out, thorium —and the depleted uranium discharged by today’s power reactors —could form the “fertile base” for nuclear power generation, the BARC scientists claim in their paper.
They believe their FTBR is one such “candidate” reactor that can produce energy from these two fertile materials with some help from fissile plutonium as a “seed” to start the fire.
By using a judicious mix of “seed” plutonium and fertile zones inside the core, the scientists show theoretically that their design can breed not one but two nuclear fuels —U-233 from thorium and plutonium from depleted uranium —within the same reactor. This novel concept of fertile-to-fissile conversion has prompted its designers to christen their baby the Fast “Twin” Breeder Reactor. Their calculations show the sodium-cooled FTBR, while consuming 10.96 tonnes of plutonium to generate 1,000 MW of power, breeds 11.44 tonnes of plutonium and 0.88 tonnes of U-233 in a cycle length of two years.
FTBR design exploits the fact that U-233 is a better fissile material than plutonium. Secondly, they were able to maximise the breeding by putting the fertile materials inside the core rather than as a “blanket” surrounding the core as done traditionally.
“At present, there are no internal fertile blankets or fissile breeding zones in power reactors operating in the world,” the paper claims.
The concept has won praise from nuclear experts elsewhere. “Core heterogeneity is the best way to help high conversion,” says Alexis Nuttin, a French nuclear scientist at the LPSC Reactor Physics Group in Grenoble.Thorium-based fuels and fuel cycles have been used in the past and are being developed in a few countries but are yet to be commercialised.
BARC’s FTBR is claimed to be the first design that truly exploits the concept of “breeding” in a reactor that uses thorium. The handful of fast breeder reactors (FBRs) in the world today —including the one India is building in Kalpakkam near Chennai —use plutonium as fuel. These breeders have to wait until enough plutonium is accumulated through reprocessing of spent fuel discharged by thermal power reactors that run on uranium. Herein lies the rub.
The India-US civilian nuclear deal was expected to enable India import uranium and reprocess spent fuel to recover plutonium for its FBRs. But this deal has hit a roadblock.
“Jagannathan’s design is one way of utilising thorium and circumventing the delays in building plutonium-based FBRs,” says former BARC director P K Iyengar.
Meanwhile, India’s 300,000 tonnes of thorium reserves —the third largest in the world —in the beach sands of Kerala and Orissa states are waiting to be tapped.  The BARC scientists say that thorium should be inducted into power reactors when the uranium is still available.
FUTURISTIC FUEL
* India has 300,000 tonnes of thorium reserves, the third largest in world
* It is three times more abundant in the earth’s crust than uranium
* Success of project depends on US cooperation
* Thorium could form ‘fertile base’ for nuclear power generation
* Thorium-based fuels developed in a few countries but are yet to be commercialised

http://www.deccanherald.com/Content/Jul22007/national2007070110539.asp

doi:10.1016/j.anucene.2007.12.010
Physics design of initial and approach to equilibrium cores of a reactor concept for thorium utilization

Usha Palclip_image001, a, clip_image002and V. Jagannathana, clip_image002[1]
aLight Water Reactor Physics Section, Reactor Physics Design Division, Bhabha Atomic Research Centre, A-5-15, Central Complex, Mumbai, Maharashtra, India
Received 23 June 2007;  revised 11 December 2007;  accepted 16 December 2007.  Available online 11 February 2008.

Abstract

A thermal reactor concept ‘a thorium breeder reactor’ (ATBR) was conceived and reported by the authors during 1998. The distinctive physical characteristics of ATBR core with different types of seed fuels have been discussed in subsequent publications. The equilibrium core of ATBR with Pu seed was shown to exhibit a flat and low excess reactivity for a fuel cycle duration of two years. Notably this is achieved by no conventional burnable poison but by intrinsic balancing of reactivity between fissile and fertile zones. In this paper we present the design of the initial core and the refueling strategy for subsequent fuel cycles to enable a smooth transition to the equilibrium core. Three fuel types with characteristics similar to the three batch fuels of equilibrium core were designed for the initial core. Fuel requirement for the initial core is 4673 kg of reactor grade (RG) Pu for a cycle length of two years at 1875 MWt as against the 2200 kg needed for each fuel cycle of equilibrium core for same quantum of energy. The core reactivity variation during the first fuel cycle is monotonic fall and is relatively high (clip_image00340 mk) but gradually diminishes to ±5 mk for fuel cycles 5–8.

clip_image001[1]Corresponding author. Tel.: +91 33 25593768; fax: +91 22 2550 5151.

Annals of Nuclear Energy

http://tinyurl.com/32e86q

doi:10.1016/j.enconman.2006.02.008 clip_image004
Copyright © 2006 Elsevier Ltd All rights reserved.

Towards an intrinsically safe and economic thorium breeder reactor

V. Jagannathanclip_image001[2], a, clip_image002[2], clip_image002[3]and Usha Pala
aLight Water Reactor Physics Section, Reactor Physics Design Division, Bhabha Atomic Research Centre, 5th Floor, Central Complex, Mumbai 400085, India
Available online 29 March 2006.

Abstract

Thorium does not have intrinsic fissile content unlike uranium. 232Th has nearly three times thermal absorption cross section compared to 238U and hence requires much larger externally fed fissile content compared to uranium based fuel. These factors give a permanent economic competitive edge to uranium. Thus thorium is not inducted in any significant measure in present day power reactors, despite the fact that thorium is three times more abundant in the earth’s crust than uranium. Uranium reserves vary from country to country and there is also difficulty in having equitable distribution of uranium. Thus when 235U would get exhausted, perhaps much sooner in countries having limited uranium reserve, there will be a need to switch over from the today’s open fuel cycle programme based on 235U feed to closed fuel cycle based on Pu feed. At that stage thorium and (depleted) uranium would become equal candidates to form the fertile base. All economic considerations would have to be readdressed. The size and growth of the nuclear power programme based on closed fuel cycle would be dependent on maximizing the fissile conversion rate in those reactors. In this paper we reemphasize the principles and the details of the thermal reactor concept ‘A Thorium Breeder Reactor’ (ATBR), in which the use of PuO2 seeded thoria fuel is found to give excellent core characteristics like two years cycle length with nearly zero control maneuvers, fairly high seed output to input ratio and intrinsically safe reactivity coefficients [Jagannathan V, Ganesan S, Karthikeyan R. Sensitivity studies for a thorium breeder reactor design with the nuclear data libraries of WIMS library update project. In: Proceedings of the international conference on emerging nuclear energy systems ICENES-2000, September 25–28, 2000, Petten, The Netherlands].

Keywords: Thorium breeder; Pu-seed; Two years cycle length; No refueling; Minimum control maneuvers; Safe and economic reactor
clip_image001[3]Corresponding author. Tel.: +91 22 2559 3739; fax: +91 22 2550 5151.

Energy Conversion and Management
Volume 47, Issue 17, October 2006, Pages 2781-2793
12th International Conference on Emerging Nuclear Energy Systems

http://tinyurl.com/2mgh2w

India unveils ‘world’s safest nuclear reactor’
August 25, 2005 14:24 IST
India unveiled before the international commuity Thursday its revolutionary design of ‘A Thorium Breeder Reactor’ that can produce 600 MW of electricity for two years ‘with no refuelling and practically no control manoeuvres.’

Designed by scientists of the Mumbai-based Bhabha Atomic Research Centre, the ATBR is claimed to be far more economical and safer than any power reactor in the world.

Most significantly for India, ATBR does not require natural or enriched uranium which the country is finding difficult to import. It uses thorium — which India has in plenty — and only requires plutonium as ‘seed’ to ignite the reactor core initially.

Eventually, the ATBR can run entirely with thorium and fissile uranium-233 bred inside the reactor (or obtained externally by converting fertile thorium into fissile Uranium-233 by neutron bombardment).

BARC scientists V Jagannathan and Usha Pal revealed the ATBR design in their paper presented at the week-long ‘international conference on emerging nuclear energy systems’ in Brussels. The design has been in the making for over seven years.

According to the scientists, the ATBR while annually consuming 880 kg of plutonium for energy production from ‘seed’ rods, converts 1,100 kg of thorium into fissionable uranium-233. This diffrential gain in fissile formation makes ATBR a kind of thorium breeder.

The uniqueness of the ATBR design is that there is almost a perfect ‘balance’ between fissile depletion and production that allows in-bred U-233 to take part in energy generation thereby extending the core life to two years.

This does not happen in the present day power reactors because fissile depletion takes place much faster than production of new fissile ones.

BARC scientists say that “the ATBR with plutonium feed can be regarded as plutonium incinerator and it produces the intrinsically proliferation resistant U-233 for sustenance of the future reactor programme.”

They say that long fuel cycle length of two years with no external absorber management or control manoeuvres “does not exist in any operating reactor.”

The ATBR annually requires 2.2 tonnes of plutonium as ‘seed’. Althouth India has facilities to recover plutonium by reprocessing spent fuel, it requires plutonium for its Fast Breeder Reactor programme as well. Nuclear analysts say that it may be possible for India to obtain plutonium from friendly countries wanting to dismantle their weapons or dispose of their stockpiled plutonium.

http://in.rediff.com/news/2005/aug/25nuke.htm

India to build prototype thorium reactor

Part of: Power reactors in the ex-Soviet republics

The Indian Union cabinet cleared the Department of Atomic Energy’s proposal to set up a 500 MW prototype of the next generation fast breeder nuclear power reactor (FBR) at Kalpakkam, thereby setting the stage for the commercial exploitation of thorium as a fuel source. Bellona, 25/09-2003

Although uranium is the only naturally occurring fissile element directly usable in a nuclear reactor, the country only has 0.8 per cent of the world’s uranium reserves and may have to depend on imports in the future. On the other hand, India has around 32 per cent of the world’s reserves of thorium, and with a carefully planned program, indigenously available uranium can be used to harness the energy contained in non-fissile thorium to be used in the FBRs. Though the country’s atomic power program had produced only a little over 2,000 MW of nuclear energy over 34 years, the Indian Planning Commission has set an ambitious target of producing around 20,000 MW of nuclear power by 2020.

India has a so-called “three-stage nuclear program”. In the first stage, plutonium is created in its pressurized heavy water reactors (PHWRs) and extracted by reprocessing. In the second stage, fast breeder reactors (FBRs) use this plutonium in 70-percent MOX-fuel to breed uranium-233 in a thorium blanket around the core. In the final stage, the FBR’s use thorium-232 and produce uranium-233 for other reactors.

The first stage has been realized with India’s 10 nuclear power plants. The second stage is only realized by a small experimental fast breeder reactor (13 MW), at Kalpakkam. This reactor has a history with a lot of problems (as has been the case with the 10 nuclear reactors). This reactor is on top of a list of dangerous reactors in the country, according to a safety assessment of India’s Atomic Energy Regulatory Board. The reactor has a lack of safety measures and cooling systems.

http://tinyurl.com/2k6rkg

Are thorium reactors the solution? Coal and renewable energy are the road for now

Bellona’s nuclear physicist Nils Bøhmer.

Lately the debate over whether Norway should develop nuclear reactors based on thorium is growing in intensity. Since Norway sits on the worlds third largest resource of thorium, the Progress party argues that this could be an important future source of income, and that it would be a more secure card for Norway to bet on then carbon capture.

Nils Bøhmer, 09/11-2006

This raises some questions. The most important question is to what extent thorium reactors are a responsible and sensible solution for the global climate challenge and defense policy questions. Another question is whether the radioactive element thorium has a potential for profitable industrial development in Norway.Let us analyze the latter question first:
According to the US Geological Survey, Norway has a thorium resource of 170,000 tonnes or about 15 percent of the worlds total resources of 1,200,000 tonnes. This means that Norway is sitting on the third largest thorium resource in the world, which again is the basis for Norwegian interest in thorium reactors.
Professor Egil Lillestøl at the University of Bergen has been speaking out on how Norway has to take the initiative for financing, planning and building a prototype of an accelerator driven thorium reactor. This type of reactor uses a particle accelerator to transform thorium to uranium, which is used as fuel in the reactor. The total cost for this type of a project is at least EUR 500 m.
The advantage of this type of a reactor is that it is easier to stop if anything goes wrong, and it produces less long-lived waste than today’s traditional uranium reactors. However, there is a wide range of unsolved technical challenges connected to this type of a reactor, which, to date, exists only in the planning stage.
Even if thorium reactors produce less long-lived radioactive waste, they do produce waste that has to be handled for a thousand years. After more than 50 years with nuclear power, there is still no country in the world that has a repository for long-lived radioactive waste. Even in Norway, we have no adequate solution for our relatively small amounts of radioactive waste in either the short or long term.
At this point there are no accelerators that are powerful enough for use in these types of thorium reactors. Some of the proposals for reactors are based on the use of melted lead as a cooling agent, which is highly corrosive. Today there are no technical solutions to prevent corrosion at 700 Celsius, which is required by this kind of a reactor.
A number of countries have invested large economical resources in traditional uranium reactors, and will use these reactors as long as possible. There is today a large amount of cheap uranium available on the world market, and the nuclear industry estimates that there is at least enough uranium to last until 2040. Prior to this time, there will be little interest from the large nuclear nations to find a competitive nuclear technology.
If Norway is going to contribute to the development of new thorium reactors, we are dependent upon the research and the development happening internationally as we do not possess that type of competence and technology. This is something that the thorium advocates in Norway understand too. If the Progressive Party’s proposal to grant funds for research on thorium reactors is accepted, we will be in a situation where Norwegian tax money contributes to subsidizing the international nuclear industry.
Bellona therefore has little belief that thorium will be a profitable industry for Norway. In relation to this, it is interesting to note that the otherwise nuclear-friendly Institute for Energy Technology (IFE) has shown a rather lukewarm interest in thorium reactors.
Then to the question as to whether thorium reactors are anything the world needs: Climate change is the biggest challenge confronting the world community. Fossil energy is responsible for more than 90 percent of the worlds energy use, and consumption is increasing. At the same time we know that greenhouse gas emissions have to be reduced by 50 –80 percent within the next 50 years. The world’s coal-fuelled power plants need therefore either to be cleaned or replaced with something else, and nuclear power plants without CO2 emissions can, under these conditions, appear tempting. Bellona does not think so.
The challenge concerning nuclear waste, which is dangerous for future generations for an unforeseeable amount of time, remains unsolved. The likelihood for accidents is not big, but the consequences for health and environment are very big when they first happen. Both the risk and the time perspective raise ethical questions that nuclear power supporters have not answered.
There are a number of unsolved proliferation questions with more than a few of the thorium reactors that are now presently on the drawing board, particularly connected to the accelerator, which can relatively easily be used for the generation of weapons-grade plutonium from natural uranium, and which is found available in large quantities. This is technology we do not wish to end up in the wrong hands.
To reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 50 to 80 percent globally, we need technology that is globally pertinent. We register that the development of nuclear power in countries with other political regimes than ours raise significant challenges to defense policy. To solve the climate problem, we need solutions that are applicable in all countries. Renewable energy, energy efficiency and CO2 management for the use of fossil energy are such solutions.
According to Professor Lillestøl the first prototype of thorium reactor will first be available in about 20 years. And only then can we begin to talk about large-scale implementation. With the climate situation the world is confronted with today, we do not have time to wait – it is urgent! Prototypes for CCS (Carbon Capture & Storage) are about to be built now, and full-scale implementation of CCS will be a reality long before the first prototypes for thorium reactors are in place.
If Norway is to contribute to solving the world’s climate challenges, it is important that we invest in what we are good at. Through our experience from the metallurgical industry and our access to clean power, we can play a role in the development of solar technology. Through our experience in oil and gas, we now take the leading role in the production of clean power from fossil energy resources. Coal is the world’s fastest growing source of energy, and the known reserves of coal are large and will last for some centuries with the current use. The road to cleaner energy is therefore through coal and renewable energy.

http://www.bellona.org/articles/articles_2006/thorium_norway

New co to handle fast breeder reactor programme

Vinson Kurian

As part of technology development effort, the Department of Atomic Energy is already working on a 300-MW advanced heavy water reactor.

Kudankulam (TN) , March 2, 2004

A SEPARATE company has been set up to take care of the country’s fast breed reactor (FBR) programme and the ongoing work of the 500-MW prototype at Kalpakkam has already been brought under its purview.

Dr Anil Kakodkar, Chairman, Atomic Energy Commission, and Secretary, Department of Atomic Energy (DAE), told Business Line here that the new company has been christened Bharatiya Nabhikiya Vidyut Nigam Ltd (Bhavini).

Dr S.K. Jain, Chairman and Managing Director, Nuclear Power Corporation of India Ltd (NPCIL), will hold dual capacity as the Chairman and Managing Director for Bhavini.

The prototype with 500-MW capacity will be the forerunner to the commercialised FBR programme under which a series of reactors will be set up. “When we have built up a sufficient number, we’ll introduce thorium fuel. And from that point, we’ll start deploying thorium reactors,” Dr Kakodkar said, explaining the sequential three-stage nuclear programme.

Thorium occupies an important place as an energy resource of the country. “We’ve been working on thorium-based technologies right from the beginning. But, we had to be mindful of the sequence in which we exploited these resources. We now have a small reactor operating at Kalpakkam which runs on uranium 233, a thorium derivative.”

This sequence demanded to go in for thermal reactors first. The pressurised heavy water reactors that NPCIL is building around the country are all thermal reactors. “This represents the first stage. In the second stage, we would use the spent fuel that comes out of thermal reactors and extract fissile material for use in FBRs. The Indira Gandhi Centre for Atomic Research (IGCAR) has carried out the technology development for FBR and has been operating a test reactor for a long time now,” Dr Kakodkar said.

However, purely as part of technology development effort, the DAE is already working on a 300-MW advanced heavy water reactor (AHWR). “We should be in a position to take decision about its construction sometime towards the end of this year or early next year. This reactor would generate a large part of the energy from thorium fuel,” he added.

On attempts to rope in French assistance for the future n-programme, Dr Kakodkar said the DAE is discussing with whomsoever willing to do commercial business with it.

“It’s only contextual that we’re discussing with the French. But there are some issues of international politics to contend with. It’ll be a little while before we exactly know the outcome of these discussions,” he said.

On any attitudinal change in the Nuclear Supply Group of countries with the US making what is perceived to be the right kind of noise in recent times, he said any favourable step in this direction would be welcome.

http://www.thehindubusinessline.com/2004/03/03/stories/2004030301150400.htm

First fast-breeder reactor to be operational by ’09
11 Dec, 2007, 0212 hrs IST,Piyush Pandey, TNN

DHANBAD: India’s first 500 mega watt (MW) fast-breeder reactor is likely to be operational by 2009. There are four such reactors being built in the country with the first one at Kalpakkam near Chennai by Bharatiya Nabhikiya Vidyut Nagam (Bhavini).
Confirming this development, BK Chaturvedi, member Planning Commission, told ET: “India has huge thorium reserves, which can enable it to sustain 50,000-60,000 MW of power by 2050. A lot will depend upon the fast-breeder reactor being developed in the country. The first 500 MW fast-breeder reactor may be operational by 2009. As more of this gets built up, use of thorium would go up.”
India has extracted 30,000 tonne of thorium concentrate to prepare for the third stage nuclear power programme. The conversion of thorium into uranium-233 fuel would depend on the rate of growth of the second-stage, fast-breeder reactors. Once the reactor becomes operational, it can use about 30 tonne of thorium for conversion.
India’s research on using thorium as nuclear fuel was making progress and it would get a boost if there was foreign co-operation, Prithviraj Chavan, minister of state in the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO), told the Lok Sabha on Wednesday.
India has limited reserves of uranium, which suffices only for up to 10,000 MW capacity. Additional resources will have to be imported. This will depend upon India’s initiative with Nuclear suppliers Group (NSG).
India is in the midst of signing an agreement with the US. However, there are number of issues that have to be settled and a political consensus need to be evolved before substantial progress can occur, said Mr Chaturvedi while delivering the inaugural address on the occasion of golden jubilee celebrations of the Department of Petroleum Engineering, Indian School of Mines University, in Dhanbad.

http://economictimes.indiatimes.com/News/News_By_Industry/Energy/First_fast-breeder_reactor_to_be_operational_by_09/articleshow/2612912.cms

Sept. 17, 2003

The fast breeder reactor

By M.R. Srinivasan

India is the only country in the world that is committed to using thorium as a nuclear fuel and has, over the years, accumulated considerable knowledge on the various steps involved in thorium utilisation.

THE CABINET Committee on Economic Affairs recently approved the proposal of the Department of Atomic Energy to build the Prototype Fast Breeder Reactor (PFBR) at Kalpakkam, near Chennai. The power output of the reactor will be about 500 MW; the estimated cost is about Rs. 3,500 crores and the construction period about eight years. This is one of the biggest technology development projects India will be taking up, comparable to the Integrated Guided Missile Development Programme, the Light Combat Aircraft and the Nuclear Submarine Project. It was almost 50 years ago that Homi Bhabha visualised a three-stage nuclear energy programme to utilise the energy potential of thorium, which India possesses in abundance. All the successive chairmen of the Atomic Energy Commission who followed Bhabha have strongly supported the three-stage programme. The Fast Breeder Reactor (FBR) occupies the second stage. The FBR will use plutonium, formed in the uranium fuel elements of the first stage nuclear power stations, as fuel and convert thorium placed around the FBR core into uranium-233. U-233 can then be used as fuel with thorium, thus deriving energy from thorium. India is the only country in the world that is committed to using thorium as a nuclear fuel. It has, over the years, accumulated considerable knowledge and expertise on the various steps involved in thorium utilisation.

A small fast breeder reactor called the Fast Breeder Test Reactor (FBTR) was built at Kalpakkam and has been in operation from the mid-1980s. The Indira Gandhi Centre for Atomic Research (IGCAR) has extensive laboratory and testing facilities for various aspects of work relating to liquid sodium technology, design of fast reactor components, fuel development, control and instrumentation and so forth. The IGCAR has the lead role in evolving the designs of the PFBR. The Nuclear Power Corporation of India Ltd. (NPCIL), which is building and operating nuclear power units, will be given the project management responsibilities. The Bhabha Atomic Research Centre (BARC), the Nuclear Fuel Complex (NFC) and the Electronics Corporation of India Ltd. (ECIL) will make important contributions in their areas of expertise. So the PFBR will be a major technology development for the DAE as a whole. The FBTR has a design capacity of 15 MW and has so far only operated at less than 5 MW because of a restraint in the availability of fuel. It is a big scale up from the FBTR to the PFBR. The DAE has indeed taken a bold gamble in embarking on the PFBR at this time and the Government of India has been most supportive in clearing this mega project expeditiously.

We should note, however, that the PFBR is a prototype, as the name itself suggests. Realism would imply that it would be unwise to assume that the reactor would start supplying power at the rate of 500 MW once it begins operating. The committee set up by the DAE in the early 1980s to look into the disappointing performance of the Rajasthan Atomic Power Station (RAPS), concluded that it was inappropriate to have assumed that RAPS-1 would be a reliable producer of power as it was indeed prototypical in nature. We should be prepared for the PFBR to take two to three years, or perhaps longer, to stabilise into a reliable operating mode. We should also be prepared for slips in project schedule. Those of us who have managed large engineering projects know only too well that the key to controlling the time schedule is to freeze the designs of the plant and its components before commencing construction and manufacturing activities. This is especially difficult in the case of a prototype where new information from research and testing will have to be incorporated in the designs. There is a similar uncertainty with regard to costs. A look at cost and time overruns of the DAE projects over the past three decades shows that in a number of cases, they have been excessive. These have been due to learning of new technologies, shortage of foreign exchange, which inhibited the import option and embargoes, placed on export of high technology items from a number of advanced countries. In recent years, the NPCIL has demonstrated its ability to contain costs and stick to time schedules on a number of major projects. A factor responsible for this change has been the vastly improved performance of our industries to produce high technology equipment in shorter time frames. Backing this has been the excellent management culture evident in recent years in NPCIL and other DAE units.

The Indian public would like to be informed about the world situation on FBRs. From the 1950s, FBRs have received serious attention of scientists and technologists of the U.S., the USSR and the U.K. The principal appeal of FBRs was that they could, in principle, produce more nuclear fuel than they consumed. This sounds like getting something for nothing. What happens really is that the mass of nuclear fuel gets partly converted to energy and a part appears as new nuclear fuel (either plutonium 239 or uranium 233). Later, France, Germany and India embarked on FBR programmes. Much later, Japan also joined the group. After working on small size experimental FBRs, some of these countries took up work on larger units, as part of the electrical power systems. Some of these early reactors had many technical problems, some related to liquid sodium which is used as a coolant. When Jimmy Carter was the U.S. President, he was concerned about the proliferation risks of plutonium and decided to terminate the U.S. programme on FBRs. The U.K. experienced technical and economic problems with its prototype breeder reactor and abandoned the project. Germany had built its own prototype reactor, which never went into operation because of strong anti-nuclear sentiment, which became unmanageable in the case of the plutonium-fuelled reactor. France had good operating experience with a 15 MW and 250 MW prototypes and sealed up to a 1300 MW unit. The latter encountered various technical and control problems and the French Government declined to give it an operating licence, in spite of a strong recommendation by their nuclear experts. The Japanese abandoned two of their prototypes after they experienced many problems. As of now, only Russia is operating some FBRs successfully and is building some more.

In the light of the unfavourable global experience, is it wise for India to take on this challenging task? We have a unique resource imbalance as far as nuclear fuel is concerned. The presently known natural uranium reserves in the country can support a modest nuclear power capacity of some 10,000 MW. However, if a way can be found to utilise thorium, the latter source can produce more energy than our entire coal reserves.

There have been recent reports about an incident at Kalpakkam when some workers received high doses of radiation. The event occurred in January 2003; senior officers of BARC explained the event in July 2003, only after the media and responsible persons in public life raised a furore. Why the DAE did not come out on its own to inform the public about an accident it admitted was the worst in some five decades and why area radiation monitors were not installed around low level waste storage tanks, which at times inadvertently can receive high level waste, have not been explained. In the context of the FBRs handling large amounts of plutonium, a high level of transparency backed by independent auditing of all safety measures, is essential. It will be unsatisfactory to keep these installations out of the purview of the Atomic Energy Regulatory Board and tag them on the strategic installations, which are covered by an internal safety review procedure. In addition, the DAE must adopt an enlightened policy of keeping the public informed at all times about safety aspects of its installations.

In the past, the DAE largely depended on its own internal experts to solve technical problems in design, construction and operation of its facilities. This was understandable given the absence of expertise elsewhere in the country. The situation now is vastly different. There are many knowledgeable people in nuclear matters among the large number of former DAE personnel who have retired over the years. Similarly, many people in our industry also have considerable first hand experience in the manufacture and servicing of nuclear components. Our academic community, which has been utilised only in a limited way in the past on nuclear work, has become increasingly competent in handling frontline technologies. The DAE should evolve a management pattern wherein all these resource personnel and institutions are utilised effectively so as to enhance the probability of success in all aspects of FBR work and overcome impediments in a timely and effective manner. In addition to internal reviews in the DAE of progress in the PFBR, it is highly desirable that a Peer Review Group of eminent nuclear scientists and technologists reviews the progress, anticipated impediments and solutions to overcome them and safety concerns on a regular periodic basis and reports to the higher levels of Government and indeed to the public at large.

(The writer is former Chairman, Atomic Energy Commission.)

http://www.hinduonnet.com/2003/09/17/stories/2003091703770800.htm

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