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Prototype Fast Breeder Reactor’s massive safety vessel installed

T.S. Subramanian

Most important milestone in the history of India’s FBR programme: Kakodkar

— Photo: K.V. Srinivasan

perfect job: The safety vessel, one of the major nuclear reactor components, being lowered into the reactor vault at the Indira Gandhi Centre for Atomic Research, Kalpakkam, on Tuesday.

CHENNAI: The construction of the Prototype Fast Breeder Reactor (PFBR) at Kalpakkam, Tamil Nadu, crossed “a mega milestone” on Tuesday when its massive safety vessel, a critical component, was installed inside the reactor vault.

The cavernous vessel, made of special stainless steel, weighs 160 tonnes. It is 13.5 metres in diameter, 13.5 metres in height and 43 metres in circumference. Seventy petals were welded together by Larsen and Toubro to make it.

A spectacle

It was a spectacular sight as a heavy-duty crane with a long boom gingerly lifted the vessel from inside a tall supporting structure on the ground. As it dangled in mid-air, the thermal insulation panels on its outer wall dazzled in contrast to the greenish waters of the Bay of Bengal in the background. The crane then slowly swung around the vessel over an aerial distance of 57 metres and lowered it precisely inside the concrete reactor vault, which is 13.8 metres in diameter and 17 metres in height.

As the critical operation, which lasted two hours, ended successfully, applause rang out from several hundreds gathered around.

Preparations got under way from Monday night with Anil Kakodkar, Chairman, Atomic Energy Commission and S.K. Jain, Chairman and Managing Director, Nuclear Power Corporation of India Limited (NPCIL), present at the site.

The PFBR, which will generate 500 MWe, will use plutonium-uranium oxide as fuel and liquid sodium as coolant. The safety vessel will prevent the liquid sodium in the main vessel from coming in contact with the reactor vault. The main vessel will be placed inside the safety vessel.

A milestone

Dr. Kakodkar described the event “the most important milestone in the history of India’s Fast Breeder Reactor (FBR) programme” and “a very happy moment.” He told The Hindu, “It is a great effort on the part of a large team and I congratulate the entire team led by Prabhat Kumar, Project Director, PFBR.”

Mr. Jain called it “the beginning of the march towards reaching maturity in building breeder reactors.” Other components of the PFBR were in an advanced stage of fabrication. “We are on course for the completion of this prestigious project,” he said.

Challenges

Mr. Prabhat Kumar said handling the large-sized, heavy, thin-walled safety vessel posed several challenges. It had to be lowered within a narrow radial gap of 160 mm without any impact on the vault so that the thermal insulation panels would not be damaged.

Baldev Raj, Director, Indira Gandhi Centre for Atomic Research, Kalpakkam, said the vessel was a difficult component to install.

“It was manufactured to world-class specifications and it will send a strong message about our capability in building fast breeder reactors,” he added.

The PFBR will be built at a cost of Rs. 3,500 crore and attain criticality in September 2010.

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