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We won't compromise on three-stage nuclear power programme: Chavan

Special Correspondent

Fast Breeder Test Reactor enjoys impeccable safety record, says Minister

— Photo: IGCAR

(From left) S.K. Jain, Chairman and Managing Director, Nuclear Power Corporation of India Limited; Srikumar Banerjee, Chairman, Atomic Energy Commission; Prithviraj Chavan, Union Minister of State for Science and Technology; Baldev Raj, Director, IGCAR and R.K. Sinha, Director, Bhabha Atomic Research Centre, Trombay, at the IGCAR in Kalpakkam on Sunday.

CHENNAI: Even as India looks forward to expand its nuclear power programme with imported reactors and fuel, “there will be no compromise with our commitment to the indigenous three-stage nuclear power programme, to our own research and our own technology,” Union Minister of State for Science and Technology Prithiviraj Chavan said on Sunday.

Mr. Chavan was delivering the presidential address at a function to mark the silver jubilee of the Fast Breeder Test Reactor (FBTR) attaining first criticality on October 18, 1985, at Kalpakkam, near here.

The Minister was responding to fears that India's plans to import 36 reactors would lead to dilution of Homi Bhabha's vision of a three-stage nuclear electricity programme. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh had assured the country that he would stand by the programme. Breeder reactors were essential for India's energy security, Mr. Chavan said.

(In the first stage, India has so far used natural uranium as fuel to build 17 Pressurised Heavy Water Reactors (PHWRs). In the second stage, plutonium reprocessed from the spent fuel of the PHWRs, depleted uranium and thorium kept in the blanket form will be used as fuel to power a series of breeder reactors. Thorium used in the breeders gets converted into uranium-233, a fissile material. In the third stage, reactors will use thorium and uranium-233 to generate electricity. Thus, the three stages are inter-linked. Fast reactors are commonly called breeder reactors as they breed more fuel than they consume).

Mr. Chavan said the FBTR, which formed the corner-stone of the second stage, had an impeccable safety record. The Indira Gandhi Centre for Atomic Research (IGCAR) had mastered the use of liquid sodium. Its use could lead to fire. Excellent performance of the sodium systems had removed fears about the handling of liquid sodium at high temperatures.

Though the FBTR, with an output of 40 MWt, was an experimental reactor, it had the complexities of a power reactor. The IGCAR's bold decision to deploy plutonium-uranium carbide fuel in the FBTR had paid rich dividends, in the form of experience gained in the design, fabrication and testing of advanced fast reactor fuel. He was glad that the FBTR would work for up to 2030 and fulfil all its original missions.

Mr. Chavan released several books, including those on the 25 years of commissioning of the FBTR and the silver jubilee of the Radiometallurgy Laboratory (RML) of the IGCAR. He described the FBTR and the RML as “jewels in the crown of the Department of Atomic Energy (DAE).”

M.S. Ramanujan, Postmaster-General, Chennai City Region, released a special cover on the FBTR's silver jubilee.

Atomic Energy Commission (AEC) Chairman Srikumar Banerjee said the DAE was convinced about the viability of India's three-stage nuclear electricity programme. He lauded N. Srinivasan for his remarkable leadership in establishing the IGCAR and associated laboratories. Mr. Srinivasan achieved all this when the country had no engineering base, and he was clear that the IGCAR's focus was on developing fast reactors.

Dr. Banerjee also lauded C. Ganguly, who had headed the Nuclear Fuel Complex, Hyderabad, for developing the mixed carbide fuel, the first of its kind, for the FBTR.

“Today, we have a leadership position in fast reactors,” Dr. Banerjee said. “The FBTR is a training ground for the personnel who will operate the Prototype Fast Breeder Reactor (PFBR) coming up next door. Our colleagues have shown a dramatic courage in the 500-MWe PFBR construction.”

IGCAR Director Baldev Raj said the FBTR's steam generator had worked for 25 years without any failure. India would build six breeder reactors, including the PFBR and two more at Kalpakkam, of 500 MWe each. Beyond 2020, breeders of 1000 MWe capacity, using metallic fuel, would come up.

M.R. Srinivasan, P.K. Iyengar and R. Chidambaram, all former AEC Chairmen, praised the IGCAR's pioneers such as Vikram Sarabhai, N. Srinivasan and the late C.V. Sundaram for building the IGCAR and how “Kalpakkam has become the centre of fast reactor development in the world.”

Yuri Sokolov, Deputy Director-General, International Atomic Energy Agency, said nuclear energy, as an option, “cannot be ignored.”

Frank Carre, CEA, France, said the PFBR would be the stepping stone for India's sustainable energy future.

G. Srinivasan, Director, Reactor Operation and Maintenance Group, IGCAR, said the FBTR was one of the six breeder reactors operating in the world.

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