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The Department of Atomic Energy (DAE) and nuclear experts have downplayed leakage at the six underground storage tanks at a nuclear facility in Washington saying that it cannot be compared with India's nuclear waste disposal and storage.
DAE official told Business Standard it has technology in place to process and store radioactive waste for over 40 years within its premises. The high level waste is vitrified (which means it is converted in to glass) and packed in double walled stainless steel vessels which are then sealed in lead flasks. These are stored in specially engineered underground facility called Solid Storage & Surveillance Facility (SSSF).
"At present, DAE has 3 operating Reprocessing Facilities and one SSSF. Already having developed the technology, it will expand the reprocessing and vitrification capacity as per its expanding nuclear power programme. In case of the reactors to be set up under technical cooperation with other countries, separate reprocessing facilities will be set up for spent fuel generated in such reactors. Besides, the country is also pursuing the development of accelerator driven sub critical system whereby the actinides will be incinerated in to smaller isotopes with much less half-life thus bringing down the storage time to 300 years from the presently envisaged thousands of years," the official said.
However, A Gopalakrishnan, former chairman, AERB said "The immediate urgency is in perfecting and expanding the front-end technologies for efficient spent-fuel reprocessing , including those for separation of actinides of very long half-life and fixing them in non-leachable glassy forms . These steps alone will substantially reduce the volume of highly radio-active material we need to store for very long periods. Unfortunately , while the DAE may assert they have mastered all these technologies in waste management , it is a patently false claim. The Prime Minister had promised Parliament that all such technologies will get transferred from advanced countries under IAEA safeguards , as a result of the Indo-US Nuclear Deal , but this did not materialize. Filling this technology gap is of foremost urgency , before worrying about the ultimate burial of the high-level waste. "
On the other hand, R Bhattacharya, secretary, AERB said India's nuclear is committed to follow the closed fuel cycle the final nuclear waste may not have long half-life as is the case of other countries.“There is a periodical monitoring done at the level of AERB. We have got good waste management system. We have yet to reach to the generation of high active waste which is currently quite less,” he noted.
GR Srinivasan, former vice chairman, AERB said India has “tank in tank” concept. “ If there is a leakage of nuclear waste from one tank, it goes into the tank below. All efforts are made to detect and prevent it from going in public domain,” he added.
According to N Nagaich, executive director, Nuclear Power Corporation (NPC) , spent fuel for reprocessing and waste storage are being looked after by DAE and Bhabha Atomic research Centre. It is not done by the Nuclear Power Corporation which currently operates nuclear power plants in the country with total generation capacity of 4,780 MW.