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India's first Fast Breeder Reactor to be delayed

Sudheer Pal Singh  |  New Delhi 

The 500-Mwe reactor will take another year to be completed

India’s first Fast Breeder Reactor (FBR) for commercial nuclear energy generation is likely to be delayed by a year. The 500-megawatt equivalent (Mwe) reactor, which is being built at Kalpakkam (near Chennai) in Tamil Nadu, was initially expected to be commissioned by 2010-end.

“There have been some delays in the commissioning of Kalpakkam FBR. This is because many equipment are being made for the first time in India as it is an indigenous reactor,” said a senior official from the Department of Atomic Energy (DAE).

The official informed that the delay could be a couple of month to one year and FBR would be commissioned in 2011.

The reactor, when commissioned, would become the second-largest commercial FBR in the world after Russia’s BN-600 reactor, which is operating since 1980. With its commissioning, India would enter the second phase of its “three-stage nuclear energy programme”.

India, as a part of its nuclear strategy, has embarked on a three-pronged path. First, natural uranium will fuel PHWRs (Pressurised Heavy Water Reactors). The second stage involves using FBRs based on plutonium that will be extracted from the spent fuel of the first stage. Finally, the country’s vast thorium reserves will be used to generate electricity.

Apart from the Kalpakkam FBR, the government is planning to set up four additional FBRs by 2020. The sites for two of these additional FBRs have already been identified at Kalpakkam.

The FBR at Kalpakkam would utilise over 75 per cent of natural Uranium that is fed into it — as compared to a dismal 0.3 per cent utilisation of the radioactive fuel in the conventional PHWRs currently installed in India — making it “near-renewable”.

The prototype FBR, being developed at an estimated investment of Rs 3,492 crore, is expected to provide energy security to the country.

The reactor is set up by 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 aegis of DAE. It has been designed at the Indira Gandhi Centre for Atomic Research (IGCAR), DAE’s research body developing the fast breeder reactor technology in India.

A small sized 13 MWe Fast Breeder Test Reactor (FBTR) is already successfully operating in the country since 1985. The FBR technology, which forms the second stage of India’s nuclear energy programme, is expected to allow the country’s nuclear power generation capacity to grow over 300,000 MWe in the long term, without any additional uranium, as it uses the spent fuel from the already installed PHWRs.

India has a current installed nuclear power generation capacity of over 4,100 MWe, 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 country plans to ramp up its nuclear power generation capacity fivefold to over 20,000 MWe by 2020.

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First Published: Sun, February 14 2010. 00:02 IST