India’s fast breeder reactor nears second milestone

June 16th, 2009 - 1:51 pm ICT by IANS  

By Venkatachari Jagannathan
Chennai, June 16 (IANS) India’s first indigenously designed fast breeder reactor, which is expected to start functioning at Kalpakkam in Tamil Nadu by 2010 and generate 500 MW of electricity, is headed for another milestone.

The breeder reactor - which breeds more material for a nuclear fission reaction than it consumes - is being built by the Bharatiya Nabhikiya Vidyut Nigam Limited (Bhavini) at the Kalpakkam nuclear enclave, 80 km from here. The prototype fast breeder reactor (PFBR) will see a major achievement when its main vessel is lowered into the safety vessel. This is expected shortly.

“We are confident of getting the regulatory clearances for lowering the main vessel soon. We will lower the main vessel into the already erected safety vessel,” Prabhat Kumar, project director of Bhavini, told IANS.

Tasked to build fast breeder reactors in India, Bhavini is awaiting clearance from the Atomic Energy Regulatory Board (AERB). Kumar said around 46 percent of the PFBR project work is complete and by the end of the year it will be 60 percent.

The sodium cooled fast reactor designed by the Indira Gandhi Centre for Atomic Research (IGCAR) has three vessels - a safety vessel, a main vessel and an inner vessel.

Outermost is the stainless steel safety vessel, which was lowered into the reactor vault last June - the first milestone.

The main vessel made of stainless steel measures 13 metres in diameter, 13 metres in height, weighs 200 tonnes and will go inside the safety vessel to hold the coolant liquid sodium, reactor fuel, grid plates and others.

The third and smaller of the three vessels is the inner vessel - 11 metres tall - and supports equipments like pumps, heat exchangers and others.

According to Kumar, a sum of Rs.1,719 crores has been spent on the project and the company may go in for the placement of bonds to raise funds for the Rs.3,400 crore ($717 million) project.

He said: “The PFBR will be funded 76 percent by the central government, four percent by the Nuclear Power Corporation of India Limited and the balance through loans. Instead of institutional loans, a decision is expected to be taken for issue of bonds.”

The Atomic Energy Commission (AEC) has accorded its sanction for Rs.250 crore to carry out pre-project activities for setting up two more fast reactors at the Kalpakkam nuclear enclave.

“Now the union cabinet will have to accord its sanction,” Kumar said.

According to him, pre-project activities include site inspection, ground levelling, soil survey, laying of roads, setting up site assembly shops, water channels and others.

“It will take around one-and-a-half years to complete the pre-project activities,” he said.

While the reactor uses fission plutonium for power production it breeds more plutonium than what it uses from the natural uranium. The surplus plutonium from each fast reactor can be used to set up more such reactors and grow the nuclear capacity in tune with India’s needs.

The Indian fast reactors will be fuelled by a blend of plutonium and uranium oxide. The surplus plutonium from each fast reactor can be used to set up more such reactors and grow the nuclear capacity in tune with India’s needs.

(Venkatachari Jagannathan can be contacted at

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