Work on two more fast breeder reactors to start (Second of two-part series)

January 19th, 2009 - 11:48 am ICT by IANS  

Chennai, Jan 19 (IANS) Plans for two more fast breeder reactors at the nuclear power complex in Kalpakkam near here are proceeding fast, even as India’s first 500 MW fast breeder nuclear reactor plant is fast coming up at the complex.The fast breeder reactor operating company Bharatiya Nabhikiya Vidyut Nigam Limited (Bhavini) will soon start pre project activities for the construction of two more reactors at Kalpakkam, 80 km from this Tamil Nadu capital.

A breeder reactor is one that breeds more material for a nuclear fission reaction than it consumes. The reaction produces energy that is used in the form of electricity.

The Indian fast reactors will be fuelled by a blend of plutonium and uranium oxide.

While the reactor will break up (fission) plutonium for power production, it will also breed more plutonium than it consumes. The original plutonium comes from 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 energy needs.

These reactors are also called fast spectrum reactors since the neutrons coming from the fission will not be moderated.

“Having got the approval from the site selection committee, we are taking the next step of preparing the site for construction,” Prabhat Kumar, project director, told IANS.

According to him the pre project activities such as levelling the site, laying of roads, setting up assembly shops and others will “get started next fiscal and would require substantial sums”. But he did not give a specific number.

The government has sanctioned construction of four more 500 MW fast reactors of which two will be housed inside the existing nuclear island at Kalpakkam and expected to be ready by 2020.

Decision on locating the remaining two fast reactors is yet to be taken.

The proposed reactors will also be powered by mixed oxide fuel - a blend of plutonium and uranium oxides - like the upcoming 500 MW prototype fast breeder reactor (PFBR) in the same complex.

Similarly, construction of the Fast Reactor Fuel Cycle Facility is expected to start soon.

The facility will have a fuel reprocessing plant, fuel fabrication plant, core sub-assembly plant, reprocessed uranium oxide plant and waste management plant.

The facility will not only fabricate the mixed oxide fuel and fuel sub assemblies for the fast reactors at Kalpakkam but also reprocess and refabricate the spent fuel that comes out of these reactors.

The purpose of fuel reprocessing facility is to recover and use the fissile and fertile component in the spent fuel.

“The facility would involve an outlay of around Rs.20 billion (Rs.2,000 crore/$411 million) and will be ready by 2014 so as to reprocess the spent fuel from PFBR,” Baldev Raj, director, Indira Gandhi Centre for Atomic Research (IGCAR), told IANS.

The PFBR, expected to go on stream sometime at the end of 2010, will have its fuel fabricated at Bhabha Atomic Research Centre, Mumbai.

According to Raj, co-locating the fuel fabrication and reprocessing facilities has several advantages - in terms of safety, security and logistics - which in turn makes the effort economical.

“Similarly there will be a separate facility for the two other proposed 500 MW fast reactors,” he added.

In addition, IGCAR is also building a lab-sized reprocessing plant for metallic fuel - the fuel of future fast reactors.

India’s nuclear establishment has decided to go for metallic fuel as it enables faster breeding of plutonium than is consumed for energy generation.

These facilities will be in addition to the existing plant at Kalpakkam that reprocesses the spent fuel from the Madras Atomic Power Station and the Fast Breeder Test Reactor.

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