India’s first fast breeder reactor to be ready next year

February 1st, 2009 - 2:42 pm ICT by IANS  

Chennai, Feb 1 (IANS) After over two decades of work, India’s first nuclear reactor that will breed more fuel than it consumes will be ready next year, say senior officials at the Kalpakkam nuclear complex 80 km from here.The heavily-guarded complex is a hive of activity now as the 4,000-odd experts who are designing and building the 500-MW prototype fast breeder reactor (PFBR) can finally foresee when it will be ready.

A breeder reactor is one that breeds more material for a nuclear fission reaction than it consumes, so that the reaction - that ultimately produces electricity - can continue.

If all goes well, the Rs.35 billion (Rs.3,500 crore/$700 million) project promoted by Bharatiya Nabhikiya Vidyut Nigam Ltd (Bhavini) will become the crowning glory for the experts past and present at the Indira Gandhi Centre for Atomic Research (IGCAR) at the complex that already houses four nuclear power reactors.

“The project is interestingly poised. Civil construction is nearing completion. Most of the reactor components are at the site and deliveries of other equipment are expected soon,” IGCAR Director Baldev Raj told IANS.

Measured in terms of physical progress - including component manufacturing - around 40 percent of the project work is complete with an average increase of around 2.5 percent every month.

Officials are hopeful of getting the necessary clearances from the Atomic Energy Regulatory Board (AERB) this month to erect the main vessel and other equipments.

Last June, the huge safety vessel (200 tonnes, 13 metres in diameter and 13 metres in depth) was lowered into the reactor vault.

“Normally safety clearances are in a sequence; first for the site followed by clearances for concrete pour, erection of major equipments and reactor commissioning,” IGCAR’s reactor engineering group director S.C. Chetal told IANS.

As the project itself is first of its kind in India clearance for lowering of the safety vessel was obtained first.

Bhavini’s project director Prabhat Kumar, who literally oversees the project’s progress through the glass wall opposite his seat, told IANS: “Around Rs.1400 crore (Rs.14 billion) has been spent till date. This year we have exceeded even the revised estimates of Rs.725 crore (Rs.7.25 billion).”

Orders have been placed for equipments worth around Rs.32.50 billion (Rs.3,250 crore) and purchase orders worth Rs.2.5 billion (Rs.250 crore) will be soon issued.

Reeling off the equipment that has been received - safety vessel, main vessel, thermal insulation, thermal baffle, five sodium pumps, four argon buffer tanks, grid plate and others - Kumar listed the items to be received, such as inner vessel, roof slabs for the reactor building, compressed air system and nitrogen supply system.

Around 175 tonnes of solid sodium in 98 tankers have been imported from France and out of that 75 tonnes have been transferred to the sodium tanks.

“Next fiscal we will get two steam generators, heat exchangers, sodium pumps, similar panels,” he added.

Civil works to house power generation equipment like turbine generator and facilities like sea water pump house, sea water intake and others have started and by this March switchyard, auxiliary power and outfall structures will be ready.

Confident that the reactor would start generating power some time in 2010, Kumar added a rider: “There may be some surprises as the project is the first of its kind in many ways”.

He added: “Each and every weld point in reactor equipment has to be inspected and safety certified. It is dangerous to ease fabrication and welding processes.”

The officials, however, fall silent when asked about rise in project cost due to rising prices of steel, cement and other raw material. “The Bhavini board has to consider the revised cost estimates first,” is all they say.

(Venkatachari Jagannathan can be contacted at

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