Fast Breeder Reactor Program in India

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QuestionGive an account of the growth and development of nuclear science and technology in India. What are the benefits of Fast Breeder Reactor Program in India?23 October 2021


Nuclear power is the fifth largest source of electricity in India after coal, gas, hydroelectric and wind power. As of the year 2018, India has a total of 22 nuclear reactors operating in 7 nuclear power plants with a total installed capacity of 6,780 MW. Six more reactors are currently under construction with a combined generation capacity of 4,300 MW.

India’s nuclear program was formulated in the 1950s by Dr. Homi Bhabha to secure the country’s long-term energy independence through the use of uranium and thorium reserves found in the monazite sands of the coastal regions of South India.

Growth and Development of Nuclear Science and Technology in India:

  • India’s journey in the field of nuclear science and technology began with the formation of the Department of Atomic Energy in Its purpose was to exploit nuclear resources for peaceful purposes. India also had to overcome the barrier of refusing technology transfer by capable nations.
  • As a part of an agreement with the United States, India set up its first nuclear power station (410MW) in 1963 at Tarapur, Maharashtra. It was based on a boiling water reactor (BWR) using enriched uranium fuel supplied by the United States. . The project started commercial operation in Tarapur marked the beginning of India’s nuclear energy development effort.
  • In 1988, India signed an agreement with the erstwhile Soviet Union to set up a power project of 2x1000MW capacity based on Soviet-built pressurized water reactors at Kudankulam, Tamil Nadu.
  • A three-phase nuclear power program was devised by Dr. Homi Bhabha in the 1950s to secure the country’s long-term energy independence, through the use of uranium and thorium deposits found in the monazite sands of the coastal regions of South India.
  • The three stages adopted were
  • Natural uranium fuelled pressurised Heavy Water Reactors (PWHR)
  • Fast Breeder Reactors (FBRs) utilizing plutonium based fuel
  • Advanced nuclear power systems for utilisation of Thorium.
  • The first stage was based on indigenously built Pressurized Heavy Water Reactors (PHWRs), which used natural uranium from domestic sources as fuel, and indigenously produced heavy water as both moderator and coolant.
  • In its second stage, the plutonium-239 separated from the spent fuel in the first stage was to be used in an indigenously developed Fast Breeder Reactor (FBR) to generate electricity.
  • In the third phase, it is envisaged to use indigenously available Thorium raw material from sea sands along the coast and to produce Uranium 233 which will be the fuel for power generation.
  • Presently, all the components and equipments, especially the large sized heavy components have been successfully manufactured and produced by the Indian industries, and have been put into operation in the PFBR project. By following the above approach, India has mastered the design and manufacturing of Sodium Cooled Fast Breeder Reactors (FBR).

Advantages of Fast Breeder Reactors (FBR):

  • A fast breeder reactor is a nuclear reactor that produces more fissile material than it consumes.
  • FBRs are designed with a number of security measures and features adhering to the redundancy and diversity principles. Fast breeder reactors are safe and efficient apart from being environmentally beneficial.
  • The second stage involves using plutonium-239 to produce mixed-oxide fuel, which will be used in fast breeder reactors. Plutonium 239 undergoes fission to generate energy, and the metal oxide reacts with enriched uranium, reacting with the mixed-oxide fuel to produce more plutonium-239.
  • Furthermore, once sufficient quantities of plutonium-239 are made, thorium will be used in the reactor to produce uranium-233. This uranium is important for the third stage.
  • Breeder reactors use a smaller core, which is important for sustaining chain reactions. In addition, they also do not require a moderator to slow down the neutrons.
  • In addition, annual external feed does not require large amounts of fuel material, and thus eliminates the need for large capacity waste storage spaces with complex manufacturing facilities.

Political will and commitment to nuclear energy remain strong, with the government working hard in recent days to secure membership in the NSG, an effort that ultimately failed. It is important to remember that India does not require NSG membership to import nuclear technology which was already approved through an exemption granted in 2008.

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