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A Preface to its Future PerspectivesStrategy for Nuclear EnergyEvolution of PHWR DesignFast Breeder ReactorsHeavy WaterNuclear Fuels and structural ComponentsBack End of Nuclear Fuel CycleResearch & DevelopmentConclusion


ANU SHAKTI: Atomic Energy In India

Strategy for Nuclear Energy

India has consciously proceeded to explore the possibility of tapping nuclear energy for the purpose of power generation and the Atomic Energy Act was framed and implemented with the set objectives of using two naturally occurring elements Uranium and Thorium having good potential to be utilized as nuclear fuel in Indian Nuclear Power Reactors. The estimated natural deposits of these elements in india are :

  • Natural Uranium deposits - ~70,000 tonnes 
  • Thorium deposits - ~ 3,60,000 tonnes

Indian Nuclear Power Generation : Envisages A Three Stage Programme

  • STAGE 1 » Pressurised Heavy Water Reactor using
  • STAGE 2 » Fast Breeder Reactor
  • STAGE 3 » Breeder Reactor

STAGE 1 » Pressurised Heavy Water Reactor using

  • Natural UO2 as fuel matrix 
  • Heavy water as moderator and coolant

Natural U isotopic composition  is  0.7 % fissile U-235 and the rest is U-238. In the reactor

  • The first two plants were of boiling water reactors based on imported technology. Subsequent plants are of PHWR type through indigenous R&D efforts. India achieved complete self- reliance in this technology and this stage of the programme is in the industrial domain.

The future plan  includes

  • Setting up of VVER type plants based on Russian Technology is under progress to augment power generation  .
  • MOX fuel (Mixed oxide) is developed and introduced at Tarapur To conserve fuel and to develop new fuel technology.

Reprocessing of spent fuel » By an Open Cycle or a Closed Cycle mode.

Open cycle” refers to disposal of the entire waste after subjecting to proper waste treatment.

This Results in huge underutilization of the energy potential of Uranium (~ 2 % is exploited)

Closed cycle” refers to chemical separation of U-238 and Pu-239 and further recycled while the other radioactive fission products were separated, sorted out according to their half lives and activity and appropriately disposed off with minimum environmental disturbance.

  • Both the options are in practice.
  • As a part of long – term energy strategy, Japan and France has opted “closed cycle”
  • India preferred a closed cycle mode in view of its phased expansion of nuclear power generation extending through the second and third stages.
  • Indigenous technology for the reprocessing of the spent fuel as well as waste management programme has been developed by India through its own comprehensive R&D efforts and reprocessing plants were set up and are in operation thereby attaining self - reliance in this domain.

STAGE 2 » Fast Breeder Reactor

India’s second stage of nuclear power generation envisages the use of Pu-239 obtained from the first stage reactor operation, as the fuel core in fast breeder reactors (FBR). The main features of FBTR are 

  • Pu-239 serves as the main fissile element in the FBR 
  • A blanket of U-238 surrounding the fuel core will undergo nuclear transmutation to produce fresh Pu-239 as more and more Pu-239 is consumed during the operation.
  • Besides a blanket of Th-232 around the FBR core also undergoes neutron capture reactions leading to the formation of U-233. U-233 is the nuclear reactor fuel for the third stage of India’s Nuclear Power Programme.
  • It is technically feasible to produce sustained energy output of 420 GWe from FBR. 
  • Setting up Pu-239 fuelled fast Breeder Reactor of 500 MWe power generation is in advanced stage of completion. Concurrently, it is proposed to use thorium-based fuel, along with a small feed of plutonium-based fuel in Advanced Heavy Water Reactors (AHWRs). The AHWRs are expected to shorten the period of reaching the stage of large-scale thorium utilization.
STAGE STAGE 3 » Breeder Reactor

The third phase of India’s Nuclear Power Generation programme is, breeder reactors using U-233 fuel. India’s vast thorium deposits permit design and operation of U-233 fuelled breeder reactors. 

  • U-233 is obtained from the nuclear transmutation of Th-232 used as a blanket in the second phase Pu-239 fuelled FBR. 
  • Besides, U-233 fuelled breeder reactors will have a Th-232 blanket around the U-233 reactor core which will generate more U-233 as the reactor goes operational thus resulting in the production of more and more U-233 fuel from the Th-232 blanket as more of the U-233 in the fuel core is consumed helping to sustain the long term power generation fuel requirement. 
  • These U-233/Th-232 based breeder reactors are under development and would serve as the mainstay of the final thorium utilization stage of the Indian nuclear programme. The currently known Indian thorium reserves amount to 358,000 GWe-yr of electrical energy and can easily meet the energy requirements during the next century and beyond.
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