THE HINDU  dated 19.10.2005

A creditable performance at Kalpakkam

Special Correspondent

FBTR completes 20 years

Though the FBTR was based on the design of the French reactor Rapsodie, it was built with design changes to make it a mini power station by itself
CHENNAI: : On Tuesday, October 18, the Fast Breeder Test Reactor (FBTR) at the Indira Gandhi Centre for Atomic Research (IGCAR), Kalpakkam, completed 20 years of operation. It has a capacity of 13 Mwe and uses plutonioum-uranium carbide as a fuel and liquid sodium as coolant. The FBTR is a forerunner to the Protoype Fast Breeder Reactor (PFBR), which is under

construction at Kalpakkam. The PFBR will generate 500 MWe from 2010.

It is possible to design the fast reactors in such a way that they breed more fuel than what they consume. Hence they are called breeder reactors. Fast breeder reactors form the second stage of India's nuclear power programme. The first stage, comprising the Pressurised Heavy Water Reactors (PHWRs), has entered the commercial domain. These reactors use natural uranium as fuel. The third stage will consist of reactors using thorium as fuel.

Indigenously built

The first criticality of the FBTR took place on October 18, 1985.

According to P.V. Ramalingam, Director, Reactor Operation and Maintenance Group, IGCAR, although the FBTR was based on the design of the French reactor Rapsodie, it was built with design changes to make it a mini power station by itself. Built indigenously, its fuel was unique in the form of plutonium-uranium carbide. The fuel had not suffered any pin failure so far. It had so far operated for 36,000 hours, generating five million units of electricity.

The steam generators in the FBTR had operated for 20,000 hours without any leak, said Mr.Ramalingam. Each of the four sodium pumps had logged 1,25,000 hours of trouble-free operation, circulating sodium without any interruption in the last 20 years. The annual radioactivity release to the environment is only "a mini-scale fraction of the permitted release, and exposure of occupational workers to radiation in the past 20 years is practically negligible," he said.

Two major incidents

Two major incidents took place during the FBTR's operation. In May 1987, the guide tube, which guides the fuel into the reactor during the loading of the fuel, got bent and could not be removed. The heads of nickel and stainless steel assemblies in the reactor core were also bent. Using remote cutting machines, the bent guide tube was cut into two pieces and removed. Specially designed grippers removed the sub-assemblies. The reactor resumed operation after two years, in May 1989.

The second incident related to the leak of the liquid sodium in 2002, when 75 kg of radioactive sodium leaked inside the purification cabin due to a manufacturing defect in an imported sodium valve. The leak was contained and there was no radioactive release into the atmosphere.

"When by the middle of this century, India's grid will be powered by energy from a chain of fast reactors, the FBTR will be remembered as the mother of fast reactors in India and the harbinger of India's energy security and economic sovereignty," Mr. Ramalingam said.

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