India surging ahead in FBR technology
French nuclear scientist says India could be acclaimed as a world champion in a decade
A MILESTONE: Anil Kakodkar, Chairman, Atomic Energy
Commission presenting a memento to Defence Minister
Pranab Mukherjee on the completion of 20 years of
successful operation of the Fast Breeder Test Reactor at
Kalpakkam on Tuesday. With him are (from left): Baldev
Raj, Director, IGCAR; Georges Vendryes, Hon. Executive
Vice-President, French Atomic Energy Commission; and
Prithviraj Chavan, Union Minister of State.
CHENNAI: The "Hanuman jump" that the Department of Atomic Energy (DAE) undertook in stepping up from the 13 MWe Fast Breeder Test Reactor (FBTR) to the 500 MWe Prototype Fast Breeder Reactor (PFBR) which is under construction at Kalpakkam, near Chennai, "is a bold one," Georges Vendryes, honorary executive vice-president, French Atomic Energy Commission, has said.
Dr. Vendryes, who was the guest of honour at a function to celebrate 20 years of successful operation of the FBTR, said he had no doubt about India's capability in taking up this "daring challenge," considering the experience of the Indira Gandhi Centre for Atomic Research in
building and operating the FBTR. But the 86-year-old Dr. Vendryes, who is the father of fast breeder reactors (FBRs) in the world, cautioned the DAE to move forward with utmost circumspection, to take no risks, "not to be in a hurry," and "not to try to beat Olympic records" in this mega jump. "If everything goes well, you will be acclaimed as a world champion in FBRs in a decade or so," he said.
India's nuclear industry was subject to isolation. Its efforts to become self-reliant in nuclear power technology became "overwhelming after many countries put a full stop after 1974" in their cooperation with India, the French nuclear scientist said. With its own efforts, India turned the lack of external assistance to its advantage. Dr. Vendryes said he was happy to note that after the recent visits of U.S. President George W. Bush and French President Jacques Chirac to India, "the present unwanted situation will soon terminate."
(The FBTR at Kalpakkam reached criticality in October 1985. It was modelled after the French reactor Rapsodie. It was initially built with French collaboration but France stopped its help after India conducted its nuclear tests at Pokhran in 1974. The FBTR uses mixed uranium-plutonium carbide fuel. The PFBR will use mixed uranium-plutonium oxide fuel).
The India-French collaboration in building the FBTR was interrupted in the mid-1970s, and the supply of highly enriched uranium fuel stopped. But the Bhabha Atomic Research Centre boldly decided to go for mixed uranium-plutonium carbide fuel for the FBTR and achieved "a remarkable feat" in fabricating it without outside help, Dr. Vendryes said.
"India will soon find a new place in the mainstream of international nuclear community in sustainable development of energy and non-proliferation" regime, he added.
Meeting power needs
Defence Minister Pranab Mukherjee said India's collaboration with France would enhance in the coming years and lead to strengthening of the FBR programme internationally. Mr. Mukherjee said the FBRs were destined to supply a large amount of electricity to India. Plutonium extracted by reprocessing irradiated Pressurised Heavy Water Reactor (PHWR) fuel would, in turn, be able to generate more than 50,000 MWe through FBRs and associated closed fuel cycle.
Mr. Mukherjee praised the IGCAR in successfully operating the FBTR for 20 years, with availability factor of more than 90 per cent in successive campaigns.
Prithviraj Chavan, Minister of State in the Prime Minister's Office, said India was among the few countries, which have mastered the complex technology of FBRs, which involved the twin challenges — liquid sodium and plutonium. The IGCAR had also mastered the technology of reprocessing highly irradiated mixed carbide fuel for the first time in the world.
Anil Kakodkar, Chairman, Atomic Energy Commision, said the FBR technology held the key to India's energy independence. The challenges ahead of the DAE included multiplication of FBRs with those of larger capacity; development of FBRs that would use metallic fuel; building thorium-based reactors by irradiating thorium in fast reactors; and building accelerator driven systems.
"The IGCAR has thus a great challenge and future as a major R and D centre in which the FBTR would remain the workhorse," he said.
Baldev Raj, Director, IGCAR, who welcomed the gathering, paid tributes to former Directors of the IGCAR in building the FBR technology in India.
He said he was confident that India would emerge as a world leader in this technology by 2020, if not earlier. P.V. Ramalingam, Director, Reactor Operation and Maintenance Group, IGCAR, recalled the contribution of late Raja Ramanna and other pioneers of the DAE in building the FBR programme.
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