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Coming: Safe N-plants that cities can host

Kalyan Ray, October 19, 2012, New Delhi, DHNS: 1:56 IST

Construction of 300-MWe advanced heavy water reactors will start in 12th plan period

Over the next five years, India plans to start building a safe nuclear reactor that can be installed in the heart of Delhi or Mumbai without posing danger to people and environment.

The 300-MWe advanced heavy water reactor (AHWR), whose construction will start in the 12th plan period, would be so safe that it can be erected in the heart of any city, said S A Bhardwaj, director (technical), Nuclear Power Corporation of India Ltd.

The design of AHWR is such that it does not need any exclusion zone, which is currently a standard practice in nuclear power plant. NPCIL currently acquires 600 acre of land for setting up a nuclear power plant as a large tract of land is used to keep a 5-km exclusion zone around the main plant.

Acquisition of large tracts of land for nuclear power plants has become a contentious issue in the last few years with intense opposition registered in Jaitapur in Maharashtra, Gorakhpur in Haryana and Haripur in West Bengal. The opposition forced NPCIL to shell out a fatter compensation package to oustees in Jaitapur and Haryana, but the issue has not been sorted out yet.

The first AHWR reactor – with thorium for fuel -- will be used to test new technologies on safety as well as on thorium fuel cycle, Bhardwaj said. It will be India's first step to embrace thorium as the nuclear fuel of choice. India has thorium in abundance.

The AHWR may be located in Tarapur in Maharashtra or Kudankulam in Tamil Nadu. The “safe” reactor was designed by a team of scientists and engineers led by R K Sinha, current chairman of the Atomic Energy Commission, who was head of the reactor design group at the Bhabha Atomic Research Centre, Mumbai.

In designing the reactor, the emphasis was on incorporating passive safety features to the maximum extent, as a part of the defence-in-depth strategy, with the objective of eliminating the need for an evacuation planning, following any credible accident scenario in the plant, Sinha and his colleagues reported in the journal Nuclear Engineering and Design in 2006.

As the design was perfected by BARC scientists over the last decade, the Department of Atomic Energy is now ready to undertake the construction work. The officials, however, are tight lipped about its location.

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