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Fast breeder nuclear reactor delayed by 8 yrs

Kalyan Ray, DH News Service, New Delhi, Apr 15 2017, 0:58 IST

On record, the target continues to be October 2017

But sources in the Department of Atomic Energy told Deccan Herald that the middle of 2018 was being looked at a more realistic target to put the new reactor into operation. [Image for representation]

But sources in the Department of Atomic Energy told Deccan Herald that the middle of 2018 was being looked at a more realistic target to put the new reactor into operation. [Image for representation]

The Centre has set a new target schedule of mid-2018 to commission India's first gen-next fast breeder nuclear reactor – eight years behind original schedule.

On record, the target continues to be October 2017.

But sources in the Department of Atomic Energy told Deccan Herald that the middle of 2018 was being looked at a more realistic target to put the new reactor into operation.

Once functional, the fast breeder reactor would usher in the second stage of India's three-stage nuclear power programme as envisioned by Homi Bhabha, the father of Indian nuclear programme.

Fast breeder reactors “breed” more fissile material than the fuel they consume. They burn plutonium – generated in Uranium-fueled pressured heavy water reactors and light water reactors – to breed a special type of fissile uranium known as U-233, which is used as fuel.

Anti-nuclear activists, however, are concerned on the FBR reactors for two reasons. No one is sure about its long-term commercial viability and ecological-impact in the absence of similar reactors in other nations. Secondly, it uses liquid sodium, a hazardous material as coolant.

The sodium cooling leads to a temperature of 600 degrees Celsius inside the reactor, because of which there are safety concerns.

“From the day of pouring liquid sodium into the system, we need at least five months for the FBR to generate commercial electricity,” sources said.

As per the original schedule, the project was to be commissioned in September, 2010, which was later rescheduled to September 2014.

The goalpost was against shifted to September 2016 and later on to October 2017.

DAE officials claim the main reason for the delay is the over-cautious attitude of scientists because of the nature of the technologies involved. “The policy adopted is that we will be slow and steady, but sure. That is the way, it is going on. If some problem comes in rushing through it, then it will be questioned all over the world,” DAE secretary Sekhar Basu wrote to a panel of the lawmakers, who reviewed the PFBR project.

“The reactor was designed at the Indira Gandhi Centre for Atomic Research, Kalpakkam. Such Sodium-cooling reactors are either stopped or delayed in France and Japan because of sodium leakage. Therefore some among of caution has been built into it. We are a bit more cautious than other countries, so that we don't fail,” said another scientist.

Once the first reactor goes critical, the DAE plans to construct two more breeder reactors, each with a capacity of 600 Mwe, to quickly ramp up the nuclear energy output.

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