India to have 6 fast breeder reactors

As the Indian Prototype Fast Breeder Reactor (PFBR) nears completion, the Centre plans to build six commercial fast breeder reactors in the next 15 years.

The 500 MW prototype fast breeder reactor at Kalpakkam in Tamil Nadu is expected to be commissioned by early 2013.

“The construction will be completed by September and fuel will be lowered by December. We expect commissioning by early 2013,” said S C Chetal, Director, Indira Gandhi Centre for Atomic Research (IGCAR) at Kalpakkam.

Six commercial fast breeder reactors had been planned subsequently based on the PFBR technology, said Baldev Raj, former IGCAR director. The first two of the six are planned during the 12th plan period and will be located in Kalpakkam.
The remaining four will be constructed in the 13th and 14th plan period. The locations are yet to be decided.

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

The Department of Atomic Energy (DAE) claims “breeders” are an integral part of India’s three stage nuclear power programme, till the nation graduate to the third stage for utilisation of thorium, which India has aplenty.

While DAE scientists claim India has a leadership position in breeder technology, there are many within the scientific community who claim that a breeder route is a bad idea as there are questions on the safety and economic viability of the technology.

“Breeder reactors are costly and unreliable. Reprocessing (of plutonium) is more costly than storing spent fuel. Nuclear utilities are concerned about high capital and reprocessing cost,” Frank von Hippel, Professor at Princeton University and co-chair of International Panel on Fissile Materials, said at a symposium on nuclear safety at the Indian National Science Academy here.

Criticism

High-cost, use of liquid sodium as coolant and the proliferation risks associated with plutonium are other key criticisms against the FBR technology. Reprocessing (of plutonium) is economically feasible only when breeder reactors compete with burner reactors (regular LWR or PHWR).

The catch, however, was nobody constructed such a breeder so far, Hippel said. The DAE scientists disagree.

They claim breeders have many advantages. “PFBR and BN-800 are two fast reactors under construction where cost is 20-30 per cent less than older generation reactors  like BN-600 and Super Phoenix in France,” Raj said, adding that China, India, France and Japan were committed to breeder reactors.

Adequate measures have been taken to keep the highly combustible liquid sodium in an inert environment so that it does not cause any trouble, Chetal says, adding that sodium coolant has many benefits.





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