Commissioning of Kalpakkam reactor delayed further

Commissioning of Kalpakkam reactor delayed further

Delay in construction work pushes up project cost

India’s first commercial Fast Breeder Reactor (FBR) at Kalpakkam may start producing electricity by 2014, thanks to the delay in the construction work which has deferred the commissioning by four years.

The original schedule was revised twice, postponing the commissioning to 2012 and later to March 2013. The continuous cropping up of snags will further defer the actual commissioning of the prototype FBR unit which might not happen till 2014, sources said.
“Construction of the prototype FBR will be completed by March 2013 after which approval from Atomic Energy Regulatory Board (AERB) will be required.

We have submitted our documents needed for commissioning approval to AERB, but a date can not be announced till the process is finished,” S C Chetal, director of Indira Gandhi Centre for Atomic Research (IGCAR) at Kalpakkam, told Deccan Herald. The IGCAR is responsible for the design and development of the liquid sodium cooled FBR.

It will mark India's entry to the second stage of the three stage nuclear power programme envisaged by Homi Bhabha more than half-a-century ago.The project was first delayed by tsunami in 2004 while the technical snags in the manufacture of several equipment added to the problems. As the delay led to cost overrun, the government is now considering a proposal to revise the cost of the project.

Sources pointed out that the procedural issues within the IGCAR hit construction of the fast reactor fuel cycle facility.

Both the IGCAR and Department of Atomic energy were pulled up by a Parliamentary panel in May. IGCAR's budget has now been enhanced by Rs 431.3 crore in the current fiscal to expedite works in fuel facility.

The FBR technology, however, remains a controversial one and likely to generate protests from anti-nuclear activists.

There are two broad reasons for apprehension – nobody is certain about its long-term commercial viability and environmental impact in the absence of similar reactors in other countries. Secondly, it uses liquid sodium – a highly hazardous material – as coolant.
The silver line is that the FBRs “breed” more fissile material than the fuel they consume.

They burn plutonium – generated in uranium-fueled pressurised heavy water reactors and light water reactors – to breed U-233, a type of fissile, uranium which is in turn used as fuel. Speculations of delay aside, the Union Government, satisfied with the progress of works, has allocated Rs 250 crore for pre-project activities.

Two more fast reactors of 500 MW capacity each will come up at Kalpakkam in the 12th plan and four more such units have been planned to commence between 2018 and 2027.