Indian scientists finalise 'super safe' nuke reactor

A “super-safe” nuclear reactor that does not require any external water or electricity for a month for cooling the red hot core in case of an accident, may be a reality in the near future.

Indian scientists have finalised the design of the reactor, which will come up near Mumbai.

“In all probability, the 300 MWe advanced heavy water reactor (AHWR) will come up in Tarapur, near Mumbai. It is designed to have a life of 100 years,” Sekhar Basu, director of Bhabha Atomic Research Centre, Mumbai, which designed the futuristic reactor told Deccan Herald.

While AHWR is well known to be the first reactor that will consume thorium as fuel, it has several unique design features to make it a super-safe reactor that can be installed closer to urban areas. The Tarapur plant will be a technology demonstration project.

The Department of Atomic Energy (DAE) plans to co-locate the  reactors within thermal power plants as many of them may be abandoned in the future due to paucity of coal. As many coal-fired stations are located close to urban areas, DAE wanted a reactor with top-grade safety parameters. The Nuclear Power Corporation of India currently needs 600 acres for setting up of a nuclear power plant as large tracts of land are used to keep a 5-km exclusion zone around the main plant.

Since land acquisition has turned out to be a contentious issue in the last few years, scientists focused their attention on reactors with futuristic design that will not be requiring that much of land.

Besides providing a proof-of-concept for the thorium technology that will be the mainstay of Indian nuclear sector after a couple of decades, AHWR will also have high longevity unlike the current breed of nuclear reactors that has an average life of 40 years.

The AHWR has been designed to tackle simultaneous extreme events like station black out, multiple system black out, loss of coolant, reactor temperature crossing 1,000 degrees Celsius in the absence of cooling and core meltdown.

“Essentially, it can handle an accident without any external help. The water storage is enough for one month. No electricity is needed to run the pumps as the heat is taken out naturally,” Basu said.

The safety analysis of AHWR has identified an exhaustive list of 55 causes of accidents, which are unlikely to cause any disruption in the functioning of this futuristic nuclear power plant.

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