Chitradurga set to host Uranium enrichment plant

Chitradurga set to host Uranium enrichment plant

Chitradurga set to host Uranium enrichment plant

Chitradurga will soon become a nuclear hub once the special Uranium enrichment facility (SMEF) facility comes up in the district. The unit will be the second nuclear fuel source in Karnataka after the Mysore Rare Materials Plant (RMP). 

No one had envisioned Chitradurga would go the nuclear way. But, once Bhabha Atomic Research Centre (BARC), Indian Space Research Organisation (Isro), Defence Research & Development Organisation (DRDO) and Indian Institute of Science (IISc) set up their establishments across 10,000 acres in the district, Chitradurga will acquire national status in science and nuclear energy.

Current Atomic Energy Commission (AEC) member and former chairman of the Department of Atomic Energy (DAE) M R Srinivasan told Deccan Herald that the new enrichment facility at Chitradurga is in the planning phase with some preliminary work having begun. 

When asked why Chitradurga was picked as the second site in the state for nuclear fuel, the scientist said: “The Mysore Rare Materials Plant has been around for many years and over time the AEC required more space for enrichment work. We were shown vast lands in Chitradurga, easy to reach from Mysore.

We wanted land in several hundred acres and the state government offered that in Chitradurga because a larger facility could be built on the vast stretches. DAE/AEC immediately decided to go ahead with the new location.”

Chitradurga will soon see the construction of the new enrichment facility which will continue the enrichment work of the Mysore plant on a larger scale. For this, several centrifuges, circular rotating facilities are to be constructed. 

The size of the centrifuge will be such that several can be constructed in a given area, the senior scientist pointed out.

“Uranium is first converted into gas — uranium hexoflouride, which will be spun and rotated at a very great speed in the many centrifuges one after the other. The spinning is undertaken so that Uranium splits into U-235 and U-238. 

The spin will increase the concentration of U-235 and the U-238 will flow in another stream. The U-235 will be the fuel,” Srinivasan explained. It is possible to use this processed U-235 as nuclear fuel to power nuclear submarines, power reactors and to make nuclear weapons. 

Scientists say the use of fuel for submarines and weapons though would require very highly enriched nuclear fuel. What India needs now is fuel for power reactors and for its submarine project which has production of nuclear submarines as its main objective. But as India is using plutonium to make weapons, it has to be seen how the fuel coming out of Chitradurga will be utilised in the case of weapons if at all.

The senior nuclear scientist was of the opinion that a US think-tank which revealed information that Chitradurga would be the second site to produce nuclear fuel in the State conveyed the impression that nobody in the nuclear establishment knew of this. 

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