Dr. Anil Kakodkar
Plans to Sell
Atomic Reactors Abroad
SANTO DASGUPTA (IDN)
- India, barred from international nuclear trade since 1992 until early
this year, plans to export atomic power reactors and is developing an
advanced design for the purpose, a top official said at the annual
general conference of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).
Dr. Anil Kakodkar, chairman of the Atomic Energy Commission (AEC), said
at the IAEA conference concluded Sep. 18 in Vienna that India had
designed a new version of AHWR named Advanced Heavy Water Reactor-Low
Enriched Uranium (AHWR-LEU) that uses low enriched uranium along with
thorium as fuel.
announcement did not come as a surprise to the general conference. The
long-term goal of India's nuclear program has been to develop an advanced
heavy-water thorium cycle.
first stage employs the pressurized heavy-water and light water reactors, to
produce plutonium. Stage two uses fast neutron reactors to burn the plutonium
and breed uranium-233 from locally mined thorium. The blanket around the core
will have uranium as well as thorium, so that further plutonium is produced as
In stage three, AHWRs burn the uranium-233 from stage two with plutonium and
thorium, harnessing about two thirds of their power from the thorium.
The first AHWR is expected to start construction in 2012, although no site has
yet been announced. A prototype 500 MWe (Megawatt electric) fast neutron
reactor being built at Kalpakkam in southern India should be complete in 2011.
"This version can also meet the requirement of medium sized reactors in
countries with small grids while meeting the requirements of next generation
systems," AEC's head Dr. Kakodkar said indicating that India was ready
for export of such reactors in the near future.
"While we strongly advocate recycle option, AHWR-LEU would also compete
very favourably even in once through mode of fuel cycle (where spent fuel is
stored without reprocessing)," he said adding that the Department of
Atomic energy has circulated a brochure of AHWR-LEU at the Vienna conference
for the benefit of potential customers.
The LEU variant is suitable for export because it does away with the
plutonium, replacing it with uranium enriched to 19.75% uranium-235.
The prospect of exporting power reactors is significant in view of the fact
that India was effectively isolated from international nuclear trade from 1992
until early this year when a U.S.-led initiative resulted in special
arrangements for India under the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG), based on an
India-specific safeguards agreement with the IAEA.
Overseas firms can now do business with India, which is keen to import uranium
and large power reactors. In turn, India looks forward to offering its goods
and services to the wider world.
Producing 300 MWe (Megawatt electric; electric output of a power plant in
megawatt), the unit is less than one-third the capacity of a typical large
reactor. "It is designed to operate for up to 100 years and has a 'next
generation' level of safety that grants operators three days' grace in the
event of a serious incident and requires no emergency planning beyond the site
boundary under any circumstances," the World Nuclear News (WNN) says.
The design is intended for overseas sales, and the AEC says that "the
reactor is manageable with modest industrial infrastructure within the reach
of developing countries".
The new fuel mix, AEC says, produces less plutonium than mainstream
light-water reactors and what it does produce contains three times the
proportion of plutonium-238, lending it proliferation resistance. Furthermore,
it leaves only half the amount of long-lived radioactive waste per unit of
energy compared to mainstream light-water reactors.
Apart from introducing India as a potential new major player in reactor sales
-- especially to new markets – Dr. Kakodkar's announcement reaffirms India's
commitment to proceeding with the thorium fuel cycle using the original AHWR
as the final stage, says the London-based WNN.
India has a flourishing and largely indigenous nuclear power program and
expects to have 20,000 MWe nuclear capacity on line by 2020 and 63,000 MWe by
2032. It aims to supply 25% of electricity from nuclear power by 2050.
The country has vision of becoming a world leader in nuclear technology due to
its expertise in fast reactors and thorium fuel cycle.
Nuclear power for civil use is well established in India. Its civil nuclear
strategy has been directed towards complete independence in the nuclear fuel
cycle, necessary because it is excluded from the 1970 Nuclear
Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) because of acquiring nuclear weapons capability
The five countries (Britain, France, USA, Russia and China) doing so before
1970 were accorded the status of Nuclear Weapons States under the NPT.
As a result, India's nuclear power program has proceeded largely without fuel
or technological assistance from other countries. Its power reactors to the
mid-1990s had some of the world's lowest capacity factors, reflecting the
technical difficulties of the country's isolation, but rose impressively from
60% in 1995 to 85% in 2001-02.
India's nuclear energy self-sufficiency extended from uranium exploration and
mining through fuel fabrication, heavy water production, reactor design and
construction, to reprocessing and waste management. It has a small fast
breeder reactor and is building a much larger one. It is also developing
technology to utilise its abundant resources of thorium as a nuclear fuel.
The Atomic Energy Establishment was set up at Trombay, near Mumbai, in 1957
and renamed as Bhabha Atomic Research Centre (BARC) ten years later. Plans for
building the first Pressurised Heavy Water Reactor (PHWR) were finalised in
1964, and the prototype Rawatbhata-1, which had Canada's Douglas Point reactor
as a reference unit, was built as a collaborative venture between Atomic
Energy of Canada Ltd (AECL) and NPCIL. It started up in 1972 and was
duplicated Subsequent indigenous PHWR development has been based on these
The Nuclear Power Corporation of India Ltd (NPCIL) is responsible for design,
construction, commissioning and operation of thermal nuclear power plants. It
has 15 small and two mid-sized nuclear power reactors in commercial operation,
six under construction -- including two large ones and a fast breeder reactor,
and more planned.