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Stage II of India’s Nuclear Program

Why is it in the news?

  • Prime Minister Narendra Modi observed the initiation of core-loading for the indigenous Prototype Fast Breeder Reactor (PFBR) at the Madras Atomic Power Station in Kalpakkam, Tamil Nadu.
  • PFBR’s operation signifies the commencement of Stage II, a critical phase aimed at achieving self-reliance in nuclear energy production.
  • The Prototype Fast Breeder Reactor (PFBR) is a nuclear reactor designed to produce more nuclear fuel (plutonium-239) than it consumes.

About the Three-Stage Nuclear Program

Stage I of the program:

路聽聽聽聽聽聽 India utilized pressurized heavy water reactors (PHWRs) and natural uranium-238 (U-238) as the fissile material.

路聽聽聽聽聽聽 Nuclear fission involves the nucleus of an atom absorbing a neutron, destabilizing, and breaking into two while releasing energy.

路聽聽聽聽聽聽 Heavy water in PHWRs slows down neutrons released by fission reactions, allowing them to be captured by other U-238 and U-235 nuclei to cause new fission.

Stage II of the program:聽

路聽聽聽聽聽聽 It involves using plutonium-239 (Pu-239) produced in PHWRs along with U-238 in the PFBR to generate energy, U-233, and additional Pu-239.

路聽聽聽聽聽聽 The Department of Atomic Energy (DAE) established Bharatiya Nabhikiya Vidyut Nigam, Ltd. (BHAVINI) in 2003 to implement stage II.

 

Stage III of the program:

路聽聽聽聽聽聽 It involves combining Pu-239 with thorium-232 (Th-232) in reactors to produce energy and U-233, aiming for complete self-sufficiency in nuclear energy for India.

Working of PFBR

  • Pressurized Heavy Water Reactors (PHWRs) utilize natural or low-enriched uranium-238 (U-238) as the fissile material and produce plutonium-239 (Pu-239) as a byproduct.
  • The produced Pu-239 is combined with additional U-238 into a mixed oxide and loaded into the core of a new reactor along with a blanket material. This blanket material facilitates further production of Pu-239 by reacting with fission products in the core.
  • Breeder reactors are designed to generate more fissile material than they consume. In a ‘fast’ breeder reactor, neutrons are not slowed down, allowing them to initiate specific fission reactions efficiently.
  • The Prototype Fast Breeder Reactor (PFBR) is engineered to produce more Pu-239 than it consumes. It employs liquid sodium, a highly reactive substance, as coolant in two circuits.
  • Coolant in the primary circuit enters the reactor, absorbs heat and radioactivity, and exits with thermal energy. Heat-exchangers transfer this heat to the coolant in a secondary circuit, which, in turn, drives generators to produce electricity.

 

 

Challenges of Stage II

  • Fast Breeder Reactors (FBRs) pose greater handling challenges compared to other reactor designs, adding complexity to their operation.
  • Handling and storing radioactive byproducts such as caesium-137, actinium-227, radium-224, radium-228, and thorium-230, produced in the thorium fuel cycle, present challenges due to their radioactive nature.

 

 

About Small Modular Reactors (SMRs)

路聽聽聽聽聽聽 Delays in the PFBR project have raised concerns about the potential role of small modular reactors (SMRs) as an alternative.

路聽聽聽聽聽聽 SMRs have a maximum capacity of 300 MW, require less land, and offer enhanced safety features compared to traditional reactors.

路聽聽聽聽聽聽 Countries worldwide are investing in SMRs to complement existing facilities, as they can be installed more quickly and cost-effectively, often utilizing existing infrastructure on brownfield sites.

路聽聽聽聽聽聽 According to experts, SMRs can utilize low-enriched uranium, which India can import from the U.S. under its 123 Agreement.

路聽聽聽聽聽聽 Further, increasing the contribution of SMRs in India would necessitate amendments to the Atomic Energy Act (1962) and related statutes to allow private sector participation.

路聽聽聽聽聽聽 Oversight of SMRs, including nuclear fuel and waste management, would be conducted by the Atomic Energy Regulatory Board (AERB) under international safeguards while being controlled by the Department of Atomic Energy (DAE).

 

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