The Bhabha Atomic Research Centre (BARC) is India’s premier nuclear research facility based in Tarapur and Trombay, Mumbai, Maharashtra. BARC is a multi-disciplinary research centre with extensive infrastructure for advanced research and development covering the entire spectrum of nuclear science, engineering and related areas.
BARC’s core mandate is to sustain peaceful applications of nuclear energy, primarily for power generation. It manages all facts of nuclear power generation, from theoretical design of reactors, computerised modelling and simulation, risk analysis, development and testing of new reactor fuel materials, etc. It also conducts research in spent fuel processing, and safe disposal of nuclear waste. Its other research focus areas are applications for isotopes in industries, medicine, agriculture, etc. BARC operates a number of research reactors across the country.
The Government of India created the Atomic Energy Establishment, Trombay (AEET) on 3 January 1954. It was established to consolidate all the research and development activity for nuclear reactors and technology under the Atomic Energy Commission. All scientists and engineers engaged in the fields of reactor design and development, instrumentation, metallurgy and material science etc. were transferred with their respective programmes from the Tata Institute of Fundamental Research (TIFR) to AEET, with TIFR retaining its original focus for fundamental research in the sciences. After Homi J. Bhabha’s death in 1966, the centre was renamed as the Bhabha Atomic Research Centre on 22 January 1967. All the directors of the BARC were highly qualified doctorates in their discipline and were internationally recognised for their contribution in academia, who were the crown of this prestigious research organisation.
The first reactors at BARC and its affiliated power generation centres were imported from the west. India’s first power reactors, installed at the Tarapur Atomic Power Station were from the United States. The primary importance of BARC is as a research centre. The BARC and the Indian government has consistently maintained that the reactors are used for this purpose only: Apsara (1956; named by the then Prime Minister of India, Jawaharlal Nehru when he likened the blue Cerenkov radiation to the beauty of the Apsaras), CIRUS (1960; the “Canada-India Reactor” with assistance from the US), the now-defunct ZERLINA (1961; Zero Energy Reactor for Lattice Investigations and Neutron Assay), Purnima I (1972), Purnima II (1984), Dhruva (1985), Purnima III (1990), and KAMINI.
IGCAR was established in the year 1971, under the Department of Atomic Energy, Government of India. The centre is engaged in broad based multidisciplinary programme of scientific research and advanced engineering directed towards the development of Fast Breeder Reactor technology. Fast Breeder Test Reactor based on unique mixed Plutonium Uranium Carbide fuel, First of its kind in the world and KAMINI Reactor, the only operating Reactor in the World using U233 fuel are successfully operated.
The design of 500 MWe Prototype Fast Breeder Reactor is completed and the construction is in progress.
Development of Indigenous Nuclear Technology
India has a flourishing and largely indigenous nuclear power programme and expects to have 14.6 GWe nuclear capacity on line by 2024 and 63 GWe by 2032. It aims to supply 25% of electricity from nuclear power by 2050.
Because India is outside the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty due to its weapons programme, it was for 34 years largely excluded from trade in nuclear plant or materials, which has hampered its development of civil nuclear energy until 2009. Due to earlier trade bans and lack of indigenous uranium, India has uniquely been developing a nuclear fuel cycle to exploit its reserves of thorium.
Since 2010, a fundamental incompatibility between India’s civil liability law and international conventions limits foreign technology provision. India’s primary energy consumption more than doubled between 1990 and 2011 to nearly 25,000 PJ. India’s dependence on imported energy resources and the inconsistent reform of the energy sector are challenges to satisfying rising demand.
The 2015 edition of BP’s Energy Outlook projected India’s energy production rising by 117% to 2035, while consumption grows by 128%. The country’s energy mix evolves very slowly over the next 22 years with fossil fuels accounting for 87% of demand in 2035, compared with a global average of 81% (down from 92% today). Oil remains the dominant fuel (36%) followed by gas (30%) and coal (21%). CO2 emissions from energy consumption increase by 115%.
The per capita electricity consumption figure – 1000 kWh/yr in 2014 – is expected to double by 2020, with 6.3% annual growth, and reach 5000-6000 kWh/yr by 2050, requiring about 8000 TWh/yr then. There is an acute demand for more reliable power supplies. One-third of the population is not connected to any grid, and in 2013, 19% was without any electricity.
NPCIL supplied 35 TWh of India’s electricity in 2013-14 from 5.3 GWe nuclear capacity, with overall capacity factor of 83% and availability of 88%. Some 410 reactor-years of operation had been achieved to December 2014. India’s fuel situation, with shortage of fossil fuels, is driving the nuclear investment for electricity, and 25% nuclear contribution is the ambition for 2050, when 1094 GWe of base-load capacity is expected to be required. Almost as much investment in the grid system as in power plants is necessary.
Nuclear power for civil use is well established in India. Since building the two small boiling water reactors at Tarapur in the 1960s, 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) due to it acquiring nuclear weapons capability after 1970. (Those five countries 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 (but see later section). The pressurised heavy-water reactor (PHWR) design was adopted in 1964, since it required less natural uranium than the BWRs, needed no enrichment, and could be built with the country’s engineering capacity at that time – pressure tubes rather than a heavy pressure vessel being involved. 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. Then in 2008-10 the load factors dropped due to shortage of uranium fuel.
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 this prototype – Rajasthan 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 units, though several stages of evolution can be identified: PHWRs with dousing and single containment at Rajasthan 1-2, PHWRs with suppression pool and partial double containment at Madras, and later standardized PHWRs from Narora onwards having double containment, suppression pool, and calandria filled with heavy water, housed in a water-filled calandria vault.
The Nuclear Power Corporation of India Ltd (NPCIL) is responsible for design, construction, commissioning and operation of thermal nuclear power plants. At the start of 2010 it said it had enough cash on hand for 10,000 MWe of new plant. Its funding model is 70% equity and 30% debt financing. However, it is aiming to involve other public sector and private corporations in future nuclear power expansion, notably National Thermal Power Corporation (NTPC) – see subsection below. NTPC is very much larger than NPCIL and sees itself as the main power producer. NTPC is largely government-owned. The 1962 Atomic Energy Act prohibits private control of nuclear power generation, and 2016 amendments allowing public sector joint ventures do not extend to private sector companies, nor allow direct foreign investment in nuclear power, apart from the supply chain.
As of July 2017, eight reactors – 2400 MWe (gross) – of nuclear capacity was fuelled by indigenous uranium and being operated close to their rated capacity. The 14 units (4380 MWe gross) under safeguards were operating on imported uranium at rated capacity. The two Tarapur 150 MWe boiling water reactors (BWRs) built by GE on a turnkey contract before the advent of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty were originally 200 MWe.
They were downrated due to recurrent problems but have run reasonably well since. They have been using imported enriched uranium (from France and China in 1980-90s and Russia since 2001) and are under International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) safeguards. However, late in 2004 Russia deferred to the Nuclear Suppliers’ Group and declined to supply further uranium for them. They underwent six months’ refurbishment over 2005-06, and in March 2006 Russia agreed to resume fuel supply. In December 2008 a $700 million contract with Rosatom was announced for continued uranium supply to them. In 2015 a further contract was signed with TVEL for pellets which will be incorporated into fuel assemblies at the Nuclear Fuel Complex in Hyderabad. However, frequent maintenance shutdowns have made them unprofitable, so DAE may shut them down.
The two small Canadian (Candu) PHWRs at Rajasthan nuclear power plant started up in 1972 & 1980, and are also under safeguards. Rajasthan 1 was downrated early in its life and has operated very little since 2002 due to ongoing problems. It has been shut down since 2004 as the government considers its future. It is still listed by NPCIL as operable though a parliamentary answer in August 2012 said it “is under extended shutdown for techno-economic assessment on continuation of operations.” In March 2017 the minister said a decision on reopening Rajasthan 1 will be made following the techno-economic assessment. Rajasthan 2 was downrated in 1990. It had major refurbishment 2007-09 and has been running on imported uranium at full capacity.
The 220 MWe PHWRs (202 MWe net) were indigenously designed and constructed by NPCIL, based on a Canadian design. The only accident to an Indian nuclear plant was due to a turbine hall fire in 1993 at Narora, which resulted in a 17-hour total station blackout. There was no core damage or radiological impact and it was rated 3 on the INES scale – a ‘serious incident’.
The Madras (MAPS) reactors were refurbished in 2002-03 and 2004-05 and their capacity restored to 220 MWe gross (from 170). Much of the core of each reactor was replaced, and the lifespans extended to 2033/36.
Kakrapar unit 1 was fully refurbished and upgraded in 2009-10, after 16 years of operation, as was Narora 2, with cooling channel (calandria tube) replacement. In March 2016 unit 1 was shut down due to a coolant leak, and repairs are running through into 2019. Kakrapar 2 was shut down in July 2015 and is due to restart in December 2018. There is widespread corrosion in both Kakrapar units and coolant channels are being replaced.
The Tarapur 3&4 reactors of 540 MWe gross (490 MWe net) were developed indigenously from the 220 MWe (gross) model PHWR and were built by NPCIL. The first – Tarapur 4 – was connected to the grid in June 2005 and started commercial operation in September. Tarapur 4’s criticality came five years after pouring first concrete and seven months ahead of schedule. Its twin – unit 3 – was about a year behind it and was connected to the grid in June 2006 with commercial operation in August, five months ahead of schedule. Tarapur 3&4 cost about $1200/kW, and are competitive with imported coal.
The AES-92 units at Kudankulam in Tamil Nadu state have been built by NPCIL and also commissioned and operated by NPCIL under IAEA safeguards. The turbines were made by Silmash in St Petersburg and have evidently given some trouble during commissioning. Unlike other Atomstroyexport projects such as in Iran, there was only a maximum of 80 Russian supervisory staff on the project. This resulted in a more problematical than expected learning curve as Indian engineers adapted to the PWR design from Canadian-type PHWR experience. Construction started in March 2002.