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Research reactors

The Dhruva reactor is India’s largest research reactor and primary source of weapons-grade plutonium. Originally named the R-5, this Pressurized Heavy Water Reactor (PHWR) first went critical on 8 August 1985 after 10 years of construction. Designed as a larger version of the CIRUS reactor, Dhruva was an indigenous project built to provide an independent source of weapons-grade plutonium free from safeguards.

The Dhruva project cost 950 million rupees. The reactor uses heavy water (deuterium) as a moderator and coolant. Aluminum clad fuel rods containing natural uranium are burned to obtain a maximum power output of 100MW. At the time of the reactor’s construction, India still had limited amounts of indigenously produced heavy water. The initial heavy water load was likely acquired through clandestine imports from China, Norway, and the Soviet Union through a German intermediary, although Indian officials have denied these allegations.

After obtaining criticality, BARC had technical problems with the operation of Dhruva. The reactor was shutdown due to vibration problems that caused 4 metric tons of heavy water to overflow from the reactor core. The vibrations were caused by the high pressure flow of heavy water through the aluminum clad fuel assemblies. After analysis of the vibration problems and modification of the fuel design, the Dhruva reactor resumed limited operation January 1987. On 17 January 1988, Dhruva finally attained its full power of 100MW. Today, Dhruva serves as the primary source of spent fuel, which is reprocessed to obtain weapons-grade plutonium. It is estimated that the Dhruva reactor is capable of producing about 20-25kg of plutonium annually.

Apsara is the oldest of India’s research reactors. The reactor was designed by the Bhabha Atomic Research Center (BARC) and built with assistance from the United Kingdom (which also provided the initial fuel supply consisting of 80 percent enriched uranium). Apsara first went critical on 4 August 1956. Apsara is a light water swimming pool-type reactor with a maximum power output of one megawatt thermal (MWt). The reactor burns enriched uranium in the form of aluminum alloyed curved plates. Fuel for the reactor is supplied under contract from the United Kingdom, provided that the fuel is safeguarded. The reactor itself is not under International Atomic Energy Agencysafeguards. The Apsara reactor is utilized for various experiments including neutron activation analysis, radiation damage studies, forensic research, neutron radiography, and shielding experiments. The reactor is also used for research and the production of radioisotopes. After nearly half a century of operation, BARC plans to refurbish and modify the aging reactor to test a new indigenous design of a 5-10MWt research reactor.

CIRUS (Canadian-Indian Reactor Uranium System) was a research reactor at the Bhabha Atomic Research Center (BARC) in Trombay near Mumbai, India. CIRUS was supplied by Canada in 1954, but used heavy water (deuterium oxide) supplied by the United States. It was the second nuclear reactor to be built in India. It was modeled on the Canadian Chalk River National Research X-perimental (NRX) reactor. The 40 MW reactor used natural uranium fuel, while using heavy water as a moderator. It is a tank reactor type with a core size of 3.14 m (H) × 2.67 m (D). It first went critical July 10, 1960.

The reactor was not under IAEA safeguards (which did not exist when the reactor was sold), although Canada stipulated, and the U.S. supply contract for the heavy water explicitly specified, that it only be used for peaceful purposes. Nonetheless, CIRUS produced some of India’s initial weapons-grade plutonium stockpile, as well as the plutonium for India’s 1974 Pokhran-I (Codename Smiling Buddha) nuclear test, the country’s first nuclear test.[4] At a capacity factor of 50–80%, CIRUS can produce 6.6–10.5 kg of plutonium a year.

CIRUS was shut down in September 1997 for refurbishment and was scheduled to resume operation in 2003. The reactor was brought back into operation two years late in 2005. During refurbishing, a low-temperature vacuum evaporation-based desalination unit was also coupled to the reactor to serve as demonstration of using waste heat from a research reactor for sea desalination. Even if the reactor has a life of twenty more years, India had declared that this reactor would be shut down by 2010 in accordance with the Indo-US nuclear accord reached between Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and US President George W. Bush. The reactor was shut down on 31 December 2010.

KAMINI (Kalpakkam Mini reactor) is a research reactor at Indira Gandhi Center for Atomic Research in Kalpakkam, India. It achieved criticality on October 29, 1996. Designed and built jointly by the Bhabha Atomic Research Centre (BARC) and Indira Gandhi Centre for Atomic Research (IGCAR) it produces 30 KW of thermal energy at full power.

KAMINI was the first reactor in the world designed specifically to use uranium-233 fuel. Use of the large thorium reserves to produce nuclear fuel is a key strategy of India’s nuclear energy program.

Power reactors

As of 2016, India has 22 nuclear reactors in operation in 8 nuclear power plants, having an installed capacity of 6780 MW and producing a total of 30,292.91GWh of electricity while 6 more reactors are under construction and are expected to generate an additional 4,300 MW.

In October 2010, India drew up “an ambitious project plan to reach a nuclear power capacity of 63,000 MW in 2032”, but, after the 2011 Fukushima nuclear disaster in Japan, “populations around proposed Indian NPP sites have launched protests, raising questions about atomic energy as a clean and safe alternative to fossil fuels”.

The capacity factor of Indian reactors was at 79% in the year 2011-12 compared to 71% in 2010-11. Nine out of twenty Indian reactors recorded an unprecedented 97% capacity factor during 2011-12. With the imported uranium from France, the 220 MW Kakrapar 2 PHWR reactors recorded 99% capacity factor during 2011-12. The Availability factor for the year 2011-12 was at 89%.

India has been making advances in the field of thorium-based fuels, working to design and develop a prototype for an atomic reactor using thorium and low-enriched uranium, a key part of India’s three stage nuclear power programme. The country has also recently re-initiated its involvement in the LENR research activities, in addition to supporting work done in the fusion power area through the ITER initiative.

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