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India Three Stage Nuclear Programme

India Three Stage Nuclear Programme

Limited availability of fissile material has slowed down the adoption of thorium-based reactors in India, causing delays in building the advanced heavy-water reactor (AHWR) since its announcement in 2004. India has ample thorium but limited uranium reserves. Homi Bhabha designed India’s nuclear power program in 1954, dividing it into three stages to match the country’s resource situation.

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About – India’s three stage nuclear power programme

The Indian nuclear power program, initiated in 1954, aimed for a three-stage evolution of nuclear power generation utilizing the nation’s uranium and thorium reserves.

  • Initially, in the first stage, heavy water reactors, fueled by natural uranium, would generate plutonium.
  • The second stage involves blending produced plutonium with natural uranium, leading to transmutation and more plutonium. As plutonium stocks build up, thorium will be introduced into the fuel cycle, moving towards producing uranium-233 for the next stage.
  • In the end, reactors would use both thorium and uranium. Thorium changes into U-233 to produce energy in the reactor. By always adding more thorium to the core, we keep the fuel cycle going sustainably, making the reactor mostly powered by thorium, even though U-233 is used for generating electricity.

India’s unveiling of the 500 MW Prototype Fast Breeder Reactor (PFBR) at Kalpakkam marks a significant step in its nuclear program’s evolution. Experts suggest India requires additional Fast Breeder Reactors and roughly four decades to amass sufficient fissile material for the third stage. To address the plutonium shortage, India may consider purchasing it internationally.

Are there any hurdles in procuring plutonium?

Currently, there isn’t a specific law that forbids acquiring plutonium because most nuclear treaties mainly concentrate on U-235 and U-233. This is probably because people haven’t extensively used plutonium for peaceful purposes.

How this procurement would help other countries?

Acquiring plutonium and/or spent fuel by India could promptly ease the burden on nations like Japan and the U.K., as they seek to diminish their plutonium reserves.

Why there is an emphasis on Thorium Technology:

  • Thorium reactors offer a promising solution to nuclear challenges, producing less waste by consuming highly radioactive minor actinides.
  • Their waste is less toxic, decaying in 3-400 years compared to thousands.
  • A cost-effective solution with higher burnup rates and enhanced proliferation resistance due to U-233 production, containing U-232, which complicates handling and detection. However, safety concerns post-Fukushima and waste management need addressing before further government action for India’s significant electricity source.

Read also: Atomic Energy Commission

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