`India will be world champions in fast breeder reactors'

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`Commissioning a prototype fast breeder reactor is a milestone for India'


Our Bureau

Chennai, July 20

It is a `Hanuman jump' for India. This is how Dr Georges Vendryes, Honorary Executive Vice-President of the French Atomic Energy Commission, described India's next step in its nuclear power programme. And, he added, one that will be watched by the world.

Commissioning a prototype fast breeder reactor (PFBR) after its success with fast breeder test reactor (FBTR) is a milestone not just for India but also the world, he added.

Speaking at a function at the Indira Gandhi Centre for Atomic Research (IGCAR) at Kalpakkam, to mark two decades of successful operation of the FBTR, he said that it was a `Hanuman jump' that India was making in moving straight from FBTR to PFBR.

"I recommend that you move forward with utmost circumspection ... take no risk, do not try to beat Olympic records. But within a decade you will be world champions on fast breeder reactors."

India has a responsibility beyond its boundaries as the move forward represents a major milestone for nuclear energy worldwide.

Dr Vendryes, a pioneer in fast breeder reactor programme, was closely associated with India's fast breeder reactor programme when it collaborated with France in the 70s.

He said that India possessed unique expertise to handle the kind of fuel used in fast breeder reactors (which produce more fissile material even as they use them).

When India and France parted ways after India's nuclear test in 1974, it lost the opportunity to get enriched uranium from France and many other countries also backed out of any collaboration.

So, India had to develop technology to use mixed uranium and plutonium carbide fuel.

It has now gained `full mastery' of the technology. For over three decades India had been isolated from the world nuclear order. Today, India is among the advanced countries in nuclear energy field, he said.

At the forefront

The Defence Minister, Mr Pranab Mukherjee, said that India is now at the forefront of nuclear technology and can guide others.

IGCAR is the first to have the capability to reprocess plutonium rich carbide fuel.

The technology enables it to more efficiently use the limited uranium resources.

If the resource can support 10,000 MW of pressurised heavy water reactors, the reprocessing facility can push the capacity up to 5,00,000 MW.

In 2010, it will commission the prototype fast breeder reactor, which will mark the start of the era of fast reactors that will propel India to a world leadership position.

(India's uranium reserves can support 10,000 MW generating capacity. But when the same uranium comes out of pressurised heavy water reactors as spent fuel it can be processed into plutonium and residual uranium, and used in the fast reactors, to fuel electricity capacity of 5,00,000 MW. This is due to the breeding potential of the fast reactors, using the plutonium- uranium cycle.)

Mr Anil Kakodkar, Chairman of the Atomic Energy Commission, said that fast breeder reactors hold the key to India's energy independence.

IGCAR would be a major centre for nuclear research and development with the fast breeder reactor as its workhorse.

(This article was published in the Business Line print edition dated July 21, 2006)
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