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DAILY NEWS ANALYSIS

  • 02 January, 2024

  • 8 Min Read

DFRP and Nuclear Energy

Prime Minister dedicated to the nation, indigenously developed Demonstration Fast Reactor Fuel Reprocessing Plant (DFRP) at the Indira Gandhi Centre for Atomic Research (IGCAR), Kalpakkam, Tamil Nadu.

  • The plant - It is a pilot for the bigger facility that would come up to reprocess the fuel that would come out of the two more 500 MW Prototype Fast Breeder Reactors (PFBR) that would come up later.

A fast breeder reactor is one, which breeds more material for a nuclear fission reaction than it consumes and is the key to India’s three-stage nuclear power programme.

  • Function - This ground-breaking facility has the unique distinction of being the world’s only industrial-scale plant capable of handling both carbide and oxide spent fuels from fast reactors.

Spent fuel refers to the nuclear fuel that has been used in a reactor.

Fast Reactor Fuel Cycle Facility (FRFCF)

  • The Fast Reactor Fuel Cycle Facility (FRFCF), which is being set up in Kalpakkam is expected to be completed by 2027.

Executed by - The FRFCF project is executed by the Nuclear Recycle Board, Bhabha Atomic Research Centre and the Department of Atomic Energy (DAE).

Purpose - The purpose of FRFCF is to reprocess the spent fuel of the fast breeder reactors.

Nuclear Waste?

In a fission reactor, neutrons bombard the nuclei of atoms of certain elements. When one such nucleus absorbs a neutron, it destabilises and breaks up, yielding some energy and the nuclei of different elements.

    • For example, when the uranium-235 (U-235) nucleus absorbs a neutron, it can fission to barium-144, krypton-89, and three neutrons. If the ‘debris’ (barium-144 and krypton-89) constitute elements that can’t undergo fission, they become nuclear waste.
    • Fuel loaded into a nuclear reactor becomes irradiated and must eventually be removed, at which point it is known as spent fuel.

Nuclear waste is highly radioactive and needs to be stored in facilities reinforced to prevent leakage into and/or contamination of the local environment.

Note

  • Fission is a process in which the nucleus of an atom splits into two or more smaller nuclei and some byproducts.When the nucleus splits, the kinetic energy of the fission fragments (primary nuclei) is transferred to other atoms in the fuel as heat energy, which is eventually used to produce steam to drive the turbines.
  • Fusion is defined as the combining of several small nuclei into one large nucleus with the subsequent release of huge amounts of energy.
    • Harnessing fusion, the process that powers the Sun could provide a limitless, clean energy source.In the sun, the extreme pressure produced by its immense gravity creates the conditions for fusion to happen.

Prototype Fast Breeder Reactor (PFBR):

  • A breeder reactor is a nuclear reactor that generates more fissile material than it consumes by irradiation of fertile material, such as Uranium-238 or Thorium-232 that is loaded into the reactor along with fissile fuel.
  • These are designed to extend the nuclear fuel supply for electric power generation.
  • PFBR is a 500-megawatt electric (MWe) fast-breeder nuclear reactor presently being constructed at the Madras Atomic Power Station in Kalpakkam (Tamil Nadu).
    • It is fuelled by Mixed Oxide (MOX) Fuel.

How does India handle nuclear waste?

  • According to a 2015 report from the International Panel on Fissile Materials (IPFM), India has reprocessing plants in Trombay, Tarapur, and Kalpakkam.
    • The Trombay facility reprocesses 50 tonnes of heavy metal per year (tHM/y) as spent fuel from two research reactors to produce plutonium for stage II reactors as well as nuclear weapons.
    • Of the two in Tarapur, one used to reprocess 100 tHM/y of fuel from some pressurised heavy water reactors (stage I) and the other, commissioned in 2011, has a capacity of 100 tHM/y.
    • The third facility in Kalpakkam processes 100 tHM/y.
  • The report also suggested the Tarapur and Kalpakkam facilities operate with a combined average capacity factor of around 15%.

India’s 3-Stage Nuclear Programme

  • India's three-stage nuclear power programme was formulated by Dr Homi Bhabha to secure the country's long term energy independence.
  • The ultimate focus of the programme is on enabling the thorium reserves of India to be utilised in meeting the country's energy requirements.
    • Thorium is particularly attractive for India, as India has only around 1–2% of the global uranium reserves, but one of the largest shares of global thorium reserves at about 25% of the world's known thorium reserves.
    • Thorium is found in the monazite sands of coastal regions of South India.
  • Dr Homi Bhabha, therefore, devised a three-stage nuclear power programme to make the most of India's limited uranium reserves and abundant thorium reserves.
  • Each stage of the programme has fuel cycle linkages.
    • This means that spent fuel from one stage is reprocessed to obtain fuel for the next stage — there is little to no wastage.
  • Ultimately, the goal is to generate nuclear power while ensuring long-term energy security.

3-Stages of India’s Nuclear Programme

  • The three stages are:
    • Pressurised heavy water reactors (PHWRs) using natural uranium as fuel:
      • The first stage involves using natural uranium in PHWRs to multiply domestically available fissile resources.
      • Natural uranium consists of 0.7 per cent Uranium-235, which undergoes fission to release energy.
      • The remaining 99.3 per cent is Uranium-238, which is not fissile but can be converted into the fissile element Plutonium-239 in a nuclear reactor.
    • FBRs using plutonium as fuel:
      • In the second stage, plutonium from the spent fuel of PHWRs is used in FBRs, such as the one at Kalpakkam which saw the initiation of core loading on 4 March.
      • FBRs are fuelled by a mixed oxide of Uranium-238 and Plutonium-239, which is recovered by reprocessing the spent fuel from the first stage.
      • In FBRs, Plutonium-239 undergoes fission, producing energy and more Plutonium-239 through the transmutation of Uranium-238.
      • This process allows FBRs to produce energy and additional fuel, which is why they are termed "breeders." FBRs generate more fuel than they consume.
      • Over time, a stockpile of plutonium can be built up by introducing Uranium-238 into the reactor.
    • Advanced reactors using Uranium-233 as fuel in a thorium-uranium cycle:
      • Once enough nuclear capacity is built, the third stage will involve using thorium, which will be converted into Uranium-233 in FBRs.
      • Thorium-232, which is abundant in India, is not fissile. Therefore, it needs to be converted into a fissile material, Uranium-233, through transmutation in an FBR.
      • Significant commercial use of thorium can only begin when there are abundant supplies of either Uranium-233 or plutonium.
      • The conversion from thorium to uranium is planned to be achieved in the second stage of the programme, which involves the commercial operation of FBRs.

When Will India Achieve 3 Stages of the Nuclear Programme?

  • The third stage, utilising thorium as an energy source, is expected to be reached in a few decades.
  • To prepare for the use of thorium in the third stage of the programme, efforts are currently underway to develop and demonstrate the necessary technology.
  • This is being done so that a mature technology for thorium utilisation will be ready in time.
  • The Bhabha Atomic Research Centre is developing a 300 MWe advanced heavy water reactor (AHWR).
  • The AHWR is an innovative concept that serves as a bridge between the first and third stages of the nuclear programme.
  • It aims to advance thorium utilisation without going through the second stage.

Significance of Nuclear Energy Generated through 3-Stage Programme

  • Just like with uranium, generating electricity from thorium produces no greenhouse gases, making it a clean energy source.
  • Thorium reactors are also more cost-effective than conventional reactors.
  • Nobel laureate Carlo Rubbia estimates that a tonne of thorium could produce as much energy as 200 tonnes of uranium or 4 million tonnes of coal. As a result, far less nuclear waste is generated.
  • Importantly, the waste from thorium reactors contains no isotopes with a half-life beyond 35 years, significantly reducing the required storage time.
  • Harnessing thorium for India's energy needs presents many economic opportunities.
    • The availability of affordable electricity could drive a transition away from gas, petrol, and diesel for cooking and transportation.
    • Additionally, nuclear energy could alleviate the pressure on the railways by reducing the need to transport millions of tons of coal, potentially reducing the necessity for service expansion.
  • The three-stage nuclear programme is expected to make India completely self-sufficient in nuclear energy.

Source:


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