Kaiga, Karnataka: India will soon phase out the Cirus research reactor, the 40-MW power unit supplied by Canada in the mid-50s with heavy water from the US to the state-run Bhabha Atomic Research Centre (BARC) at Trombay near Mumbai, a top official said.
"Cirus will be phased out this year as per the Indo-US 123 agreement and a new reactor will be built in its place to ensure continuity in radio-isotope production," Atomic Energy Commission (AEC) chairman Srikumar Banerjee told IANS here, about 500 km from Bangalore.
Plutonium from Cirus (Canada India Research US) was used in India`s first nuclear test at Pokharan in Rajasthan May 18, 1974, sparking a controversy among the partners.
"Cirus phase-out will not affect availability of isotope in the country, as the 100-MW Dhruva reactor has been refurbished and the Apsara rector has been upgraded to 2 MW from 1 MW," Banerjee said on the margins of the 220-MW Kaiga fourth unit achieving criticality Saturday.
As the country`s largest indigenous nuclear reactor, Dhruva, also located at BARC, generates weapons-grade plutonium-bearing spent fuel, while Apsara is the country`s first nuclear reactor, which went critical in 1956.
"As a replacement for Cirus, we are building a multi-purpose research reactor (MPRR) in our new campus at Visakhapatnam in coastal Andhra Pradesh for radio-isotope production and material testing, said Banerjee, who is also secretary in the department of atomic energy (DAE).
A radio-isotope is an atom with an unstable nucleus and emits radiation during its decay to a stable form. They are used in medical diagnosis, treatment and research as an alternative version of a chemical element with a different atomic mass.
The department is also using the 12 pressurised heavy water reactors (PHWRs) to produce Cobalt-60 isotope as a byproduct for agricultural and medical applications.
As part of its accelerated driven system (ADS) to complete the third stage of the country`s nuclear programme, the department plans to utilise the abundant domestic thorium reserves.
"The MPRR has been designed to meet the immediate requirements of isotope production and materials testing, with stress on high neutron flux than capacity rating," Banerjee pointed out.
The state-run Nuclear Power Corp of India Ltd (NPCIL) will design a 300-MW advanced heavy water reactors (AHWR) using thorium by 2020.