Chennai: India`s first 500-MW prototype fast breeder reactor (PFBR), being set up at Kalpakkam near here, is likely to go critical early next year and commercial generation of electricity is expected in March 2015.
"Construction activities will come to close this year-end. Loading of the part fuel is expected to happen during the first quarter of next year and the reactor would go critical," said S.C. Chetal, director at the Indira Gandhi Centre for Atomic Research (IGCAR) that designed the PFBR.
Chetal is also a director at Bharatiya Nabhikiya Vidyut Nigam Ltd (BHAVINI), a public sector company under the Directorate of Atomic Energy (DAE), that has been given the responsibility to build fast reactor power plants in the country.
When the PFBR is commissioned, power can be produced at a lesser cost than electricity generated from conventional sources.
A breeder reactor is one that breeds more material for a nuclear fission reaction than it consumes. The reaction produces energy that is used in the form of electricity. The Indian fast reactors will be fuelled by a blend of plutonium and uranium oxide.
While the reactor will break up (fission) plutonium for power production, it will also breed more plutonium than it consumes. The original plutonium comes from natural uranium.
The surplus plutonium from each fast reactor can be used to set up more such reactors and grow the nuclear capacity in tune with India`s energy needs.
Fast reactors form a key in the India`s three-stage nuclear power programme, which comprises pressurised heavy water reactors (PHWRs) at the first stage, fast breeder reactors (FBRs) at second and thorium-based systems at the third stage. In 1985, India became the sixth country in the world to have such a technology.
The government has said in parliament that the PFBR is expected to begin commercial production in March 2015. Nuclear scientists though are of the view that commercial generation can happen even before that date.
According to Prabhat Kumar, project director, BHAVINI, the PFBR construction work will be over by September this year and testing of various systems would end by December 2012 or January 2013.
"There is no inordinate time lag between PFBR attaining criticality and it starting commercial production given the fact that it is a newly-designed reactor. With small core/fuel lot of tests on reactor physics would be done. Then by gradually increasing the generation engineering tests would be carried out," a nuclear scientist told IANS, preferring anonymity.
"A year of testing will be sufficient after reactor attained criticality," he remarked.
Asked about the delay in commercial production, Chetal said: "The PFBR is first of its kind in the country and we want to be sure about the functioning of each and every system."
According to him, with the loading of part fuel, the reactor systems will be checked by increasing the power generation in a gradual manner.
He does not agree that the delay in commercial production of PFBR would have an impact on the next two fast reactors that is planned at Kalpakkam.
"The design modifications made in the proposed two reactors will not make them as first of its kind. They will be commercial reactors. Since PFBR is new we want to be sure with its systems," Chetal added.
The government has allotted Rs.250 crore for pre-project activities for two more 500 MW units.
It has sanctioned construction of two more 500 MW fast reactors whose location is yet to be finalised.