Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Thorium reactor #1 (only by 2025)

Hopefully the powers that be mean what they say and say what they mean. The dream of a Thorium reactor lives on, even as we get to hear of rumors that the huge thorium reserves in Kerala and elsewhere are being depleted at a rapid scale (sold off to the Chinese?). Since this is India, of course anything is possible.

Design of the world's first mainly thorium-based nuclear reactor is ready. Indiatoday.in brings you the first look of the design and prototype of the Advanced Heavy Water Reactor (AHWR). It is the latest Indian design for a next-generation nuclear reactor that will burn thorium as its fuel.

The design is being developed at Bhabha Atomic Research Centre (BARC) in Mumbai and is an important step towards the third stage of  Indian nuclear power programme, which envisages use of thorium fuel cycles for commercial power generation.

The AHWR is a vertical pressure tube type reactor cooled by boiling light water under natural circulation. The unique feature of this design is a large tank of water on top of a primary containment of vessel called gravity-driven water pool (GDWP). This reservoir is designed to perform several passive safety functions. Dr R.K. Sinha, chairman, Atomic Energy Commission, in an exclusive interview to Indiatoday.in said: "This reactor can continue to cool its core after passive shutdown without an external source of cooling water and electricity and even without any operator action for nearly 110 days."

The AHWR will be fuelled by a mix of uranium-233 and plutonium, which will be converted from thorium and uranium-238 respectively by previously deployed and domestically designed fast breeder reactors. Another version of the AHWR called AHWR-LEU will use low enriched uranium along with thorium.

Thorium is an element that is three times more abundant globally than uranium. India's reserves of thorium constitute 25 per cent of the world's total reserves.

Earlier, India had set up KAMINI - a 30 kWth experimental reactor at Kalpakkam which incidentally is the world's only reactor fuelled by U-233 derived from thorium.

The AHWR, a technology demonstrator, is supposed to be launched during the 12th five-year plan and will take seven to eight years for completing the construction. Thus generation of electricity from AHWR is expected to be somewhere in 2025.