Crucial for implementing the Indian atomic power programme, the closed nuclear fuel cycle is the future of the global industry, according to a Russian expert, who has called for stakeholders to cooperate in developing nuclear fuel closure (NFC) technology and fast reactors.
“We are convinced that the future of the global nuclear power industry is going hand in hand with NFC closure, with the core represented by fast fission reactor technologies,” Russian state atomic energy corporation Rosatom’s Director General Alexey Likhachev said in his address at the International Atomic Energy Agency’s (IAEA) ministerial conference here that concludes on Wednesday. Rosatom are the builders and equipment suppliers of the Kudankulam nuclear power project in Tamil Nadu, the first two units of 1,000 MW each have already been operationalised.
“At Rosatom, we are now creating industrial facilities to recycle spent fuel in Russia, and we are also working on new uranium-plutonium fuel to help return spent fuel back to the nuclear fuel cycle. In view of the above, we urge all interested parties to get involved in cooperation in developing fast reactors and NFC closure,” he said. “This is not a technology of the distant future. There are good reasons to think that the complex products in this field will be offered to the market within the next 10-12 years. In nuclear power industry it means that these are the technologies of tomorrow,” he added.
The closed nuclear fuel cycle technology is crucial to India for implementing its three-stage nuclear power programme with the long-term objective of tapping the country’s vast thorium reserves. NFC technology involves reprocessing and re-making the spent fuel from nuclear reactors. India’s three-stage nuclear electricity programme consists of building Pressurised Heavy Water Reactors (PHWRS) using natural uranium as fuel, fuelling fast Breeder reactors (FBRs) using plutonium and depleted uranium from the PHWRs, and construction of reactors using the rich thorium resources.
India’s thorium deposits, estimated at 360,000 tonnes, far outweigh its natural uranium deposits of 70,000 tonnes. The country’s thorium reserves make up 25 percent of the global reserves. India is currently developing the Advanced Heavy Water Reactor (AHWR) which will be fuelled by a mix of Uranium-233, converted from thorium, and plutonium. Uranium-233 is the reactor fuel for this third stage of the Indian nuclear power programme.
The key to the AWHR’s development is the second stage of nuclear power generation that envisages the use of Plutonium-239, obtained from the first stage reactor operation, as the fuel core in fast breeder reactors (FBR). Pu-239 is the primary fissile element used in the FBR. According to the IAEA here, 30 countries currently operate nuclear power plants and around 30 others are considering or preparing to introduce nuclear power. Fifty seven power reactors are currently under construction around the world.