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Updated: September 16, 2009 20:48 IST

India designs new version of Advanced Heavy Water Reactor: Kakodkar

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Chairman of Atomic Energy Commission Anil Kakodkar. File photo: S.S. Kumar
The Hindu
Chairman of Atomic Energy Commission Anil Kakodkar. File photo: S.S. Kumar

India has designed a new version of Advanced Heavy Water Reactor (AHWR) which will use low enriched uranium along with thorium as fuel, chairman of Atomic Energy Commission Anil Kakodkar announced on Wednesday in Vienna.

"A new version of AHWR named Advanced Heavy Water Reactor-Low Enriched Uranium (AHWR-LEU) that uses low enriched uranium along with thorium as fuel has been designed recently," Mr. Kakodkar said at the International Atomic Energy Agency's General Conference.

The reactor has a significantly lower requirement of mined uranium per unit energy produced as compared to most of the current generation thermal reactors, Mr. Kakodkar said.

"This version can also meet the requirement of medium sized reactors in countries with small grids while meeting the requirements of next generation systems," Mr. Kakodkar said indicating that India was ready for export of such reactors in the near future.

"While we strongly advocate recycle option, AHWR-LEU would also compete very favourably even in once through mode of fuel cycle (where spent fuel is stored without reprocessing)," he said adding that the Department of Atomic energy has circulated a brochure of AHWR-LEU at the Conference for the benefit of potential customers.

The already designed and developed 300 MWe AHWR by Bhabha Atomic Research Centre, which is expected to start production soon, is mainly a thorium-fuelled reactor with several advanced passive safety features, Mr. Kakodkar said.

The AHWR has high level of fault tolerance and provides for a much greater immunity even from inside threat. These features therefore, offer enhanced intrinsic proliferation resistant characteristics and high security strength, Mr. Kakodkar said.

The safety features in its design would enable meeting next generation safety requirements such as three days grace period for operator response, elimination of the need for exclusion zone beyond the plant boundary, hundred year design life and high level of fault tolerance, he said.

The reactor is manageable with modest industrial infrastructure within the reach of developing countries. Also, for the same amount of energy produced, the quantity of long-lived minor actinides generated is nearly half of that produced in current generation Light Water Reactors.

"Importantly, high level of radioactivity in the fissile and fertile materials recovered from the spent fuel of AHWR and their isotopic composition preclude the use of these materials for nuclear weapons," he said.

Mr. Kakodkar emphasised the need for global attention on radioactive waste disposal issue.

While India considers recycle option backed up by immobilisation of residual waste in inert matrices as a proven technological option for safe geological disposal, there is perhaps a need to develop partition and transmutation technologies, he said.

"This will reduce the radioactive half life of the waste to a level wherein most of the radioactivity is lost within a practical time frame comparable with life span of institutions that are required to manage them," he said.

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