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AHWR critical facility commissioned at BARC

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ON THE JOB: Scientists at the control room of the Advanced Heavy Water Reactor critical facility after it was commissioned at BARC on Monday.
ON THE JOB: Scientists at the control room of the Advanced Heavy Water Reactor critical facility after it was commissioned at BARC on Monday.

T.S. Subramanian

It is a milestone towards building a 300-MWe AHWR, says Anil Kakodkar

Design will achieve goals of safety and economy

Flexibility to conduct wide range of experiments

CHENNAI: The Advanced Heavy Water Reactor (AHWR) critical facility, a stepping stone for building a 300-MWe AHWR, was commissioned on Monday at the Bhabha Atomic Research Centre in Mumbai.

Atomic Energy Commission chairman Anil Kakodkar said on Tuesday: “We have an AHWR project [which will be built in the 11th Plan period]. As part of proving the physics design of the AHWR, we have built this critical facility, which went critical last [Monday] night. This is a milestone towards building the AHWR. This facility will help in understanding the physics of the design of the AHWR.”

Power output

Asked about power output from the facility, Dr. Kakodkar said power generation from the facility was not important. “It is extremely low power. It has been built to understand the physics of the design of the AHWR.”

The AHWR would use thorium, “the fuel of the future.” It would be powered by the naturally available thorium and the fissile material, uranium-233.

Boiling water would be the coolant and heavy water the moderator. Its design had several innovative features, which would “achieve the conflicting goals of safety and economy.”

The reactor would have no pumps and it would have no moving parts. The site for building the AHWR had not been chosen yet, he said.

Ratan K. Sinha, Director of the Reactor Design and Development Group, BARC, said the AHWR critical facility had “enough flexibility to conduct a wide range of experiments, which will help in validating the reactor physics of the AHWR through computer codes and in generating nuclear data about materials, such as thorium-uranium 233 based fuel, which have not been extensively used in the past.” The critical facility generated only a few watts of power.

According to Mr. Sinha, the critical facility had each and every component of the nuclear core of the AHWR such as fuel, the moderator and so on. It could be operated in different modes with various kinds of fuel and in different configurations of arranging the fuel.

He said:

“In principle, we will use thorium-uranium 233 fuel to simulate the AHWR and the natural uranium fuel to simulate the Pressurised Heavy Water Reactors [PWRS]. We have a long plan of doing experiments, using this facility.

“We started with the natural uranium core yesterday [Monday] and we will be adding thorium-based fuel in due course.”

Third stage

The construction of the AHWR in the 11th Plan period (2007-2012) will signal the beginning of the third stage of the country’s nuclear power programme. The first stage is in commercial domain, with 15 PHWRs that use natural uranium as fuel, operating in different parts of the country.

Besides, India has two Boiling Water Reactors at Tarapur, Maharashtra.

The second stage, which envisages the building of Fast Breeder Reactors, has begun with the construction of a 500-MWe Prototype Fast Breeder Reactor (PFBR) at Kalpakkam in Tamil Nadu.


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