Sci-Tech

50 years of CIRUS: some unforgettable memories

OLD WARHORSE: Research Reactor CIRUS at the Bhabha Atomic Research Centre at Trombay. Photo: V.V. Krishnan  

On December 18, the scientists and engineers in the Department of Atomic Energy (DAE) celebrated the Golden Jubilee of CIRUS and the Silver jubilee of DHRUVA. The organizers invited everyone who was associated with the two research reactors. It was an emotional homecoming for many, especially for those who retired decades ago.

The 40 MW research reactor attained criticality on 10{+t}{+h} July 1960. It was constructed under Canadian assistance. India and Canada shared the cost of about $14.14 million. CIRUS, the workhorse of BARC is a symbol of the advanced developments in nuclear science, engineering and technology in India.

Dr Bhabha chose this heavy water moderated, uranium metal fuelled reactor as it would be a powerful tool for research. Also Dr W.B. Lewis, the eminent scientist who led the designers of the reactor was close to him in his Cambridge days.

Veterans recalled the teething problems they faced, the ways in which they solved them and their unforgettable memories. The 188-page commemorative booklet which describes them is a lucidly written, technical document, an A to Z cookbook on research reactor operation and maintenance!

Priceless experience

The reactor operation and maintenance group acquired priceless experience by studying the failure data of components such as valves.

Floating materials, mainly plastic waste and seeds and leaves from ever expanding mangroves, clogged the travelling water screens in the sea water inlet system; silt accumulation in the gland vent ports damaged the pumps. Scientists addressed these issues promptly.

“ In a hurry to start the reactor early, Bombay municipal water was charged to the high head storage tank ( ball tank) and was used in the re-circulating coolant water circuit” Shri S.M. Sundaram, former Director, Reactor Operation and Maintenance Group (ROMG) recalled. The total dissolved solids (TDS) such as silica in water got deposited on the fuel cladding, reducing coolant flow and damaging many of them at higher power level.

The Canadians did not face such a problem in their reactor; they used fresh water from Ottawa River. Sundaram and his team purified water using ion exchangers and solved the problem.

He remembered that then he worked against the orders from their superiors. Bhabha tacitly supported them. “…he said that there may be rare occasions when one may need to disregard the orders of his superior, for a good cause”.

By October 1963, they could raise the power level to 40 MW.. “ever since, CIRUS has been the workhorse of Indian atomic research programme”, Shri N. Veeraraghavan, former Associate Director, ROMG recalled.

He remembered that Dr Bhabha addressed a meeting in the indoor games room in the Old Yacht Club Building, which was attended by CIR project related scientific community sometime end of 1959 or early 1960.

“Bhabha expressed full confidence in the ability of Indian engineers in the production of indigenous, pure natural uranium and its fabrication into fuel rods for the initial loading of the CIRUS reactor”, Shri Veeraraghavan said .

Very bold commitment

“ As I see it today, this was a very bold commitment at that time, which ended happily for all, especially the chemical and metallurgical engineering staff that really worked hard and met the commitment with the loading of indigenous uranium fuel for the first “criticality” of CIRUS reactor,” he added

Most of the members of the newly recruited scientific and engineering staff for CIR operations sent for training to Canada during 1956-1957 came from very conservative backgrounds. They were from different regions of the country and spoke different languages. Most of them were strict vegetarians.

Dr M.R. Srinivasan, former Chairman, Atomic Energy Commission (AEC), delivered a few lectures to them. Bhabha asked him to take them to the Taj Hotel so that they would learn to use knife and fork before going to Canada for further training!

Dr P.K. Iyengar, former Chairman, AEC, recalled that the training school programme which Bhabha spearheaded helped national integration; it brought people from different parts of the country together.

Heartbroken

“I am truly heartbroken to learn that this old workhorse will be put to sleep at the end of this year for reasons that are anything but technical” the words of Shri S.K. Sharma, former Director, Reactor Group, truly reflected those of many others present.

“But then those are the ways of the world that we live in,” he consoled everyone.

In his inaugural address Dr R.K. Sinha, Director, BARC, stated that the CIRUS reactor provided research and development inputs to the nuclear power programme in the country.

It provided a platform to train engineers and technologists in the area of reactor management.

“This is an occasion to reflect on the past and to pay our gratitude to our elders” Dr Srikumar Banerjee, Chairman, AEC, said while addressing the gathering.

K.S. PARTHASARATHY, Raja Ramanna Fellow, DAE

( ksparth@yahoo.co.uk)

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Printable version | Oct 23, 2020 2:22:19 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/sci-tech/50-years-of-CIRUS-some-unforgettable-memories/article15603073.ece

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