India set to tap thorium as nuclear fuel

India has plans to deploy thorium as nuclear fuel on a large scale when the country achieves enough growth in installed nuclear capacity, Chairman, Atomic Energy Commission R.K. Sinha said here on Tuesday.

Delivering the P.K. Iyengar memorial lecture on the opening day of the 25th Kerala Science Congress, he said the construction of a 300 MW Advanced Heavy Water Reactor (AHWR) using thorium as fuel would demonstrate the indigenous technologies developed over the last four decades. With a design life of 100 years and inherent safety features, the reactor would produce 65 per cent of power from thorium.

Dr.Sinha said the huge quantity of thorium deposits in the form of monazite sand lining beaches of Kerala, Tamil Nadu, Odisha and other places was a plus point for India. “There are two possible energy sources for India in future- renewables like wind and solar constitute one source and thorium is another. It is up to us to deploy a combination of both.”

Thorium, he explained, was a fertile nuclear material requiring a start with fissile material like Uranium 235. Yet, the thorium fuel cycle, with its potential for breeding fuel held great potential for the long-term sustainability of nuclear energy.

Dr.Sinha said fast breeder reactors with a total capacity of 2000 MW were in the planning stage to supplement the 500 MW unit under construction at Kalpakkam. The prototype, he said, was expected to be ready soon.

He said India was planning more pressurised heavy water and light water reactors up to 40,000 MW, in addition to the 18 PHWRs already in operation and four PHWRs and two LWRs under construction. “We have a basket of technologies using all fissile materials man has known.” Dr.Sinha said eight out of 19 reactors operational in India were producing power exceeding capacity.

He noted that India had made remarkable progress in the production of radio isotopes for cancer treatment and radiation-induced mutation breeding for development of new crop varieties. Radiation processing of food products, spices, Ayurvedic products and flowers held great potential for Kerala.

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