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Work on PFBR to begin soon

A file picture, taken in September 2003, of the earth excavation work under way for the PFBR at Kalpakkam. In the backdrop is the assembly building. — Photo: K. Gajendran

A file picture, taken in September 2003, of the earth excavation work under way for the PFBR at Kalpakkam. In the backdrop is the assembly building. — Photo: K. Gajendran  

CHENNAI, MAY 29. The construction of the Prototype Fast Breeder Reactor (PFBR), which will generate 500 MWe, is all set to begin at Kalpakkam, near here. The first pour of the concrete, which signals the beginning of the reactor construction, will start by early July, according to S.K. Jain, Chairman and Managing Director, Nuclear Power Corporation of India Limited (NPCIL).

The PFBR construction involves "a totally new technology" and entails "many challenges" because it is different from the 12 Pressurised Heavy Water Reactors (PHWRs) that the NPCIL has built so far, Mr. Jain told The Hindu.

While the PHWRs use natural uranium as fuel and light water as both coolant and moderator, the PFBR will be fuelled by uranium-plutonium oxide and liquid sodium will be the coolant. It is called a breeder reactor because it breeds more fuel than it uses up.

The PFBR will mark the beginning of construction of a series of breeder reactors, providing energy security to the country. Before 2020, four more fast breeder reactors, each generating 500 MWe, are expected to be in place.

Baldev Raj, Director, Indira Gandhi Centre for Atomic Research (IGCAR), Kalpakkam, which has fathered the PFBR, said the first pour of the concrete "really marks a countdown because once we make the first pour for the raft (foundation), there is no looking back." It is a sprawling raft, 100 metres long and 96 metres broad. The IGCAR has already completed all the technology development for the PFBR's reactor systems and "we have tendered out most of them except one or two [for manufacture]," he said.

The PFBR will cost about Rs. 3,400 crores to build and includes escalation cost. It will reach criticality in 2010. "We are trying to see whether we can achieve criticality in less than the stipulated time of seven years," Dr. Baldev Raj said. "This PFBR technology will be the basis for generation of 5,00,000 MWe, which will provide energy security to the country. The PFBR will be the igniter for it. The 5,00,000 MWe will come through the fast breeder reactors' route."

A new public sector undertaking, "Bharatiya Nabhikiya Vidyut Nigam (BHAVINI)," has been formed to build the PFBR. The company has married up talent from the NPCIL; the IGCAR; the Bhabha Atomic Research Centre, Trombay; the Nuclear Fuel Complex, Hyderabad; the Electronic Corporation of India, Hyderabad, and the Heavy Water Board. Mr. Jain is the CMD of BHAVINI also.

According to him, with the completion of the excavation of the earth at the PFBR site, BHAVINI had made submissions to the Atomic Energy Regulatory Board for obtaining the construction licence. "The submissions are under extensive review and I am confident that in the next four to six weeks, we will get the construction licence."

Gammon India Ltd. has bagged the order for constructing the nuclear island of PFBR. It has started mobilisation at the site in a big way. Work is underway to establish plants to manufacture concrete, for batching, for curing and for making ice flakes to keep the concrete at low temperature.

Mobilisation work for these alone would cost Rs. 20 crores to Rs. 30 crores. Gammon India Ltd. had also started the documentation for quality assurance, construction methodology etc., Dr. Baldev Raj said. "I am confident that by June-end or early-July, the first pour of the concrete will begin."

The PFBR nuclear island would be the largest of its kind in the country. It would comprise eight massive buildings and would house the reactor, the primary heat exchanger, the steam generator and so on. The IGCAR has about 19 years of experience in operating the Fast Breeder Test Reactor at Kalpakkam, which (FBTR) is a forerunner to the PFBR.

On August 18, 2003, when Anil Kakodkar, Chairman, Atomic Energy Commission, performed the bhoomi puja for the PFBR project at Kalpakkam, he said: "We want to make a commercial success of this breeder technology. Based on this technology, we will build more reactors."

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