Is India finally entering stage II of its nuclear programme? | Explained

Syllabus: GS- III, Subject: Science and technology, Topic: Nuclear technology, Issue: Indian nuclear program

Context: Recently the core loading process of the indigenous prototype fast breeder reactor (PFBR) started at Kalpakkam

Three stage nuclear program of India:

  • Aims for complete self-sufficiency in nuclear energy.
  • Designed by Homi J. Bhabha to utilize India’s abundant thorium resources.
  • Stage I – pressurized heavy water reactors (PHWRs) use natural uranium-238 (U-238) for fuel.
  • Stage II – Using plutonium-239 (Pu-239) produced in stage I, along with U-238, in the PFBR to generate energy, U-233, and more Pu-239.
  • Stage III- using Pu-239 with thorium-232 (Th-232) to produce energy and U-233.

Reason for delay of PFBR:

  • Sanctions post ‘Smiling Buddha’ nuclear test, cost overruns, human resource issues, technical difficulties and excessive reliance on NPCI for components.

Challenges of Stage-II:

  • Harder to handle due to radioactive byproducts produced and technological complexity in using liquid sodium as moderator.
  • International Atomic Energy Agency wants India to set up an independent statutory atomic regulator for civilian purpose.
  • Development of small modular reactors – SMRs (< 300MW) which require less land and have more safety features.
  • Fukushima Daiichi disaster (2011) has shifted public opinion worldwide against nuclear power.
Prelims Connect:

·         BHAVINI (Bharatiya Nabhikiya Vidyut Nigam, Ltd.) was established by the Department of Atomic Energy (DAE) to implement stage II.

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