India’s new fast-breeder on track, nuclear power from September next

By Venkatachari Jagannathan, IANS,

Chennai : With another critical component set to join the Rs.5,600-crore ($1.25 billion) fast-breeder reactor at Kalpakkam, some 80 km from here, scientists at the 500 mw nuclear power plant said the project will be up and running, as scheduled, by September next year.

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The component that will be installed this week is called a thermal baffle, a cylindrical safety vessel that is part of the crucial equipment, which helps in keeping the sodium used in the plant cool.

“The 60-tonne thermal baffle, measuring some 12-metre in diameter and more than six metres in height, is made of stainless steel and is expected to be installed inside the main vessel this week,” Prabhat Kumar, project director of the power plant, told IANS.

The sodium-cooled fast reactor, designed by the Indira Gandhi Centre for Atomic Research (IGCAR), has three vessels — a safety vessel, a main vessel and an inner vessel, all of which are critical to keep the fast-breeder reactor cool.

The baffle will go into the main vessel, also made of stainless steel, weighing some 200 tonnes, which will also hold the coolant liquid sodium, the reactor’s core containing the fuel, and other components essential for nuclear power generation.

“The thermal baffle acts as a buffer wall against the radiation from the inner vessel, which holds liquid sodium at 550 degrees Celsius, and helps maintain the temperature in the main vessel at 400 degrees Celsius,” said P. Chellapandi, associate director-design of IGCAR.

Officials said the fast-breeder reactor, being built by Bharatiya Nabhikiya Vidyut Nigam Ltd, or Bhavini, is one of the key projects of India’s three-stage nuclear power programme. India became the sixth country to have such technology, way back in 1985.

Speaking about the overall project, officials explained that more than 55 percent of the work was over, with 425 people, out of the 525 employees sanctioned so far, already on the payrolls of Bhavini.

“Orders worth Rs.3,550 crore ($785 million) have already been placed and around Rs.2,300 crore ($510 million) has been spent on the project till date,” Kumar said. “Funding has not been a problem as the government will finance 76 percent of the cost.”

He said, while the Nuclear Power Corporation of India Ltd (NPCIL) will fund 4 percent of the project cost, the remaining is expected to be met out of borrowings. “But till date, Bhavini has not drawn any money from NPCIL, nor has it resorted to any borrowings.”

India currently has 17 nuclear power reactors under operation with a capacity of 4,120 MW. This is expected to go up to 7,280 MW after the completion of six projects under implementation, including the 500-MW fast-breeder reactor at Kalpakkam.

(V. Jagannathan can be reached at [email protected] and [email protected])