In May 1974, India tested its first nuclear device, and in May 1998, the country successfully conducted five under-ground nuclear tests. These tests varied from simple fission devices similar to the Atom Bomb used in Hiroshima to the complicated fusion devices. This marked India’s entry into select group of six countries possessing capability to make nuclear weapons including Hydrogen Bombs.
Today, India is self-reliant in all aspects of the nuclear fuel cycle, from prospecting and mining of uranium to reprocessing of spent fuel and nuclear waste management. The nuclear programme of the country aims primarily at harnessing nuclear energy for electricity generation as also for applications of radioisotopes in agriculture, medicine and industry; develop top-of-the-line facilities such as accelerators, lasers, information technology etc., and promote research and development in nuclear sciences.
The Atomic Energy Commission (AEC) implements these programmes and policies through the Department of Atomic Energy (DAE). Atomic Energy Regulatory Board (AERB) is the regulatory organisation. DAE has five R&D organisations, four public sector undertakings, three industrial organisations, four service organisations and seven aided institutions.
The Atomic Minerals Division (AMD) carries out exploration and Prospecting of uranium and other minerals needed for nuclear power programme. Uranium is mined and processed by Uranium Corporation of India Limited (UCIL). UCIL has mines at Jaduguda, Bhatin and Narwapahar and recovery plants in Surda, Rakha and Mosaboni. The Indian Rare Earth (IRE) mines and processes mineral sands containing thorium and rare earth minerals in plants located at Manavalakurichi, Chavara and Chhatrapur. IRE has a rare earth plant in Alwaye and thorium factory in Trombay.
The Heavy Water Board (HWB) at Mumbai oversees the production of heavy water which is used in nuclear reactors. It has 8 heavy water plants at Nangal, Tuticorin, Rawatbhata, Baroda, Thal, Talcher, Manuguru and Hazira. The Nuclear Fuel Complex (NFC) at Hyderabad produces nuclear fuel. The Bhabha Atomic Research Centre (BARC) operates fuel-reprocessing plants at Tarapur, Trombay and Kalpakkam.
India has a three-phased nuclear programme aimed at utilizing the abundantly found thorium. The first stage is setting up of Pressurized Heavy Water Reactors and associated fuel cycle facilities with natural uranium as fuel. This stage has already been completed.
The second stage envisages setting up of Fast Breeder Reactors, reprocessing plants and plutonium based fuel fabrication plants. The Fast Breeder Test Reactor at Kalpakkam attained criticality in 1985, making India the sixth country in the world after USA, UK, the erstwhile USSR, France and Japan to have built a fast breeder reactor.
The third stage will be based on Thorium232àUranium233 fuel system. Uranium233 is fissile and will be obtained by irradiation of thorium in Pressurized Heavy Water Reactors (PHWRs) and Fast Breeder Reactors (FBRs). Uranium – 233 has been successfully used in a Research Reactor (Kamini). Work is in progress on the designing of an Advanced Heavy Water Reactor, which will use thorium as fuel.
Although uranium is the only
naturally occurring fissile element directly usable in a nuclear reactor, the
country only has 0.8 per cent of the world’s uranium reserves and may have to
depend on imports in the future. As against this, thorium, which is a fertile
element, is found in India in great abundance. In fact India has around 32 per cent of the world’s reserves
of thorium, and with a carefully planned program, indigenously available
technology can be used to harness the energy contained in non-fissile thorium to
be used in fast breeder reactors (FBRs).
Nuclear power reactors in India are built and operated by the Nuclear Power Corporation of India Ltd. (NPCIL). As of now, the NPCIL is operating 10 nuclear power reactors:
Ongoing projects of NPCIL are:
One 220 megawatt(e) reactor each at Kaiga and Rawatbhatta attained criticality on September 24 and December 24, 1999 respectively.
Though the country’s atomic power
program had produced only a little over 2,000 MW of nuclear energy over 34
years, the Indian Planning Commission has set an ambitious target of producing
around 20,000 MW of nuclear power by 2020.
Radioisotopes have wide ranging applications in agriculture, industry and medicine. BARC, which has been producing radioisotopes for about four decades, is a major producer of radioisotopes for use in industry, medicine, agriculture and research.
Radioisotopes in Industry: The radioisotopes produced at Trombay are widely used by industry for non-destructive testing, measurements, radiography and tracer applications. Medical industry is a major beneficiary of radiation sterilization facilities. The Sterilization Plant at Trombay has serviced the industry for more than two decades. Similar plants have been working at Bangalore, New Delhi and Jodhpur.
Radioisotopes in Medicine: More than half of the isotopes produced in India are used for medical diagnosis and therapy. Radioisotopes produced by from BARC are processed for production of radiopharmaceuticals, radioisotope based products and equipment. These radiopharmaceuticals are supplied to various nuclear medicine centres and laboratories for diagnostic and therapeutic uses. The hydrogel preparations, developed for healing burn injuries, have undergone clinical test successfully. BARC developed a process for preparation of Iodine-125 source for use in the treatment of ocular tumours and prostate cancer.
Radioisotopes in Agriculture: Radioisotopes are also used in crop improvement, food preservation and other agricultural applications. They are also used in the development of high yielding varieties of pulses, oilseeds, rice and jute. Many of these have reached the farmers and are cultivated in different parts of the country. BARC has also established irradiation technology for preservation of food. In agriculture, radioisotopes have also helped in monitoring the persistence of pesticides in soil and ground water.
Food Technology: preservation of food by gamma radiation as well as by the conventional and emerging methods has been used in the field of Food Technology. A A commercial plant for radiation processing of spices has been set up at Vashi, Navi Mumbai. This plant regularly processes spices and is designed for a maximum capacity of 1000 kilocuries of cobalt-60 source. At Trombay, the Food Package Irradiator and other experimental facilities for irradiation are used for irradiation of food and experimental samples.
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