20 July 2008

Thorium and the Indian nuclear programme

In a recent article in Frontline, my colleague R. Ramachandran has drawn attention to the July 4, 2008 speech by Department of Atomic Energy chairman Anil Kakodkar at the Indian Academy of Sciences, Bangalore as well as his Founder's Day address last October to suggest the atomic energy chief is diluting his earlier advocacy of thorium use in order to make a stronger case for the Indo-U.S. nuclear deal.

Ramachandran ends his article directly questioning the motive for Kakodkar's arguments:
The juncture at which Kakodkar has chosen to make these remarks can only make one wonder whether the compulsions were political or technical. Thorium science and technology developed within the DAE itself would suggest the former. As [former head of the Indian fast breeder programme Placid] Rodriguez says, “The statement that thorium, which has all along been hailed as the panacea for our energy security and independence, is suddenly discovered to have nuclear properties that do not allow fast growth in power generation capacity, and giving this as an alibi for the Indo-U.S. nuclear deal is surprising, coming as it does from Kakodkar, who is identified in the public mind with India’s thorium utilisation efforts.”

Well, Kakodkar has hit back in today's Hindu in an interview to my colleague, T.S. Subramanian:
Subramanian: You are the father of thorium reactor technology in India. You said in Bangalore recently that if India could import 40,000 MWe of nuclear power between 2012 and 2020, we can wipe out the gap between the demand and the supply of power by 2050 – by building more fast breeder reactors using the spent fuel arising from these imported reactors. But you also said that thorium does not have properties that allow for faster growth of power generation. Media commentators have alleged that this amounts to India abandoning its third stage of building thorium-fuelled reactors.

Kakodkar: Right from the beginning all the way up to now, there is absolutely no contradiction between my statements on thorium utilisation strategies.

These are based on detailed analyses and they remain valid. [Dr. R.] Ramachandran’s article in Frontline (August 1, 2008) is either from a result of lack of understanding or misinterpretation. The three-stage nuclear power development programme based on domestic efforts remains a priority activity and would be implemented unhindered.

To optimise the benefits of thorium utilisation, the timing of the introduction of thorium has to be judiciously planned. In any case, it has to follow significant build-up of nuclear power generation capacity through deployment of fast breeder reactors. The point to realise is the fact that India’s electricity requirements are growing faster. The gap between electricity demand and supply that can be managed on indigenous resources is widening and it would exceed 400,000 MWe by 2050.

The question that one needs to address is how soon we can bridge this gap through the growth potential that is possible with fast reactors. Clearly, this necessitates emphasis on deployment of fast breeder reactors with the shortest possible doubling time. The timing of the introduction of thorium needs to be adjusted such that the demand-supply gap is bridged at the earliest and at the same time, we derive full benefit of the vast energy potential of our thorium resources for centuries to come.

The import of 40,000 MWe of power as an additionality [to the domestic nuclear power programme] bridges not only this gap by 2050 but it would avoid the necessity of import of much larger fossil energy resources and at the same time enable earlier deployment of thorium, meeting the objectives stated above.

The point is even after we pursue the domestic three-stage nuclear power programme, which we will pursue on a priority basis in any case, there will be a gap of 400,000 MWe. If we introduce thorium earlier, this gap will become larger and the three-stage programme will become smaller. On the other hand, if we can get this 40,000 MWe from outside [by importing reactors], we can bridge this gap, and at the same time, we can advance the deployment of thorium.
You can read the full interview here.


Anonymous said...

So goes the strain in Sound Of Music movie:

If you know the notes to sing
You can sing 'most any thing!

Similarly, if one knows how to "project" futuristic demand of electrical energy in India, one can probably justify import of any number of alien reactor systems, why only 40 GWe?

We are here talking of likely scenarios far into the future. In the circumstances, Mr. Kakodkar, for reasons best known to himself, seems to have overlooked a very promising field in which DAE is working even as of now.

If you peruse closely the diagram titled "Three Stages of the Indian Nuclear Power Programme" at page 5/16 of DAE's Report Titled A Strategy for Growth of Electricity Generation in India, you will find an icon captioned "Non-reactor breeding" at the end of the 1st stage / beginning of the 2nd stage. This refers to development of technologies for Th-U233 utilisation through the Accelerator Driven Systems (ADS).

The document notes:


As a next step towards self sustained thorium utilization with a potential for growth, a road map for the development of Accelerator Driven System (ADS) has been prepared. In the ADS, high energy proton beam generates neutrons directly through spallation reaction in a non-fertile/ non-fissile element like lead. A sub-critical blanket can then further amplify this external neutron source as well as produce energy. Development of such a system offers the promise of shorter doubling time with thorium-uranium-233 systems, incineration of long lived actinides and fission products and can provide a robust technology base to large scale thorium utilization. As a first step towards realization of ADS, we are launching development of proton accelerator in the X five year plan.


Annual Report of DAE for 2006 - 07 at Chapter 3 gives the current status as follows (pun intended!):


Accelerator Driven Subcritical Systems (ADS)

A self-sustaining Th-U cycle in a heavy water moderated ADS system, supporting 500 MWe power and 60 GWd/T fuel burn-up was evolved using a 1 GeV proton beam of 30 mA current. Developmental work for new neutron kinetic code for Accelerator Driven System was initiated. At VECC, simulation work on the main magnet of 10MeV cyclotron was taken up to facilitate studies related to handling space charge dominated beams relevant for a compact Cyclotron. To this end various supplies like the High Frequency Structure Simulator computer code was procured and tested. Assembly of various components made progress.


Rather than longing for importation of costly nuclear power plants with a lot of unacceptable strings attached, DAE must concentrate on indigenous development efforts it already has on hand and try to make them bear fruit. To over-work a cliche, at the end of the day (even if the "day" turns out to be a few decades), India will be stronger for the effort that has been put in self-development of high technology. Technology development leading to industrial strength and independence is the best way to have a credible deterrent against hegemonistic powers.

Kammie Kamal said...
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Anonymous said...

Developmental work for new neutron kinetic code for Accelerator Driven System was initiated.Technology development leading to industrial strength and independence is the best way to have a credible deterrent against hegemonistic powers.