India committed to developing thorium reactors: NPCIL chief

India is committed to the three-stage nuclear power development programme involving the use of pressurised heavy water reactors, the fast breeder reactors and the thoreum reactors, according to Nuclear Power Corporation chairman and managing director S K Jain.

While the recent nuclear power deals have opened up a plethora of opportunities for the Indian industry in the field of nuclear power, much will still remain in the state domain, Jain said in a paper released at the recently concluded annual conference of the Indian Nuclear Society.

He said while the Atomic Energy Commission (AEC) has identified some PHWRs to be put in civilian domain, some are not. These would feed the subsequent development, the fast reactors, the interconnecting fuel cycle, that means the reprocessing plants and then when you go to the third stage the thorium reactors and the related fuel cycle, he added.

The DAE has reaffirmed its commitment to thorium fuel cycle, proposing to construct a dozen indigenously-developed nuclear power reactors. These units will be supplemented by imported conventional reactors, he said.

''This is still a technology in evolution and because we want to evolve the technology to a level of commercial robustness of global competitive level, we want to be able to do this on our own and so we need to protect this  development from external vulnerabilities and so it is outside the civilian domain,'' Jain said.
 
NPCIL will start site work next year for 12 indigenously-developed reactors, including eight pressurised heavy water reactors of 700 MWe each, three 500 MWe fast breeder reactors (FBRs) and one 300 MWe advanced heavy water reactor (AHWR), as part of the 11th plan (2007-12) programme, Jain said.

This will take forward India's long-standing commitment to the thorium fuel cycle, notwithstanding the opening up of trade in uranium and conventional nuclear technology, he said.
 
The eight PHWRs were supposed to have been in the last five year plan, but constraints on uranium mining in India delayed them and set back the overall schedule, Jain said.
 
"India is now focusing on capacity addition through indigenisation" with progressively higher local content for imported designs, up to 80 per cent, he said.
 
NPCIL, Jain said, plans to construct 25-30 light water reactors of at least 1000 MWe by 2030, and is currently identifying coastal sites for the first of these, both 1000 and 1650 MWe types.

Long term, the AEC envisages its fast reactor programme being 30 to 40 times bigger than the present PHWR programme, which has some 4.4 GWe operating or under construction and 5.6 GWe planned. This 40 GWe of imported LWR multiplied to 400 GWe via FBR synergy would complement 200-250 GWe based on the indigenous programme of PHWR-FBR-AHWR. Thus, AEC expects developing reactors of about 500 to 600 GWe over the next 50 years.
 
''This programme which is not a part of the civilian domain and that programme is not going to be small. That programme is going to be large because the ultimate energy independence for the country would come about through the three stage nuclear power programme. This programme has to be autonomous since there is parallel elsewhere and there is no other solution either,'' he said.

We are talking about four more FBRs to follow immediately after PFBR. We are talking about a fast breeder programme which may well be 30-40 times larger than PHWR programme and a good part of that we would have to keep outside the civil domain till we are sure about a synchronised working of the reprocessing plant and the reactor plant with commercial efficiency and assurance, he added.