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Thorium Reactors Integral To Indian Energy Independence

Athens (Greece), May 08, 2007 (ANI): Speaking to scientists and academicians at the National Centre for Scientific Research at Demokritos, Athens, on Friday, President A.P.J.Abdul Kalam said that "energy independence is India's first and highest priority." Kalam also advocated the need for using thorium reactors for the country, saying, "India has to go for nuclear power generation in a big way using thorium-based reactors. Thorium, a non fissile material is available in abundance in our country."

Kalam's recommendation assumes importance in the wake of debates taking place in India over the efficacy of thorium as opposed to uranium for the country's fast-breeder reactors. This debate has been going on within the Indian scientific fraternity for almost a decade.
 
Two of the country's eminent scientists -- Rahul Tongia and Dr. V.S. Arunachalam, the latter being a former Scientific Adviser to the Defence Minister of India, are on record opposing the fast - breeder reactor programme (FBR) as they feel it is technically and scientifically not a viable option. Both have recommended that instead of thorium or plutonium-based FBRs, the Indian Government should opt for the building of a series of Pressurised Heavy Water Reactors (PHWRs) and Light Water Reactors (LWRs) using indigenous and imported uranium. Fast Breeder Reactors, which use plutonium or thorium, are called so because they have no moderator (heavy water or light water) and breed more fuel than they consume, critics say. "Our study shows breeding is unlikely to occur at anywhere near the rates envisioned, leading to a very slow growth of fast breeder reactors (in India). In addition, domestic uranium reserves restrict the growth of Pressurised Heavy Water Reactors, which are likely to be the main contributors to nuclear capacity in the short term," said both Tongia and Dr.Arunachalam in an article that appears in one of the issues of Current Science.
"The thorium-uranium 233 cycle in fast breeders does not appear attractive, and for the uranium 238-plutonium cycle, only metallic fuel offers hope of a relatively fast doubling and reprocessing time. To increase the share of nuclear power in the coming decades, India should consider the construction of a number of large thermal reactors based on indigenous and imported uranium and also the design, development and validation of reactors that operate with thorium-plutonium fuels," they add. Dr. Homi. J. Bhabha, the founder of India's nuclear power programme, envisaged a three-stage approach to nuclear electricity generation. In the first stage, PHWRs would use natural uranium as fuel and heavy water as moderator and coolant. When natural uranium is used as fuel in PHWRs, plutonium 239 is a byproduct.
The aim of reprocessing is to separate plutonimum 239 and the left-over uranium from the fission products. Plutonium 239 and initially the left-over uranium, and subsequently thorium kept in blanket form, will fuel fast breeder reactors, which will form the second stage of India's nuclear electricity programme. Thorium used in FBRs gets converted into uranium 233, a fissile material. In the third stage, breeder reactors will use uranium 233 as fuel and thorium in blanket form to generate electricity. A small step towards the third-stage programme was taken when the Kamini experimental reactor at Kalpakkam attained criticality in October 1996, using uranium 233 and thorium. Dr. Bhabha envisaged this three-stage programme because natural uranium reserves in India were limited, whereas there were vast reserves of thorium.
Since breeders breed more uranium 233 than they consume, it is estimated that 5,00,000 MWe (500 GWe; 1 gigawatt is 1,000 megawatt) of electricity can be generated from the third stage for at least four centuries. Kalam's recommendation for the use of thorium also brought into focus the controversy surrounding the 123 agreement between the United States and India.
The 123 Agreement signed in July 2005 opens the way for the US and India to share nuclear know-how, but critics in Washington say the deal is hypocritical and could spark a new arms race, while opponents in New Delhi say it threatens India's sovereignty.
The India Nuclear Cooperation Promotion Act, also known as the 123 Agreement, will allow the US to share nuclear know-how and fuel with India to help power its economy. This, despite the fact that India refuses to sign the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), which is based on the premise that only those who renounced nuclear weapons should benefit from civilian nuclear trade and assistance.
Some believe that the 123 Agreement will not move India toward signing on to the NPT. Before trading in nuclear energy can begin, an overall cooperation plan must still be agreed upon between the United States and India and the 45-nation Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) must amend its rules to allow the exchange.
The NSG was founded in 1975 in response to a nuclear test by India a year earlier.
Kalam said that India is determined to achieve energy independence by the year 2030 and for this "India has to go for nuclear power generation in a big way using thorium based reactors." He acknowledged, "Energy independence throws very important technological challenges to the entire world."
Since he was in the midst of scientists, Kalam shared some research areas where Greece and India could work together. These include energy sector suing solar energy, proteomics that is the study of proteins expressed by the genome of a cell, prevention and research on HIV, stem cell research, disaster management and forecasting on earthquakes and global monsoon research.
The President also touched upon his favorite topic of nanoscience and technology. He said "The next ten years will see nano-technology playing the most dominant role in the global business environment and is expected to reach one trillion dollars." He said that there was scope of India and Greece working jointly for at least ten nano technology products in water, energy, agriculture, healthcare, space and defence and ICT sectors. Kalam invited private and public industries from Greece and India should work together for faster design, development and production of products for the world market.
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I am the Editor News, at Asian News International (ANI), India’s leading Multimedia News Agency and the India Correspondent for Channel News Asia, a Singapore based broadcaster.
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