Nuclear fuel production to rise 10-fold in 15 years in India: Govt

The Department of Atomic Energy (DAE) will achieve a ten-fold rise in uranium production in three phases by 2031-32, the Union Minister of State (Independent Charge) Development of North-Eastern Region (DoNER), Minister of State PMO, Personnel, Public Grievances & Pensions, Atomic Energy and Space, Dr Jitendra Singh informed in written reply to a question in Lok Sabha on Wednesday.

Dr Jitendra Singh also sought to assuage concerns by saying there is no shortage of nuclear fuel for atomic plants in the country.

“As per the vision plan prepared in order to fulfil the requirement of uranium to fuel nuclear power plants, the DAE will achieve nearly ten-fold rise in uranium production in next 15 years (by 2031-32). The uranium projects have been planned in three phases,” Singh said.

After completion of the first phase, it is expected to produce 3.5 times the existing uranium production by the 12th year (2029), he said.

India has 22 operating nuclear power plants. Ten foreign reactors – six in Jaitapur, Maharashtra, and four in Kudankulam, Tamil Nadu – have been approved. The government has recently approved 10 more indigenous reactors. The move is also expected to fuel these new reactors.

The DAE mines uranium ore from Jaduguda mine in Jharkhand and Tummalapalle mine in Andhra Pradesh. It also imports uranium from Canada, Russia and Kazakhstan.

India is pursuing an indigenous three stage Nuclear Power Programme involving closed fuel cycles of Pressurised Heavy Water Reactors (PHWRs) and Liquid Metal cooled Fast Breeder Reactors (LMFBRs) for judicious utilisation of the relatively limited reserves of uranium and vast resources of thorium. PHWRs form the first stage of the Power programme which uses zircaloy as clad & Natural uranium dioxide as fuel. In addition, India is operating two Boiling Water Reactors (BWRs) since 1969. The zircaloy clad enriched uranium oxide fuel elements and assemblies for these reactors are fabricated at NFC starting from imported enriched uranium hexafluoride.

The raw material for the production of PHWR fuel in NFC is Magnesium Di-uranate (MDU) popularly known as ‘Yellow Cake’. The MDU concentrate is obtained from the uranium mine and milled at Jaduguda, Jharkhand, operated by Uranium Corporation of India Limited (UICL). The impure MDU is subjected to nitric acid dissolution followed by solvent extraction and precipitation with ammonia to get Ammonium Di-uranate (ADU). By further steps of controlled calcination and reduction, sinterable uranium dioxide powder is formed which is then compacted in the form of cylindrical pellets and sintered at high temperature to get high density uranium dioxide pellets. For BWRs, the enriched uranium hexafluoride is subjected to pyrohydrolysis and converted to ammonium di-uranate which is treated in the same way as natural ADU to obtain high density uranium dioxide pellets.

For PHWR fuel , the cylindrical UO2 pellets are stacked and encapsulated in thin walled tubes of zirconium alloy, both ends of which are sealed by resistance welding using zircaloy end plugs. A number of such fuel pins are assembled to form a fuel bundle that can be conveniently loaded into the reactor. The fuel bundles for PHWR 220 Mwe and PHWR 500 Mwe consist of 19 and 37 fuel pins respectively. For BWRs, two types, namely 6×6 and 7×7 array fuel assemblies are fabricated.