2020: A year of challenge and achievement for Indian nuclear sector


he year 2020 was a challenging year for the Indian atomic sector due to the Covid-19 pandemic. However, it still performed remarkably well attaining a major milestone and also taking steps towards setting up of a medical research reactor in public-private-partnership (PPP) mode, a top sector official said.

“A significant milestone achieved during the year was the achievement of first criticality of KAPP-3 (Kakrapar Atomic Power Project-3), the first of a kind indigenous 700 MW Pressurised Heavy Water Reactor (PHWR), which is the first in a series of 16 such reactors being set up in the country,” Atomic Energy Commission (AEC) Chairman K.N. Vyas told IANS.

The KAPP-3 attained first criticality (controlled self-sustaining nuclear fission chain reaction) in July despite the handicap of the Covid-19 lockdown.

“All efforts are being made to start commercial operation of the first 700 MW unit at Kakrapar, KAPP-3 by March 2021. Work on the KAPP-4 and RAPP 7&8 (Rajasthan Atomic Power Project) is being expedited. In KAPP-4 and RAPP-7, main plant civil construction and erection of major equipment has been completed and balance activities are in progress. In RAPP-8, various construction and erection activities are in progress,” Vyas said.

According to him, the nuclear power stations operated at the highest standards of safety and generated 40,718 Million Units of electricity in 11 months of this year (January to November 2020).

“Continuing with the trend of setting records in long continuous operation by Indian nuclear power reactors, NAPS-2 (Narora Atomic Power Station-2) continued to operate during the year, registering 851 days of continuous operation as on December 23, 2020,” Vyas added.

The year also saw Union Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman announcing setting up of a research reactor for production of medical isotopes in PPP mode to offer affordable treatment for cancer and other diseases.

Soon after that the Department of Atomic Energy (DAE) set the process rolling and in November, appointed the Strategic Consultant and Transaction Advisor for setting up research reactor under PPP.

“The consultant is engaged from initial feasibility study to executing the concession agreement,” Vyas said.

According to him, the proposed reactor is designed to maximise irradiation capacity, and thus a large quantity of variety of radioisotopes shall be produced in the reactor.

“Majority of the isotopes are for medical use. In addition, some of the isotopes would also have industrial use. As per internal assessment, it is expected that with this research reactor, it will be possible to meet the complete requirement of medical isotopes in the country,” Vyas said.

“In addition, there will be considerable scope to export of radioisotopes. It is planned to have processing facility complex along with the reactor. It would be world’s largest (production volume wise) radio-isotopes production and processing facility,” he added.

Following the appointment of the consultant, the Bhabha Atomic Research Centre (BARC) held discussions with the consultant to finalise the business case and PPP model.

To know the expectation of the industry and probable investors, A.T. Kearney has initiated dialogues with leading players/investors of the different field, Vyas said.

As regards the reactor design, the design detailing is under progress.

With several more atomic power plants planned needing fuel, attempts are being made by Uranium Corporation of India Ltd (UCIL) to increase production.

Looking forward to 2021, Vyas said, the plan is to commence commercial operation of KAPP-3 (700 MW) while work on KAPP-4 (700 MW), RAPP-7&8 (2×700 MW), Kudankulam Nuclear Power Project-3&4 (2×1,000 MW) and Gorakhpur Haryana Anu Vidyut Pariyojana (GHAVP-2×700 MW) projects are planned to be speeded up in the year after the slowdown in 2020 due to the pandemic.

In addition, start of construction of KNPP 5&6 (2X1000 MW) at Tamil Nadu’s Kudankulam is also planned in the year.

The year also saw transfer of 25 different technologies through 38 Transfer of Technology (ToT) agreements. The nuclear technologies transferred were developed under various fields like agriculture, bioscience, environment, medical equipment, advanced instrumentation, engineering, water, radiation and chemical.

Vyas said BARC is engaged in research and development activities related nuclear agriculture and food preservation technologies like radiation induced mutants with superior traits, development of super absorbent hydrogel for dry regions and shelf-life extension of fruits.

“One Trombay crop variety TKR Kolam (Trombay Karjat Kolam) has been released and gazette notified for commercial cultivation by Ministry of Agriculture & Farmers Welfare. Two rice varieties, Vikram-TCR and CG Trombay Jawaphool were released by State Variety Release Committee (SVRC), Chhattisgarh. Breeder seed production of Trombay crop varieties was carried for groundnut (332 quintals), rice (15 quintals) and pulses (20 quintals),” Vyas said.

Pointing out that drought is the most severe stress that hinders the growth of crop plants, causing substantial yield loss to farmers, Vyas said: “BARC has developed a super-absorbent polymeric hydrogel using radiation technology. The hydrogel can soak up about 400 times its own weight and act as a water reservoir in the soil, releasing the stored water upon plant/root demand.”

In arid areas, the use of BARC hydrogel can increase the water holding capacity of soil, which significantly improves the plant health and productivity. The hydrogel has shown potential during testing in BARC and the same is being tested with the help of State Agriculture Universities, he added.

While BARC will continue to develop and test new mutants/breeding lines of oilseed, pulses and cereals, it will also take up development of technologies for shelf life extension of fish, spreads, vegan milk made of chick pea and preservation of agriculture produce (wheat, pointed gourd etc.), Vyas remarked.

Other notable developments are the biokit for detection of group of organophosphate (OP) and organocarbamate (OC) pesticides for qualitative detection of presence of pesticides in food commodities such as vegetables and fruits and 1,000 Litre Per Hour (LPH) reverse osmosis technology based water treatment plants were commissioned at villages of Maharashtra and West Bengal in alignment with the Jal Shakti Abhiyan and Jal Jeevan Mission of the Centre, Vyas said.