First Indian fast breeder reactor to attain criticality in the coming months

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The fuel loading of India’s first Prototype Fast Breeder Reactor (PFBR), Bhavini, is progressing towards completion, while its attaining criticality is expected in the coming months, according to an official announcement.  

At a review meeting of the Department of Atomic Energy (DAE) in New Delhi late last month, the Atomic Energy Minister Jitendra Singh said that the integrated commissioning of the 500 MW PFBR Bhavini, located at the Indira Gandhi Centre for Atomic Research (IGCAR) in Kalpakkam in the southern state of Tamil Nadu, is well underway and criticality is expected in the coming months. 

Bhavini will be India’s first fast breeder reactor to produce more fuel than it consumes. 

Also located at Kalpakkam, an under construction Fast Reactor Fuel Cycle Facility (FRFCF) is expected to be completed by December 2027. The FRFCF is designed to reprocess used fuel from fast breeder reactors.   

The PFBR is a key element of India’s nuclear power programme that was conceived in the late 1960s as a closed fuel cycle to be achieved in three stages. The spent fuel generated from one stage would be reprocessed and used in the next stage of the cycle to produce power. A fast breeder reactor breeds more material for a nuclear fission reaction than it consumes.    

The programme envisages the introduction of plutonium fuelled fast breeder reactors as the intermediate stage, between operating pressurised heavy water reactors (PWHRs) and thorium-uranium-233 based reactors in the future.   

The closed fuel cycle was designed to “breed” fuel and to minimize generation of nuclear waste. This three-stage nuclear power production program in India had been conceived with the ultimate objective of utilising the country’s vast reserves of thorium. India is estimated to have the largest reserves of thorium in the world, possessing around 25 percent of the global reserves.  

According to a DAE release, the Minister also said that India’s nuclear power generation capacity is set to increase by around 70 per cent in the next five years with the addition of 7 new reactors. 

“Installed capacity of 7.48 GW (gigawatt; equivalent to 7,480 MW electricity) will become 13.08 GW by 2029, which is an over 70 percent increase with the addition of 7 new reactors,” Singh said.  

Underlining the importance of indigenous development of technology, the Minister directed the department to integrate and collaborate to harness full potential through capacity building and sharing of knowledge, resources and expertise, the statement said.  

“Indigenous technology development and promoting energy security should be our priority,” he said. 

To facilitate this, the government has permitted joint ventures with public sector units in the nuclear sector, increasing the budget through collaborations, the use of next generation technologies, and increasing cooperation, the statement added.  

“We are giving single point approval to promote ease of science and promote ease of living for citizens by application of nuclear technology,” Singh said.  

He also said that to realise the country’s nuclear generation, as well as net-zero emission targets, India is designing an indigenously made 220 MW small reactor that would employ Pressurized Heavy Water Reactor (PHWR) technology, adding that the DAE is also working on the 220 MW Bharat Small Modular Reactor (BSMR) to enable its using light water-based reactors.