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The Indian Government has rolled out an ambitious plan of increasing the share of nuclear energy in the country’s energy matrix. In commensuration with this, the government has also laid out plans for nuclear waste management and has opted for “closed fuel cycle” where spent fuel will be reprocessed to recover Uranium and Plutonium to be re-used as nuclear fuel.

This cycle has been adopted with an aim that as a final result there will be only a very small percentage of radioactive waste left that will have to be managed. This was revealed by Dr. Jitendra Singh, the Union Minister of State (Independent Charge) Development of North-Eastern Region (DoNER), MoS PMO, Personnel, Public Grievances & Pensions, Atomic Energy and Space in a written reply to a question in Rajya Sabha.

“India has adopted “closed fuel cycle”, where spent nuclear fuel is regarded as a material of resource. Closed fuel cycle aims at reprocessing of spent fuel for recovery of Uranium and Plutonium and recycling them back to reactor as fuel. This finally leads to a very small percentage of residual material present in spent nuclear fuel requiring their management as radioactive waste,” Dr. Singh said. India generates around four tonnes of nuclear waste per gigawatt (GW) annually.

High level radioactive waste also contains many useful isotopes like Caesium-137, Strontium-90, Ruthenium-106 etc. The new technologies helps in partitioning the waste and recovering these useful radio-isotopes. “Advancements with respect to partitioning of the waste have been implemented safely and successfully enabling recovery of useful radio- isotopes like Caesium-137, Strontium-90, Ruthenium-106 etc. and their deployment for societal applications,” Dr. Singh added.

The emphasis is on the reduction of total volume of the waste generated, its containment and isolation of radio-active material. No nuclear waste is released or disposed in the environment unless it is cleared by the concerned authorities.