The commissioning of India’s first prototype fast breeder reactor (PFBR), being set up at the nuclear power complex located in Kalpakkam in Tamil Nadu state, has been further delayed, according to the country’s Atomic Energy Minister Jitendra Singh.
Responding to a question last week in the Upper House of Parliament, Singh said that the indigenously built PFBR, named Bhavini, which will add 500 MW of electrical power to the national grid, is now expected to be commissioned in 2024.
The completion of the PFBR’s construction has been long delayed, while the Minister had informed Parliament last year that it was likely to be commissioned in October 1922.
As per the annual report 2021-22 of the state-run fast breeder reactor company Bharatiya Nabhikiya Vidyut Nigam Ltd (Bhavini) founded in 2003, the project cost has been further revised upwards to Rs 6,840 crore (over $828 million).
Singh had told Parliament last year that against a budgeted estimate of Rs 5,315 crore ($730 million) for the PFBR, a sum of Rs 5,850 crore (over $800 million) had already been spent on its construction since 2003 till the end of 2020.
In his written reply submitted to the Lower House of Parliament in September 2020, the Minister had said that technical issues had resulted in a prolonged delay in commissioning of the PFBR. “In the last three years, while commissioning activities of the various systems, structures and equipment of the PFBR are progressing, a large number of technical challenges as well as design inadequacies (owing to the first-of-a-kind status of the PFBR) are being encountered at each stage, thereby resulting in delay in commissioning. These issues are being attended in close coordination with the designers and the experts within the Department of Atomic Energy (DAE),” Singh had said.
Bhavini’s mandate is to construct and operate subsequent fast breeder reactors to help realise the second stage of India’s three-stage nuclear programme. According to Bhavini’s annual report 2021-22, as part of pre-project activities for the next two fast reactors, their design is being thoroughly reviewed considering all the commissioning feedback of the PFBR.
“Detailed design and analysis of the fast breeder reactors 1 and 2 are under progress incorporating all the stipulations in line with the latest AERB (Atomic Energy Regulatory Board) codes,” the annual report said.
“Based on the requirements of the major components to be fabricated and assembled at site, design of the site assembly shop (SAS) has been finalised and the same is under construction. Presently, the finishing works such as transoms and mullions, masonry etc., are completed and plastering, fixing of doors etc., are in progress,” it added.
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 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-232. India has the world’s third largest reserves of thorium.