India’s state-run fast breeder reactor manufacturer Bharatiya Nabhikiya Vidyut Nigam Ltd. (Bhavini) said last week that its senior scientist K.V. Suresh Kumar has assumed charge as the company’s new Chairman and Managing Director.
Bhavini was founded in 2003 with the objective of constructing the country’s first 500 MW Fast Breeder Reactor (FBR) at the nuclear complex in Kalpakkam located in the southern Indian state of Tamil Nadu.
A graduate in chemical engineering, Kumar joined the Department of Atomic Energy at the Bhabha Atomic Research Centre (BARC) Training School in Mumbai in 1985.
He has vast experience in reactor operations, operation of sodium systems, steam and water systems, turbine and its auxiliaries, and joined the operations of the Fast Breeder Test Reactor at Kalpakkam in 1986.
From 2016 to November 2022, Kumar served as the Director of the Reactor Facilities Group at the Indira Gandhi Centre for Atomic Research (IGCAR) situated within the nuclear power complex at Kalpakkam, which also houses the two reactor units of the Madras Atomic Power Station, the under construction 500 MW Prototype Fast Breeder Reactor (PFBR) Bhavini, and a sodium-cooled Fast Breeder Test Reactor (FBTR).
As Director of the Reactor Facilities Group at the IGCAR, Kumar was responsible for the operations of the FBTR, the KAMINI reactor and the fuel fabrication facility.
KAMINI is a 30 MW research reactor at the IGCAR that is cooled and moderated by light water and fueled with uranium-233 metal produced by the thorium fuel cycle harnessed by the adjacent FBTR reactor.
During Kumar’s tenure at IGCAR, the power of the Fast Breeder Test Reactor was raised earlier this year to its design level of 40 MW, which development was reported by Nuclear Asia.
Bhavini is currently constructing a 500 MW Prototype Fast Breeder Reactor (PFBR) at Kalpakkam and Kumar has also been closely involved in the PFBR’s project design and safety review.
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. 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.
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.
The PFBR in Kalpakkam will use a mixed oxide of plutonium (Pu)-239 – derived from reprocessed spent fuel from India’s pressurised heavy water reactors – and uranium-238 as fuel to generate energy. This nuclear reaction will also produce more Pu-239 by converting both U-238 in the fuel mix, as well as a blanket of depleted uranium surrounding the core, into plutonium. This plutonium will then be processed and used as nuclear fuel in a chain of commercial FBRs in the second stage of the nuclear programme.
The final stage of the cycle would involve the use of Pu-239 recovered from the second stage, in combination with thorium-232, to produce energy and uranium (U)-233 using “thermal breeders”. This production of U-233 from thorium-232 would complete the cycle, while the U-233 would then be used as fuel for the remaining part of the fuel cycle.