Kakrapar Atomic Plant attains criticality; experts hail scientists for mastering PHWR tech


Team Udayavani, Jul 22, 2020, 9:41 PM IST

 

New Delhi: Experts hailed the Department of Atomic Energy for mastering an unfamiliar pressurised heavy water reactor (PHWR) technology and building the 700 MWe Kakrapar nuclear power reactor unit-three in Gujarat that attained criticality on Wednesday.

Achieving criticality means that the normal operating condition of a reactor has been reached. It indicates that Kakrapar unit-three of the Nuclear Power Corporation of India Ltd (NPCIL), India”s first indigenously built 700 MWe atomic reactor, is now set to generate power.

Of the 22 nuclear power reactors in India, five have been built with foreign help. Rajasthan Atomic Power Station unit-one by the Canadians, Tarapur unit one and two by the US and Kudankulam unit one and two by the Russians.

The rest have been built indigenously and all are PHWRs — ranging from 200 MWe to 540 MWe. This is the first 700 MWe power reactor to attain criticality.

“The plant is a symbol of India”s self-reliance,” former Atomic Energy Commission chairman R K Sinha told PTI.

Sinha”s successor at the Department of Atomic Energy, Shekar Basu, said KAPS unit-three is a new type of reactor which has the nuclear boiling technology that enables its capacity to reach 700 MWe.

“It is also a major achievement because a lot of work was done during the lockdown phase,” said Basu, who retired as DAE secretary in 2018.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi described the development as “trailblazer for many such future achievements”.

“Congratulations to our nuclear scientists for achieving criticality of Kakrapar Atomic Power Plant-3. This indigenously designed 700 MWe KAPP-3 reactor is a shining example of Make in India,” he tweeted.

The DAE developed the PHWR technology at a time when India was slapped with sanctions due to the 1974 Pokhran nuclear tests. For taking it from 200 MWe to 540 MWe and finally to 700 MWe, generations of Indian scientists worked to master the technology.

“At that time, RAPS-1 (Rawatbhata Atomic Power Station in Rajasthan) had just been commissioned (December 1973) and work on RAPS-2 was on. The Canadians who were building the reactor left overnight.

“So Indian engineers had to thoroughly understand the technology for building RAPS-2,” said Sinha, who had joined the DAE in 1973 and was put on the RAPS project.

In 2017, the government gave nod to build 10 more PHWRs – all of 700 MWe.

M V Ramanna, a noted nuclear power expert, wrote in his book ”The Power of Promise – Examining Nuclear Energy in India”, that RAPS-1 started developing problems and was frequently down for repairs.

So it was quite an effort for Indian scientists and engineers, Sinha said.

Learning from the experience of RAPS-1, it took nearly eight years for DAE engineers to operationalise RAPS unit-2 in 1981. The Tarapur Atomic Power Station units one and two, both Boiling Water Reactors, commissioned in 1969, had a different technology.

After RAPS-2 until the second Pokhran test in 1998, the DAE commissioned only four power reactors – Madras Atomic Power Station unit one and two and Karapar Atomic Power Station unit one and two.

“But after sanctions were imposed following the 1998 Pokhran tests, the DAE commissioned four PHWRs in the next two years. This shows how the technology evolved indigenously,” Sinha said.

Also, the PHWRs do not need enriched uranium, something which was difficult for India to import due to the sanctions.

“More importantly, India is perhaps the only country that uses the PHWR technology,” Sinha added.

Rajeshwari Rajagopalan, Head of the Nuclear and Space Initiative of the Observer Research Foundation, however, said that a lot needs to be done in the nuclear power sector. It certainly is an achievement but it is also telling something about the state of the atomic power sector, she said.

“There was a much greater expectation for the atomic energy sector. But the expansion of the sector has been limited by a number of factors, including the Indian liability law that has not been welcomed by foreign players and the Indian domestic industry alike.

“In fact, the Indian domestic industry was also hoping to play a larger role in the Indian atomic energy programme after the NSG waiver,” she said.

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