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Current Affairs 23 December 2023

  1. Kakrapar Atomic Power Station
  2. India’s AI Mission: Aiming for Global Leadership
  3. Unlocking the Potential of mRNA in Medicine
  4. Winter Solstice
  5. Red Tide


Context:

Recently, the fourth unit of Kakrapar Atomic Power Station (KAPS), Gujarat has achieved its first Criticality — the beginning of the regulated fission reaction — paving the way for its eventual transition to generating power for commercial use.

Relevance:

GS III: Infrastructure

Dimensions of the Article:

  1. Criticality in Nuclear Reactors
  2. Significance of Achieving First Criticality
  3. India’s Nuclear Journey
  4. Current Status and Future Plans:

Criticality in Nuclear Reactors:

  • Initiating Power Production:
    • Criticality marks the initial phase in nuclear reactors, essential for power generation.
  • Fission Chain Reaction:
    • Nuclear fuel sustaining a fission chain reaction is the criterion for criticality.
  • Heat Generation for Electricity:
    • Fission reactions release heat, generating steam for electricity through turbine rotation.
  • Fission Process:
    • Nucleus splitting into smaller nuclei during fission, accompanied by heat and byproduct release.
Significance of Achieving First Criticality:
  • Controlled Chain Reaction:
    • Demonstrates the reactor’s ability to sustain a controlled chain reaction.
  • Precursor to Full Operation:
    • Essential step before transitioning to full-scale power generation for commercial use.
Advanced Safety Features of Kakrapar Reactors:
  • Learnings from Past Incidents:
    • Safety features inspired by lessons from nuclear incidents like Fukushima Daiichi disaster.
  • Enhancements for Safety:
    • Steel-lined containment systems and passive decay heat removal systems enhance safety and reliability.
Kakrapar Reactor Highlights:
  • Increased Capacity:
    • New projects, Unit-3 and Unit-4, boast a 700MW capacity, surpassing the 220 MW capacity of Unit-1 and Unit-2.
  • Advanced Safety Measures:
    • Steel-lined inner containment systems prevent radioactive material escape.
    • Passive decay heat removal systems ensure safe cooling even during shutdown.

India’s Nuclear Journey:

Early Development:
  • Initiated in the 1940s, India’s nuclear program gained momentum with the establishment of the Atomic Energy Commission (AEC) in 1948.
  • Homi Bhabha, recognized as the father of India’s nuclear program, played a pivotal role in its early stages.
Peaceful Nuclear Explosions:
  • India conducted its first peaceful nuclear explosion, Operation Smiling Buddha, in 1974 at Pokhran, signifying its entry into nuclear technology.
  • Pokhran-II in May 1998 involved five nuclear tests, including a thermonuclear test, showcasing India’s nuclear weapon capabilities.
Civil Nuclear Cooperation:
  • Despite being outside the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), India engaged in civil nuclear agreements, including the Indo-US Civil Nuclear Agreement in 2008, fostering technology cooperation and nuclear fuel supply.
Indigenous Nuclear Capabilities:
  • Developed indigenous nuclear technology, featuring Pressurised Heavy Water Reactors (PHWRs) and Fast Breeder Reactors (FBRs), showcasing self-reliance and scientific prowess.
  • Steady growth in nuclear power generation capacity led by the Nuclear Power Corporation of India Limited (NPCIL).
Safety and Regulations:
  • Emphasis on stringent safety standards and regulatory measures overseen by the Atomic Energy Regulatory Board (AERB) to ensure the safe operation of nuclear facilities.
  • Contribution of nuclear energy to diversify India’s energy mix, enhancing energy security and reducing dependence on fossil fuels.

Current Status and Future Plans:

  • India operates 23 nuclear power reactors under NPCIL, totaling 7,480 MW capacity.
  • NPCIL is constructing nine additional reactors, including KAPS Unit-4, targeting a total capacity of 7,500 MW.
  • As of 2023, India’s total generation capacity is 417 GW, with renewable sources constituting 43 percent.
  • Nuclear energy, though rapidly growing, represents a small fraction (around 2.8 percent) of India’s total energy production in 2022-23.
  • Ambitious targets set to triple nuclear energy capacity by 2031, facing challenges such as safety concerns, land acquisition, and regulatory hurdles.

-Source: The Hindu



Context:

India is set to make substantial strides in Artificial Intelligence (AI) with the launch of the AI Mission, as announced by the Prime Minister at the Global Partnership for AI Summit. This mission aims to enhance India’s innovation ecosystem, positioning the country as a global leader in AI. The focus includes building computational capacity and offering compute-as-a-service to startups, fostering a conducive environment for AI development.

Relevance:

GS III: Science and Technology

Dimensions of the Article:

  1. Key Highlights of the AI Mission
  2. Understanding Artificial Intelligence (AI)

Key Highlights of the AI Mission

The AI Mission is characterized by several key objectives and strategic initiatives aimed at advancing India’s capabilities in Artificial Intelligence (AI). The plan is designed to bolster computing powers, foster AI applications in critical sectors, and promote collaboration between the government and the private sector.

Objective Overview:

  • Establishing robust computing powers for AI within India.
  • Enhancing services for startups and entrepreneurs.
  • Fostering AI applications in critical sectors like agriculture, healthcare, and education.

Compute Capacity Expansion:

  • Building a substantial compute capacity with 10,000 to 30,000 Graphic Processing Units (GPUs).
  • Allocating an additional 1,000-2,000 GPUs through PSU Centre for Development of Advanced Computing (C-DAC).
  • Collaboration with the private sector for capacity building under the National Supercomputing Mission.

Incentive Models:

  • Exploring incentive models such as capital expenditure subsidies and operational expense-based incentives.
  • Considering a “usage” fee model to encourage participation.

Digital Public Infrastructure (DPI):

  • Establishing a DPI utilizing GPU assembly.
  • Allowing startups to access computational capacity at a reduced cost.

India Datasets Platform:

  • Introduction of the India Datasets platform.
  • Offering non-personal and anonymized datasets to startups and researchers.
  • Potential directive to major tech companies to share anonymized personal data with the India Datasets platform.

Understanding Artificial Intelligence (AI)

Artificial Intelligence (AI) refers to the capacity of a computer or a robot, controlled by a computer, to execute tasks typically carried out by humans that demand human-like intelligence and judgment. While AI may not encompass the broad spectrum of tasks performed by humans, it can excel in specific areas.

Definition:

  • AI entails computers or computer-controlled robots mimicking human tasks requiring intelligence and judgment.
  • Some AI systems can match or surpass humans in specific tasks.

Ideal Characteristics:

  • The key feature of AI is its capacity to rationalize and take actions with the optimal chance of achieving specific goals.
  • AI operates by learning from data and experiences, adapting its responses over time.

Subset: Machine Learning (ML):

  • Machine Learning is a subset of AI, focusing on the development of systems that can learn from data to enhance decision-making.

Deep Learning (DL):

  • Deep Learning techniques facilitate automatic learning by processing vast amounts of unstructured data such as text, images, or video.
  • DL enables AI systems to improve performance and accuracy through continuous exposure to diverse data sets.

-Source: The Hindu



Context:

Our body’s cells produce essential mRNAs, acting as instructions for protein synthesis. Researchers leverage this knowledge to craft new mRNAs, correcting faulty instructions. Though many studying mRNAs aren’t directly developing drugs, this understanding paves the way for groundbreaking mRNA medicines, exemplified by the success of Covid-19 vaccines.

Relevance:

GS III: Science and Technology

Dimensions of the Article:

  1. mRNA: The Cellular Messenger
  2. mRNA in Medicine: A Revolutionary Frontier
  3. Future Landscape of mRNA-Based Medicines

mRNA: The Cellular Messenger

  • Information Relay System: mRNA, or Messenger RNA, acts as a conduit, conveying crucial messages from DNA to the cellular machinery.
  • Genetic Recipe Library: DNA can be envisioned as a collection of cookbooks (genes) with recipes to produce diverse proteins.
  • Protein Diversity and Functions: About 100,000 proteins are required for various bodily functions, aiding in tasks like food breakdown and essential chemical reactions.
  • Copying Instructions with mRNA: When a cell needs a specific protein, it creates a copy called mRNA rather than directly reading the DNA recipe.
  • mRNA Composition and Structure: mRNA is composed of four building blocks (A, U, C, G) forming words of three letters, conveying precise instructions for protein synthesis.
  • Efficient Protein Production: Cells efficiently interpret mRNA recipes, facilitating seamless protein creation as needed.
  • Self-Regulation and Cleanup: Cells are adept at recognizing, utilizing, and disposing of mRNA once its protein-making role is fulfilled.
  • Genetic Errors and Diseases: DNA mutations can introduce changes or errors in the mRNA instructions, leading to protein synthesis irregularities and potential diseases.

mRNA in Medicine: A Revolutionary Frontier

  • Understanding mRNA Instructions: Scientists comprehend the language of mRNA, decoding how it instructs cells to produce proteins.
  • Tailoring Proteins for Patients: This knowledge empowers scientists to craft customized codes for diverse proteins, tailoring treatments to individual patient needs.
  • Scalable and Consistent Manufacturing: mRNA treatment production is scalable and consistent, following a standardized process, unlike traditional drugs with varied chemistries and manufacturing methods.
  • Transient Nature of mRNA Treatments: Cells naturally eliminate mRNA after completing its task, ensuring that mRNA treatments are not permanent and allowing easy dose adjustments.
  • Efficient Large-Scale Production: Scientists can generate substantial quantities of mRNA in laboratories, facilitating the development and widespread distribution of mRNA-based medicines.
  • Expanding Clinical Applications: Clinical trials explore mRNA-based vaccines for various diseases beyond COVID-19, including seasonal flu, herpes, respiratory syncytial virus, norovirus, Lyme disease, Zika, and shingles.
  • Promise in Cancer Treatment: mRNA therapies exhibit promise in cancer treatment by harnessing the body’s immune response, targeting specific mutations in tumors through personalized cancer vaccines.

Future Landscape of mRNA-Based Medicines:

  • Personalized Therapies with Fewer Side Effects: The future envisions highly personalized mRNA therapies that offer effective treatments with minimized side effects.
  • Addressing Diverse Diseases: mRNA’s versatility positions it as a powerful tool in modern medicine, capable of precisely altering cellular processes and correcting protein deficiencies, addressing a wide range of diseases.
  • Redefining Treatment Strategies: The ease of customization and production sets the stage for mRNA to redefine treatment strategies and enhance patient outcomes across various medical conditions.

-Source: Indian Express



Context:

India prepares for the longest night of the year on December 22, a phenomenon known as the Winter Solstice.

Relevance:

GS I: Geography

Winter Solstice: Embracing the Shortest Day

Nature’s Tilted Dance:

  • Occurring when one of Earth’s poles leans farthest away from the Sun.
  • Earth’s 23.4-degree axial tilt creates a Sun arc, leading to varied day lengths.

Calendar Markers:

  • Northern Hemisphere: December 21 or 22.
  • Southern Hemisphere: June 20 or 21.
  • Derived from Latin, ‘solstice’ means Sun standing still.

Daylight’s Brief Encounter:

  • Marks the year’s shortest day, varying daylight durations globally.

Cultural Significance:

  • Symbolic death and rebirth of the Sun in various cultural narratives.
  • Aligns with ancient structures like Stonehenge.

December’s Winter Solstice:

  • Northern Hemisphere tilts farthest from the Sun.
  • Shortest day and longest night.
  • Days lengthen gradually until the summer solstice.

Celestial Showers:

  • Coincides with the Ursid meteor shower.
  • Earth traverses debris from comet 8P/Tuttle.

-Source: The Hindu



Context:

Recently, a three-member committee appointed by the principal Bench of the National Green Tribunal (NGT) inspected the Kuruchikuppam drain and beach to analyse the cause behind the recent phenomenon of red tide in Puducherry.

Relevance:

GS I: Geography

Red Tide:

  • Defining the Term:
    • “Red Tide” denotes harmful algal blooms (HABs), where algae colonies proliferate uncontrollably.
  • Algae Overdrive:
    • HABs occur when algae colonies experience exponential growth, impacting marine and freshwater ecosystems.
  • Chromatic Omen:
    • The term originates from the discoloration of water, often turning it red due to algal overgrowth.
  • Root Causes:
    • Runoff: Chemicals from land-based sources like agriculture, factories, and sewage enter the ocean.
    • Accelerated algae growth ensues, manifesting as red tides.
  • Environmental Ramifications:
    • Toxins Galore: Some algal species produce potent toxins harmful to fish, shellfish, mammals, and birds.
    • Ingestion Risk: Consumption of contaminated seafood by humans can lead to illness.

-Source: The Hindu


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