Focus: GS-III Industry and Infrastructure

Why in news?

Nuclear Power Corporation of India Limited and Westinghouse Electric Company have finalized the techno-commercial offer for the construction of six nuclear reactors in India at the earliest date.

Concerns

  • Because of the cost and safety, the two organisations should have been told to abandon, not finalise, the proposal.
    • The estimated cost of 6 reactors is around 6 lakh crores and If India purchases these reactors, the economic burden will fall upon consumers and taxpayers
  • Electricity from American reactors would be more expensive than competing sources of energy. 
  • Nuclear reactors can undergo serious accidents, as shown by the 2011 Fukushima disaster
  •  Large areas continue to be contaminated with radioactive materials from the 1986 Chernobyl accident and thousands of square kilometres remain closed off for human inhabitation. 
  • India’s experiences with imported reactors have been poor.
  • Kudankulam 1 and 2 reactors, in Tamil Nadu, the only ones to have been imported and commissioned in the last decade, have been repeatedly shut down.
    • In 2018-19, these reactors produced just 32% and 38%, respectively, of the electricity they were designed to produce.

Background:

India’s Nuclear Energy Program:

Three Stage programme

Three Stage Nuclear Programme of India Homi Baba

Stage one – Pressurised Heavy Water Reactor uses

  • Natural UO2 as fuel matrix,
  • Heavy water as moderator and coolant.
  • In the reactor, the first two plants were of boiling water reactors based on imported technology. Subsequent plants are of PHWR type through indigenous R&D efforts. India achieved complete self- reliance in this technology and this stage of the programme is in the industrial domain.
  • The future plan includes the setting up of VVER type i.e. Russian version of the Pressurized Water Reactor (PWR) is under progress to augment power generation.
  • MOX fuel (Mixed oxide) is developed and introduced at Tarapur to conserve fuel and to develop new fuel technology.

Second stage of nuclear power generation envisages the use of Pu-239 obtained from the first stage reactor operation, as the fuel core in fast breeder reactors (FBR).

Third phase of India’s Nuclear Power Generation programme is, breeder reactors using U-233 fuel.

  • India’s vast thorium deposits permit design and operation of U-233 fuelled breeder reactors.
Nuclear Power Plants Operating and Under Construction in India Map Markings
Planned Nuclear Power Plants In India on Map

Nuclear Reactor Components

Fuel: Uranium is the basic fuel used in a nuclear reactor. 

Moderator: The material that slows down the neutrons released from fission so that they cause more fission. Most-used moderators are water, heavy water or graphite.

Control Rods: Made from neutron-absorbing material like cadmium that are inserted into or taken out of the core so as to control the rate of the reaction.

Coolant: A fluid circulating through the core so as to transfer the heat from it.

Q. Consider the following statements: In a nuclear reactor, self-sustained chain reaction is possible, because: 
1. More neutrons are released in each of the fission reactions.
2. The neutrons immediately take part in the fission process.
3. The fast neutrons are slowed down by graphite.
4. Every neutron released in the fission reaction initiates further fission.

Which of these statements are correct?
(a) 1, 2 and 3
(b) 1 and 3
(c) 2 and 4
(d) 2, 3 and 4  

Answer: (b) 1 and 3
Q. To meet its rapidly growing energy demand, some opine that India should pursue research and development on thorium as the future fuel of nuclear energy. In this context, what advantage does thorium hold over uranium? 
1. Thorium is far more abundant in nature than uranium.
2. On the basis of per unit mass of mined mineral, thorium can generate more energy compared to natural uranium.
3. Thorium produces less harmful waste compared to uranium.

Which of the statements given above is/are correct?

(a) 1 only
(b) 2 and 3 only
(c) 1 and 3 only
(d) 1, 2 and 3  

Answer: (d) 1, 2 and 3
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