The Three-Stage Nuclear Program of India

Our country is accomplishing new milestones day by day towards becoming a global superpower, power-basket, and technology market of the world. A campaign like Atmanirbhar Bharat helps the country to advance forward towards the aim of overall development especially in the energy market. The country has achieved new heights in the science and technology sector and is continuously striving towards the development of space technology, smart energy solutions, internet of things (IoT) platforms, and the services sector. With a growing population, the demand for energy is peaking with the country’s farthest villages are being electrified. Digitization of the population also demands more electricity to charge their smartphones and laptops or to run a giant IT (Information Technology) firm. Electricity is becoming the key to the uninterrupted growth of the nation. Environmental sustainability and achieving net-zero carbon goals by 2070 can be realized by strategically replacing coal energy with nuclear energy. The task is assigned to the Department of Atomic Energy (DAE) which has visioned, strategized, and looked after the various solutions to replace traditional fossil fuel-based energy.

Under the umbrella of DAE – independent research & developmental, executive, and regulatory bodies like Bhabha Atomic Research Centre (BARC), Nuclear Power Corporation of India Limited (NPCIL), Atomic Energy Regulatory Board (AERB) works together to realize the energy goals. These Organizations are working together on a strategy once visioned by Homi Jahangir Bhabha, the father of the Indian nuclear program. In 1954, he tabled a three-stage nuclear energy plan about making India self-sufficient in the upcoming nuclear technology competition and strategized the utilization of vast thorium reserves of India.

Indian nuclear plan is a three-stage program, based on the sustainable nuclear fuel cycle.

In the first stage, the conventional uranium dioxide (natural uranium) fuel is used with enrichment according to the reactor design (0.7% in heavy water reactors and 3% in light water type reactors). The irradiated fuel contains enough plutonium-239 that can be extracted and further fabricated as mixed oxide fuel (U+ Pu) O2 for fast breeder reactors.

In the second stage, the uranium-238 and plutonium-239 mixed oxide fuel is used along with the thorium-232 blanket which will produce uranium-233. Fissile plutonium-239 will be used to sustain fission along with fertile uranium-238 breed more plutonium-239 to complete fuel requirement for fast-flux reactors (Prototype Fast Breeder Reactors (PFBRs)). Here, the aim is to produce electricity along with breeding U-233 from thorium-232 which will be used in the third stage.

For the third Stage, India is developing Advanced Heavy Water Reactors (AHWRs) technology to achieve a sustainable nuclear fuel cycle and future clean and green energy needs. The uranium-233 (fissile) and thorium-232 (fertile) together are used as fuel in this thermal breeder reactor (Th-232 can produce Uranium-233 simultaneously). Here, our vast thorium reserves will play a vital role in completing the country’s growing needs. Side by side India is developing technologies like ADS (Accelerated Driven Systems) to get rid of long-lived radioactive waste, SMRs (Small Modular Reactors), and other thorium-based nuclear technologies.

Now, India has a total of 22 reactors producing 6780 MW and 12 more are under construction. Nuclear energy contributes about 3.11% of India’s total power production.

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