perfects MOX fuel N-tech Cocks a snook at China, USA, France
Indian Express, 14 October 2000
By D. N. Moorty
OCT 13 - With the loading of two more MOX fuel assemblies to the BWR
(Boiling Water Reactor) at Tarapur, India has announced to the world
that it can no longer be pressured with conditions in the matter of
supply of enriched uranium.
BWR is a light water reactor. Unlike PHWRs (pressurised
heavy water reactors) which use natural uranium as source fuel, enriched
uranium at 1.8 to 2.66 per cent is required to run the reactors. Two
such units are in operation at 170 MWe capacity at Tarapur. These BWRs
were supplied by the US in 1969. After the Pokharan-1 nuclear blast,
India came under sanctions. Despite clear commitment, the US reneged
on supplying enriched uranium to Tarapur.
When the available fuel was used up, India was hard
pressed to find another source or close the reactors altogether. After
negotiations, the US authorised France to supply the much needed fuel
till the end of the US contract to supply fuel which was to end around
1995. France too refused to supply the uranium after that year. Despite
hard negotiations by P C Alexander, the present Maharashtra Governor,
US refused to budge. Alexander, under instructions from the then Prime
Minister Indira Ganndhi negotiated with China for the fuel, and China
A K Anand, head reactor division of the BARC, under whose direction
the MOX fuel was being developed by BARC scientists, speaking to The
Indian Express on Friday confirmed that the enriched uranium fuel bundles
being fabricated for the Tarapur units were supplies from China. Dr
Anand, incidentally, is also overseeing the PWR being built for the
Indian nuclear submarine.
said that anticipating problems with continued supply of enriched uranium,
experiments were conducted between 1980-88 with MOX fuel in the pressurised
water loop of the experimental reactor Cyrus simulating Tarapur conditions.
MOX is a mixed oxide fuel comprising natural uranium and plutonium dioxide.
Then the fuel was introduced in the Tarapur reactor starting with two
fuel assemblies in 1994. Eight more were later added. The fuel bundles
were successfully irradiated and this success resulted in the addition
of two more MOX fuel bundles taking the total number of fuel bundles
to 12 of the total 284 required. Up to 40 per cent can now be loaded
success of MOX fuel is a major step forward in nuclear fuel self-sufficiency
and gives India the edge while negotiating for enriched uranium with
China or the West. It is understood that fresh Indo-Chinese negotiations
are underway for continued supply of enriched uranium. Russia is committed
to supply the enriched uranium needed for the contracted 1000 MWe VVERs
singular achievement in the field also makes it an equal partner with
Russia in the development of mixed thorium-uranium dioxide fuel. More
so, and this was confirmed by Dr D B Boje, that India has also been
successful with the Fast Breeder Test Reactor in using a thorium blanket
along with MOX. Dr Boje said that the prototype 500 Mwe fast breeder
reactor (PFBR) under construction at Kalpakkam would be using MOX instead
of enriched uranium with the thorium blanket in the fuel assemblies.
the perfection of MOX technology, India is sending out a strong signal
to China, France and the US and indeed to the world that any future
negotiations in the nuclear reactor field would be on equal terms and
would be free from any attendant compulsions like signing the CTBT (Comprehensive
Test Ban Treaty) or the MTCR (Missile Technology control Regime).