Indian PM dedicates demonstration fuel reprocessing plant to nation

10 January 2024

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi has dedicated to the nation the Demonstration Fast Reactor Fuel Reprocessing Plant (DFRP) at the Indira Gandhi Centre for Atomic Research (IGCAR) at Kalpakkam in Chengalpattu district. The DFPR was built at a cost of about INR4bn ($48m) and is the world's only industrial-scale plant capable of handling both carbide and oxide used fuels from fast reactors, according to an official statement.

The DFRP houses indigenously designed and developed novel equipment and symbolises the successful collaboration between government R&D infrastructure and Indian industries, providing a crucial stepping stone for the next generation of breeder and fast reactors, the statement said.

"The dedication to the nation of DFRP by Prime Minister Narendra Modi underscores India's commitment to realising the dream of Net Zero by leveraging the full potential of India's uranium and thorium reserves and providing abundant green energy through the three-stage nuclear power programme," it added.

The new facility is a significant step towards advancing India’s nuclear capabilities and is designed to reprocess fuel from Prototype Fast Breeder Reactors (PFBR).

The fast reactor power generation company, Bharatiya Nabhikiya Vidyut Nigam Ltd (BHAVINI), based in Kalpakkam, played a leading role in this initiative. BHAVINI is currently setting up the PFBR and has plans for two additional fast reactors in the future. The DFRP is a pilot project for larger facilities.

The Department of Atomic Energy (DAE) highlights the DFRP as a crucial step towards the establishment of large commercial-scale fast reactor fuel reprocessing plants supporting India’s commitment to achieving self-sufficiency in nuclear fuel cycle capabilities.

The integrated commissioning of the PFBR, managed by BHAVINI, is well underway. Significant milestones include the filling of the main vessel with 1.15 tonnes of liquid sodium in August 2023 and the deployment of indigenously manufactured primary and secondary sodium pumps.

Adjacent to Kalpakkam, the Fast Reactor Fuel Cycle Facility (FRFCF) is under and is anticipated to be completed by December 2027. This ambitious project, executed by the Nuclear Recycle Board, the Bhabha Atomic Research Centre (BARC), and the DAE, was originally budgeted at approximately INR 96bn. The primary goal of the FRFCF is to reprocess used fuel from fast breeder reactors. In 2017, IGCAR awarded Hindustan Construction Company a contract worth INR7.64bn to construct the FRFCF.

Fast breeder reactors (FBRs) are key to India’s three-stage nuclear power programme, which is intended to exploit India’s vast resources of thorium. DAE envisioned the introduction of plutonium fuelled fast reactors as the intermediate stage, between pressurised heavy water reactors and thorium-uranium-233 based reactors. This necessitated closing the fast reactor fuel cycle. DAE therefore set up special R&D facilities for fast reactor fuel reprocessing at IGCAR (phase one) and pilot plant CORAL, was commissioned in 2003 (phase two). The third phase is the construction and operation DFRP. In the fourth phase, commercial scale reprocessing will be carried out by setting up the reprocessing plant (FRP), which will close the PFBR fuel cycle.

Image: The project was dedicated to the nation in a recent ceremony attended by India's prime minister Narendra Modi (courtesy of DAE India)

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