India Today - - STATES - BUILD­ING BLOCK —Amar­nath K. Menon


In­dia’s premier re­search and de­vel­op­ment fa­cil­ity in nu­clear sciences and engi­neer­ing, sci­en­tists of the Bhabha Atomic Re­search Centre (BARC) gave the coun­try a strate­gic edge by de­vel­op­ing the nu­clear bomb. They have de­vel­oped vari­ants of nu­clear fu­els to meet the needs of the coun­try’s nu­clear power plants as well as strate­gic re­quire­ments for its nu­clear ar­se­nal. BARC was in­sti­tuted as the Atomic En­ergy Estab­lish­ment, Trom­bay (AEET), with Homi Je­hangir Bhabha, who con­ceived In­dia’s nu­clear pro­gramme, as its first di­rec­tor. The pri­mary task was to con­sol­i­date all re­search and de­vel­op­ment ef­forts for nu­clear re­ac­tors and tech­nol­ogy un­der the Atomic En­ergy Com­mis­sion. AEET was re­named BARC in 1967. The first nu­clear test re­ac­tors at BARC and the first power re­ac­tors at the Tara­pur atomic power sta­tion were im­ported from the United States.

BARC has five test re­ac­tors. The fa­cil­i­ties in­clude re­search re­ac­tors for re­search and ra­dioiso­tope pro­duc­tion, plants for gen­er­at­ing ura­nium metal and nu­clear fu­els, fuel re­pro­cess­ing, waste im­mo­bil­i­sa­tion and seis­mic sta­tions. Of all the re­search re­ac­tors at the centre, Dhruva rep­re­sents the most sig­nif­i­cant engi­neer­ing achieve­ment. The high neu­tron flux re­ac­tor was de­signed, built and com­mis­sioned en­tirely by In­dian en­gi­neers. It uses nat­u­ral ura­nium as fuel, and heavy wa­ter as mod­er­a­tor and coolant. Dhruva is use­ful in in­ves­ti­ga­tions re­lated to power re­ac­tor tech­nol­ogy and pro­duc­tion of ra­dioiso­topes re­quired for special ap­pli­ca­tions. The 100 MW re­ac­tor, though com­mis­sioned in 1985, ini­tially ex­pe­ri­enced prob­lems that de­layed plu­to­nium pro­duc­tion for sev­eral years.

The plu­to­nium nu­clear fuel used in In­dia’s nu­clear tests in 1974 and 1998 came from BARC’s re­ac­tors. The ef­fort gave In­dian sci­en­tists the tech­no­log­i­cal knowhow and con­fi­dence to not only de­velop nu­clear fuel for fu­ture re­ac­tors but also the ca­pac­ity to re­fine it into weapons-grade fuel for de­vel­op­ing nu­clear weapons. BARC has also de­signed and built In­dia’s first pres­surised wa­ter re­ac­tor, which was com­mis­sioned at Kal­pakkam near Chen­nai, as well as the power unit and propul­sion re­ac­tor for INS Ari­hant, the first in­dige­nous nu­cle­ar­pow­ered bal­lis­tic mis­sile sub­ma­rine com­mis­sioned in 2016.


With ex­per­tise in ad­vanced re­ac­tor tech­nolo­gies, BARC is fo­cused on de­vel­op­ing newer tech­nolo­gies for gen­er­at­ing nu­clear power. At present, about 5,780 MW, or 3.5 per cent of the coun­try’s power gen­er­a­tion, is by nu­clear en­ergy. Sub­stan­tial re­search has been done on tech­nolo­gies for us­ing tho­rium in the nu­clear fuel cy­cle and de­vel­op­ing an Ad­vanced Heavy Wa­ter Re­ac­tor—a tech­nol­ogy de­mon­stra­tor re­ac­tor of 300 MW to be lo­cated at Tara­pur—as well as for use of tho­rium-based fuel on a large scale for gen­er­at­ing com­mer­cial nu­clear power, which is part of In­dia’s three-stage nu­clear power pro­gramme.

Con­struc­tion of the Bhabha atomic re­ac­tor un­der way

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