Monday, November 05, 2007

India's Military Pitches in for Thorium Reactors

For the first time, the Indian military in its India Defence journal, said the "success" of the innovative reactor ("that can run on thorium") that the Indian nuclear scientists have designed and which will eventually do away with uranium, largely depends on US playing ball, referring to the on-going US-India nuclear agreement negotiations. U.S. in the agreement has agreed to provide India with dual-use technologies, nuclear reactors, among other "goodies", but insists that India cannot reprocess spent fuel to extract plutonium, nor can it test nuclear explosives any more.

India Defence points out that the key to the Indian design is the role of the Fast Thorium Breeder Reactor (FTBR). India's premier atomic research center, Bhabha Atomic Research Centre's (BARC's), FTBR is the first design that truly exploits the concept of 'breeding' in a reactor that uses thorium. The handful of fast breeder reactors (FBRs) in the world today--including the one India is building in Kalpakkam near Chennai--use plutonium as fuel. These breeders have to wait until enough plutonium is accumulated through reprocessing of spent fuel discharged by thermal power reactors that run on uranium.

India Defence pointed out that while the FTBR will not produce any plutonium--commonly identified as the ingredient for making nuclear explosives--the FTBR still needs an initial inventory of plutonium to kick-start the thorium cycle and eventually to generate electricity. A blanket ban on India re-processing imported uranium--a condition for nuclear cooperation with the US--could make India's thorium program a non-starter, India Defence added.

Quoting former Indian Atomic Energy Commission chairman, P.K. Iyengar, India Defence says: "The US and Russia have piles of plutonium from dismantled nuclear weapons," adding: "They should allow us to borrow this plutonium needed to start our breeders. We can return the material after we breed enough."
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