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IIT Madras on nuclear high road

Chennai, Dec. 15: A world class centre for non-destructive evaluation of materials going into the building of next generation nuclear power reactors and light water reactors will soon come up at the Indian Institute of Technology, Madras.

The department of atomic energy has sanctioned Rs 5 crore for the project, senior nuclear scientists said today. US-based Krishnan Balasubramaniam will head the centre, which would help check out the “probability of failure” of components required to set up the reactors.

S.B. Bhoje, director of the Indira Gandhi Centre for Atomic Research, Kalpakkam, and Baldev Raj, director of its materials, chemical and reprocessing group, said a three-day global meet — titled “Nuclear Fuel Cycle Technologies: Closing the Fuel Cycle” — would kick off at Kalpakkam on Wednesday. The President is scheduled to open the conference.

Bhoje said the atomic energy department had also sanctioned Rs 30 crore to set up a “seismic shake-table” at the Structural Engineering Research Centre, a laboratory of the Centre for Scientific and Industrial Research. This facility — due to become operational in 10 months — will simulate earthquake conditions to test the resilience of materials and designs going into construction of vital buildings.

In the run-up to the Kalpakkam conclave, a preliminary conference — titled “Materials and Technologies for Nuclear Fuel Cycle” — was held here today. Bhoje said the subject had acquired sudden urgency as India was going ahead with construction of fast breeder reactors to meet growing electricity demands.

Bhoje said it was important to understand the concept of “closing the nuclear fuel cycle” as it posed an “immense challenge” and would go a long way towards developing newer technologies.

Closing the cycle meant using spent fuel from first generation reactors — that use natural uranium as fuel — to extract plutonium that would go into second generation fast breeder reactors, he said. It also entailed “reprocessing” nuclear waste and fissile material from first generation reactors and fuels used in fast breeder reactors.

The process also involved storing the recycled “radioactive waste” in an “environmentally benign” way, Bhoje said, in a reference to the radiation over-exposure suffered by six workers in January.

The Kalpakkam reprocessing plant had started functioning after being shut down for nearly nine months since the incident, Bhoje said. All the six affected persons have been taken off radiation related work.

Excavation for the 500 MW prototype fast breeder reactor at Kalpakkam has already begun. Work is expected to start from next March. A separate company — Bhavini (acronym for Bharatiya Nathikiya Vidyut Nigam) — has been registered in Chennai to execute the project, with a capital of Rs 5,000 crore.

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