Russia has invited India to join in developing next-generation nuclear reactors and to participate in its fast-reactor research project, an official of Rosatom, the country’s state atomic energy corporation, has said. The multipurpose fast research reactor project, known by the Russian acronym MBIR, is coming up as the International Research Centre in Dimitrovgrad located in the Ulyanovsk region of Russia.
“The purpose of the programme is the creation of a new technological platform for nuclear energy, which will be based on the closed fuel cycle with fast neutron reactors,” Rosatom project manager Alexander Zagornov, visiting India for the opening of the company’s South Asia regional centre here, said.
The closed fuel cycle, which involves recycling the nuclear waste as new fuel, in the case of the MBIR project, essentially signifies research on a sodium-cooled Generation 4 fast reactor to design an advanced fast neutron reactor for use in nuclear power plants. A fast neutron reactor, also known simply as a fast reactor, is a type in which the nuclear fission chain reaction is sustained by fast neutrons. Such a reactor needs no neutron moderator like normal water, which serves such a purpose in thermal reactors.
“With fast-neutron reactors, it is possible to solve the major ecological problem of reprocessing and deactivation of the accumulated radioactive waste, at the same time providing society with much needed energy,” Zagornov said.
“Transition to the closed fuel cycle, which is based on the fast neutron reactors, will lead to the solution of the five key problems – safety, competitiveness, shortage of fuel, reprocessing and re-fabricating the used nuclear fuel and radioactive waste, as well as in enforcing non-proliferation of fission materials and weapons technologies,” he added.
Zagornov explained that the main purpose of the MBIR research reactor is to conduct a large number of reactor studies of “Generation 4 nuclear systems, including the fast neutron reactor with closed fuel cycle, as well as small and medium power thermal neutron reactors”.
“MBIR’s design includes three independent loops that can be used to test different coolants like gas, lead, molten salt, among others, and therefore it will be possible to conduct material testing research in those different environments.”
“The trend of the fast research reactors development shows that by 2025, MBIR can be one-of-a-kind facility in the world,” he said. In this connection, Zagornov said that the unique research facility with the high neutron flux cannot be realized on the small scale or as a modular facility.
“Therefore, high cost is inevitable. This fact brings us to the idea promoted by IAEA (International Atomic Energy Agency) of regional ‘collective use centers’, in which one reactor can be used by multiple international users,” he added.
“And we invite Indian partners to participate in such collective centre of excellence like the International Research Center,” he added. The Indian atomic energy programme is currently developing breeder reactors that will be fuelled by the country’s vast thorium deposits.
The Advanced Heavy Water Reactor (AHWR) is the latest Indian design for a next-generation nuclear reactor. In its final stages of development, the AHWR is being tested at the Bhabha Atomic Research Centre (BARC) in Mumbai as part of the third stage of India’s nuclear energy programme, which envisages the use of thorium fuel cycles for generating commercial power.
India’s thorium deposits, estimated at 360,000 tonnes, far outweigh its natural uranium deposits at 70,000 tonnes. The country’s thorium reserves make up 25% of the global reserves. Zagornov said the neutron flux directly influences the time needed to conduct irradiation experiments.
“The ability to conduct a 10-year research in three years is extremely important to the scientists around the globe and is one of the key advantages of the high flux reactors,” he further explained.
Russia has offered India a new range of reactor units – the VVER-Toi (typical optimised, enhanced information) design – for the third and fourth units of the Kudankulam project in Tamil Nadu being built by Rosatom.