Tiny reactors

The next N-venture

Published: Wednesday 31 December 2003

the Indian nuclear establishment is about to embark on uncharted territory. In a bid to achieve its ever-elusive power generation targets, it now proposes to design and develop compact high-temperature reactors (chtrs) that can produce electricity as well as liberate hydrogen from water. Significantly, no country has so far employed this technology.

B Bhattacharjee, director of the Mumbai-based Bhabha Atomic Research Centre (barc), revealed that the institute intends using the technology in the country's far-flung and inaccessible areas. He divulged this information while delivering a lecture at Ambala in Haryana on November 21. It is ironic that India's decision to plump for chtr has coincided with Germany's decommissioning of the first of its 19 nuclear power stations.

chtr, whose design is still being evolved, will be able to generate small amounts of electricity that can be distributed locally without connecting to the power grid. While its conceptual design is ready, the basic development could take another three to four years, reveals Ratan K Sinha, director, Reactor Design and Development Group, barc.

Bhattacharjee, meanwhile, claimed that the small reactor would be absolutely safe and will shut off automatically in case of a snag. An additional benefit would be its ability to produce hydrogen. " chtr's uncomplicated technology will also obviate the need for skilled personnel," the barc chief emphasised.

However, critics are unconvinced. "Nuclear plants are nowhere near reaching their current power generation targets," laments Dhirendra Sharma, an anti-nuclear activist and former head of the science policy unit at the Jawaharlal Nehru University. "Let them first account for the money they have spent on the so-called atomic power projects over these years," he adds.

The choice of the tiny reactors is all the more astounding because despite repeated efforts by the Nuclear Power Corporation, state electricity boards have not opted for nuclear energy due to high-costs and inherent risks.

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