In the area of nuclear energy in India, Tamil Nadu can lay claim to several firsts.
Dr Homi Bhabha, the celebrated scientist, selected Kalpakkam for setting up India’s third nuclear power plant (MAPS). The first indigenous PHWR reactor was erected here after the Canadians walked out of the collaboration with India in the aftermath of the Pokhran I. Due to the infrastructure constraints of developing the technology indigenously and to prepare Indian industries to manufacture specialized components for the plant, it took 14 years to bring the reactor to completion. MAPS I started in 1984 and MAPS II in 1986.
That turned out to be the watershed mark to perfect the indigenous PHWR reactor technology in India. Based on this model, today 20 reactors are operating in the country smoothly. Nuclear Power Corporation claims that it can put up these 235 MW reactors and their upgraded version of 550/700 MW in five years. One of the units in Kaiga set up a world record for continuous operation for any type of nuclear reactors.
If Dr. Bhabha had envisaged the fast reactor research centre in Kalpakkam, it was his famous disciple, Dr Vikram Sarabhai, who implemented the plans for launching the Centre. Later named IGCAR, this is one the few centres in the world devoted for such specialised research work. The first demonstration fast reactor unit, the 40 MW (13 MWe) Fast Breeder Test Reactor, was set up integrated with electricity production and is up and working since 1985. Today, IGCAR also houses a 30 KW Kamini reactor which is the only operating reactor in the world to be fuelled by U-233, a nuclear fuel derived from thorium. It is used extensively for functional testing of rocket parts for our space programme.
The FBTR proved to be the nursery for developing fast reactor technology in the country. Kalpakkam was selected for setting up commercial level fast reactors PFBR of 500 Mwe capacity. The first unit is getting completed and will enable India to join a select group of countries to commercially develop fast reactors. But we are getting impatient, having waited for its start for several years now. We hope the scientists and technologists succeed in harnessing this difficult technology and succeed in providing fast reactor nuclear power in Tamil Nadu. Thus Kalpakkam is evolving into a unique nuclear centre in the world with multiple types of reactors and auxiliary support facilities. Tamil Nadu can take pride in this.
Atomic Power Share
Then came the decision of DAE to select Kudankulam for locating the first imported large commercial power reactor in India. Today, two reactors are operating at this site and enabled Tamil Nadu to be the first nuclear state in India to achieve 12 per cent atomic power share. Work on installing four more reactors is in progress, and two of them are expected to feed TN grid in this decade to enable to increase the share of nuclear power in the state to 20 per cent. When all the six units go into operation, it will deliver a total of 6,000 MW of power. It is a matter of pride that Tamil Nadu leads the country in nuclear power.
However, there is a lot of scope for improvement in the operation of the reactors. Capacity utilisation is relatively low compared to the indigenous reactors. The Russians should be asked to identify the reasons for this resulting from extended shutdowns compared to regular outages in such reactors and to perfect smooth operation.
This increased share of nuclear power would spur the industrial revolution in south Tamil Nadu.