Jeffrey LewisSafeguarding Breeder Reactors Redux

Whether India should place its developmental Fast Breeder Reactor at Kalpakkam under IAEA safeguards is shaping up as the most contentious issue regarding the creation of a “separation plan” Inda nuclear facilities.

(See: Safeguarding Breeder Reactors, January 24, 2006.)

If you are interested in the debate within India, I recommend Siddharth Varadarajan’s somewhat passionate discussion of the issue. (Varadarajan does not want to see the FBR program under safeguards).

Earlier, I promised to tackle the technical question of how to safeguard a breeder reactor. Through the magic of Interlibrary Loan, I am now the proud owner of:

The Japanese Breeder reactors, like the Indian FBR at Kalpakkam , are cooled by a pool of liquid sodium maintained at 823 °K (500° Celsius or 1022° Fahrenheit). Fuel handling is performed when the reactor is shut down, with a sodium temperature of 473 K (200° C or 392° F). The reactor vessel is not very accessible due to high temperatures and measures to prevent the molten sodium from leaking—Japan shut down its MONJU FBR after a secondary cooling system sprang a leak.

Just as fuel handling is, for obvious reasons, automated, inspectors cannot access the core.

Safeguards for Japan’s facilities focus on fuel flow monitors, comprising four surveillance cameras and four radiation monitors, as pictured at the beginning of this post.

A description of the fuel handling process published by India’s Department of Atomic Energy (DAE) doesn’t reveal any reason to think the FBR at Kalpakkam couldn’t accomodate similar safeguards. In fact, Anil Kakodkar, Chairman of the Atomic Energy Commission and Secretary, Department of Atomic Energy, seemed to suggest to The Hindu that, in theory, India could eventually accept safeguards on the FBR program—but argued that such safeguards were not necessary for a “prototype” FBR:

Will putting our civilian nuclear facilities under IAEA safeguards hamper our Fast Breeder Reactors programme?

No. How will it hamper?

Dr. Prasad has said that. [Read Prasad’s comments] Several people whom I talked to said the plutonium reprocessed from our PHWRs will come under safeguards and that the IAEA may not allow that plutonium to be used in the breeders.

We are not going to put any developmental programme under safeguards. Any research and development programme, we are not going to put under safeguards.

So the Prototype Fast Breeder Reactor (PFBR) under construction at Kalpakkam and the Fast Breeder Reactors will not come under safeguards?

No. The PFBR will not come. The PFBR is a proto-type. Why should it go under safeguards? When technology becomes mature, it is a different story. The point is all these decisions will be taken at the appropriate time and there is no need to decide it today.

Japan’s safguarded facilities at JOYO and MONJU are both prototypes, by the way.

Comments

  1. Yale Simkin (History)

    “So the Prototype Fast Breeder Reactor (PFBR) under construction at Kalpakkam… will not come under safeguards?

    No. The PFBR will not come. The PFBR is a proto-type. Why should it go under safeguards? ”

    Jeez…

    Why? Because this “proto-type” will produce ~FIVE HUNDRED bombs worth of fissile EACH YEAR. In just a handful of years, India would be in possesion of the makings of an arsenal as large as any on Earth. Just from the ONE unsafeguarded machine.

    🙁

  2. Siddharth

    The issue of Fast Breeders is addressed in detail by Anil kakodkar, head of India’s nuclear programme, in an extensive interview with Pallava Bagla of Science magazine. A partial transcript appeared in the Indian Express on February 8, 2006 and can be read here:
    http://www.indianexpress.com/full_story.php?content_id=87466

  3. MotilaLal (History)

    First of all, the Prototype FBR will generate 500 MW of electricity, not fissile material for 500 bombs….

    Also India’s FBR will use Thorium as fuel, as opposed to Uranium in FBR programs of other countries. A typical FBR using U238 as fuel will produce Pu239 as a byproduct of fission. India’s FBR will produce U233 by using Th232 as fuel. Infact, thorium has been suggested as a proliferation-resistant nuclear fuel (see http://www.thoriumpower.com)

    India has just started to experiment with full-scale FBR technology and will easily take decades to resolve the problems that the French faced at Superphoenix or the Japanese faced at Monju.

    So I would not get too excited about the India’s FBR program…

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