Wednesday, September 30, 2009

India Plans Uranium Powered Export Version of AHWR

The AHWR represents the ultimate third phaser of the three phase Indian nuclear plan for a thorium breeder nuclear economy. In the first phase conventional Light and heavy water reactors will burn uranium based fuel. Once the fuel will no longer sustain a chain reaction, it will be removed from the reactor and processed to separate plutonium from other materials. The Plutonium then is rase to fuel fast breeder reactors. The fast breeders produce more plutonium but also breed thorium, producing U-233. The U-233 is then used to fuel the start up AHWRs which are also thorium Breeders. Once Indian AHWRs start operating, they will produce their own fuel. India has very little uranium and a lot of thorium, so the plan to base the Indian nuclear future on the thorium fuel cycle is sound.

The AHWR is a very technologically advanced small (300 MWe) reactor that would not cost a poor country an arm and a leg to buy, and would is designed to operate outside a highly developed grid. There is a market for such reactorsa outside India, and indeed potentially a very large market, provided the reactor uses low enrichment uranium. At present the Indians are beginning to seek customers for their present generation of small PHWRs, that are low enrichment uranium burners. There would undoubtedly be a marker for a AHWR with its sophisticated safety features, were that reactor adapted for uranium fuel. The Indian Atomic Energy Commission, has recently announced that it will be designing and building a low enriched uranium version of the AHWR. Chairman Anil Kakodkar of the IAEC stated,
"A new version of AHWR named Advanced Heavy Water Reactor-Low Enriched Uranium (AHWR-LEU) that uses low enriched uranium along with thorium as fuel has been designed recently."
Kakodkar added,
"This version can also meet the requirement of medium sized reactors in countries with small grids while meeting the requirements of next generation systems,"
This announcement is another step indicating that Indian plans for atomic energy are now becoming very ambitious. This week Indian Prime Minister, Manmohan Singh, announced at a conference of devoted to nuclear energy, that the Indian state was setting a goal of a generating capacity of 470,000 MWs of nuclear generating capacity by 2050. This very ambitious goal represents a hundred fold expansion of nuclear generating capacity over the next 40 years.

The ambitious Indian plan would require factory manufacture of reactor modules if not entire reactors. Automated factory production would lower nuclear costs, allowing India to become a low cost nuclear supplier to under developed countries. The quality of Indian AHWR technology is good enough to find AHWR customers world wide including in Europe and North America.


Anonymous said...

Charles, this is a fascinating parsing of the Indian 3 Step plan. It's explained well.

I'm curious how they will process the plutonium. It remains quite "hot" for years, yes? It requires a large expense in building a facility, yes? Are the Indians planning on doing the processing for their export market?

D. Walters

Charles Barton said...

David, I have not looked at Indian reprocess technology. I find the topic distasteful. Such an enormouse waste of resources, to do what could be done in a LFRT.

DV8 2XL said...

What infuriates me is that this reactor design is based on the Douglas Point (220 MWe) CANDU that was built by AECL. Rather than see that this would have been an ideal export product to poorer nations AECL closed and decommissioned the Douglas Point Nuclear Generating Station. This despite the fact that India chose to buy two of them.

Instead they have pursued larger and larger designs in an attempt to compete with others in a crowded market at the top, and are failing miserably.

Charles Barton said...

We must learn the meaning of Richard Feynman's famous phrase, "There's Plenty of Room at the Bottom".
The problem is first to identify the right problem. The small reactor is a solution to many problems, but you have to identify the problems, and want to find their solution, before you understand the virtue of the solution. AECL could probably license the AHWR design, with permission to sell it too its existing customers, and bring billions of dollars into the Canadian economy,

Yogi said...

“I'm curious how they will process the plutonium. It remains quite "hot" for years, yes? It requires a large expense in building a facility, yes? Are the Indians planning on doing the processing for their export market?”

From what I understand they plan to use plutonium from PUREX reprocessing to start the domestic AHWRs, and later use THOREX to recycle U233 from the used AHWR fuel.

It will be interesting to see what kind of conversion ratio the AHWR has, and if they can get THOREX to actually work on an industrial scale.

The idea with the export version of the AHWR seems to be to use uranium enriched to ~20% U235, then down-blended with thorium, in a once thru fuel cycle.

John said...

A look at the fuel cycle of the reactor shows that it will not be a full breeder. It will still require plutonium, first from India's PHWR's, and, in the long term, from a Fast Breeder Reactor powered by India's uranium.

Not being a reactor tech, I'm not sure why. Perhaps the burden of establishing a recycling system for the radioactive U233 is too much of a problem, perhaps the Protoactinium is the problem, perhaps it's just too hard to adjust the structure of a CANDU type reactor to do this? gives a few details.

Charles Barton said...

John, thermal reactors atr capable of thorium cycle breeding, but not uranium fuel cycle breeding, because pu-239 requires fast neutrons inorder to perform well. In a thermal cycle, plutonium just doesn't fissionb often enough to breed.


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