How big is India’s nuclear energy programme?

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India’s nuclear programme aims to de­velop and utilize nuclear energy for peaceful purposes such as power generation, applications in agriculture, medical sciences, industry and other areas. India is today globally acknowledged as one of the advanced countries in nuclear tech­nology.

The country is self-reliant and excels in the expertise covering the complete nuclear cycle from exploration and mining to power genera­tion and from applications of nuclear technology to waste management and other safety issues. Nuclear energy apart from being a potential source of electricity that could satisfy our requirement for next 300 years.

The nuclear programme has also various other crucial applications important for our socio-economic development as well as for our defence requirements. At present India have 17 operational nuclear plants while others are un­der construction.

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There are also very modest ura­nium resources in the country- an estimated 54,000 tones identified mainly in Jharkhand and also some in Meghalaya and Andhra Pradesh. Due to this limitation and lack of imports, the nuclear programme has been constrained. However, Indian Scientists have been working on developing a dif­ferent fuel cycle based on thorium. Because almost a quarter of all the thorium in the world is found in India in the sandy beaches of Orissa and Kerala.

Also the long term goal of India’s nuclear programme is to produce energy through use of thorium. This involves three stage process. In the first stage, the natural uranium is used to pro­duce plutonium.

In the second stage fast neutron reactors are used to fission plutonium and con­vert thorium into highly fissle U-233. The design of this stage is such that fast neutrons coming from fissioning plutonium will bombard a surrounding blanket of uranium and thorium and thus produce more plutonium as well as U-233. Finally in the 3rd stage, advanced reactors burn the U-233 and plutonium. Stage 2 is expected to be completed by 2010 at Kalpakkam and then the stage for full utilization of thorium will be set.

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