India’s size, and number of inhabitants, means that the country needs a significant amount of electricity. Over a number of years the government has introduced projects which will help them move away from coal-fired plants, and the country has recently closed 30 coal mines, with the intention of switching to renewable energy. India has taken these steps to clean up its environment, as the country is currently the world’s second largest contributor to warming gasses, after China. To help decease this, scientists have built a facility in the city of Kalpakkam, which is the home of the country’s Prototype Fast Breeder Nuclear Reactor (PBTR).
After WWII, several countries began building nuclear power plants, most of which use light water reactors to create nuclear energy. The prototype at the Madras Atomic Power Station in Kalpakkam, is a Fast Breeder Nuclear Reactor. It is part of a three stage nuclear power program, which was proposed by Homi Bhabha, in the 1950s, to allow the country to achieve long term energy independence. The program’s ultimate goal is to use the country’s large thorium reserves to meet the majority of its energy requirements. Designed by The India Gandhi Centre for Atomic Research, the facility is expected to become functional in early 2018.
Fast Breeder Nuclear Reactors differ from other nuclear plants, as the neutrons that sustain the atomic chain reaction travel at higher velocities. The use of elemental uranium in these reactors also makes it possible for them to generate more fuel. Fast reactors are therefore safer, significantly reduce the amount of radioactive waste emitted, as well as have the ability to extract up to 70% more energy. Once the PBTR in India is fully functional, it is expected that it will use rods of thorium in place of uranium.
Apart from the PBTR located in India, there is only one commercially operable Fast Breeder Nuclear Reactor in the world. This is the Beloyarsk Nuclear Power Plant, located in the Ural Mountains, Russia. This plant uses uranium to provide energy for various parts of the country. China is also experimenting with Fast Breeder Nuclear Reactors, but their progress is behind India’s by about a decade. The technology has proved extremely difficult to produce, and maintain, and other countries, such as France and Japan, have been unsuccessful in their attempts to utilize it. The world will continue to observe the capacity to which India can put their nuclear plant to use, and there may be attempts to replicate it in the future.