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INTRODUCTION

A breeder reactor is a nuclear reactor capable of generating more fissile material than it consumes. These devices are able to achieve this because their neutron economy is high enough to breed more fissile fuel than they use from fertile material such as uranium- 238 or thorium-232. Breeders were at first found attractive because their fuel economy was better than light water reactors, but interest declined after the 1960s as more uranium reserves were found, and new methods of uranium enrichment reduced fuel costs.

Fast breeder reactor or FBR uses fast (unmoderated) neutrons to breed fissile plutonium and possibly higher transuranics from fertile uranium-238. The fast spectrum is flexible enough that it can also breed fissile uranium-233 from thorium, if desired.

Thermal breeder reactor use thermal spectrum (moderated) neutrons to breed fissile uranium-233 from thorium (thorium fuel cycle). Due to the behaviour of the various nuclear fuels, a thermal breeder is thought commercially feasible only with thorium fuel, which avoids the build-up of the heavier transuranics.

Reactors with a fast neutron spectrum are called fast breeder reactors (FBR) these typically utilize uranium-238 as fuel.

Reactors with a thermal neutron spectrum are called thermal breeder reactors these typically utilize thorium-232 as fuel.

The preliminary design of the PFBR reactor was prepared in the early eighties. The choice of plant capacity 500 MWe was decided as the steam conditions of PFBR were close to 500 MWe thermal station. The higher plant capacity also meant taking advantage of economy of scale reducing cost of generation. The initial design had four heat transport loops feeding a total of 36 steam generators, 9 in each loop. There were four primary pumps and equal number of secondary sodium pumps with 8 sodium to sodium heat exchangers (IHXs) to transfer heat from primary circuit to secondary circuit before steam could be raised in the steam generators of the secondary circuit.

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DEVELOPEMENT OF FAST BREEDER REACTOR

The Soviet Union constructed a series of fast reactors.

The first being mercury-cooled and fuelled with plutonium metal and the later plants sodium- cooled and fuelled with plutonium oxide.

BR-1 (1955) was 100W (thermal) was followed by BR-2 at 100 kW and then the 5MW BR-5

BOR-60 (first criticality 1969) was 60 MW, with construction started in 1965.

REACTOR

COUNTRY

STARTED

COOLANT

DESIGN

NEUTRON

REACTOR

MWe

TEMP.

CLASS

DFR

UK

1962

NaK

14

Fast

Test

BN-350

Soviet

1973

Sodium

135

Fast

Prototype

Union

Rapsodie

France

1967

Sodium

0

Fast

Test

FFTF

USA

1982

Sodium

0

Fast

Test

FBTR

India

1985

Sodium

13

Fast

Test

BN-600

Soviet

1981

Sodium

560

Fast

Commercial

Union

PFBR

India

Commisioning

Sodium

560

Fast

Commercial

Joyo

Japan

1977

Sodium

0

Fast

Test

MSRE

USA

1965

Sodium

0

Epithermal

Test

BN-800

Russia

Commisioning

Sodium

769

Fast

Commercial

Fermi-I

USA

1963

Sodium

66

Fast

Prototype

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TYPES OF FAST BREEDER REACTOR

Many types of breeder reactor are possible:

A 'breeder' is simply a reactor designed for very high neutron economy with an associated

conversion rate higher than 1.0. In principle, almost any reactor design could possibly be tweaked to become a breeder. An example of this process is the evolution of the Light Water Reactor, a very heavily moderated thermal design, into the Super Fast Reactor [26] concept, using light water in an extremely low-density supercritical form to increase the neutron economy high enough to allow breeding.

Aside from water cooled, there are many other types of breeder reactor currently envisioned

as possible. These include molten-salt cooled, gas cooled, and liquid metal cooled designs in

many variations. Almost any of these basic design types may be fueled by uranium, plutonium, many minor actinides, or thorium, and they may be designed for many different goals, such as creating more fissile fuel, long-term steady-state operation, or active burning of nuclear wastes.

There are several concepts for breeder reactors; the two main ones are:

Reactors with a fast neutron spectrum are called fast breeder reactors (FBR) these typically utilize uranium-238 as fuel.

Reactors with a thermal neutron spectrum are called thermal breeder reactors these typically utilize thorium-232 as fuel.

In 2006 all large-scale fast breeder reactor (FBR) power stations were liquid metal fast breeder reactors (LMFBR) cooled by liquid sodium. These have been of one of two designs:

Loop type, in which the primary coolant is circulated through primary heat exchangers outside the reactor tank (but inside the biological shield due to radioactive sodium-24 in the primary coolant).

Pool type, in which the primary heat exchangers and pumps are immersed in the reactor tank

All current fast neutron reactor designs use liquid metal as the primary coolant, to transfer heat from the core to steam used to power the electricity generating turbines. FBRs have been built cooled by liquid metals other than sodiumsome early FBRs used mercury, other experimental reactors have used a sodium-potassium alloy called NaK. Both have the advantage that they are liquids at room temperature, which is convenient for experimental rigs but less important for pilot or full scale power stations. Lead and lead-bismuth alloy have also been used. The relative merits of lead vs sodium are discussed here. Looking further ahead, four of the proposed generation IV reactor types are FBRs:

Gas-Cooled Fast Reactor (GFR) cooled by helium.

Sodium-Cooled Fast Reactor (SFR) based on the existing Liquid Metal FBR (LMFBR) and Integral Fast Reactor designs.

Lead-Cooled Fast Reactor (LFR) based on Soviet naval propulsion units.

Supercritical Water Reactor (SCWR) based on existing LWR and supercritical boiler technology.

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BASIS OF WORK

BASIS OF WORK FIGURE 1: Breeding Phenomenon Breeder reactors are possible because of the proportion of

FIGURE 1: Breeding Phenomenon

Breeder reactors are possible because of the proportion of uranium isotopes that exist in nature. Natural uranium consists primarily of U 238 , which does not fission readily, and U 235 , which does. Natural uranium is unsuitable for use in a nuclear reactor, however, because it is only 0.72 percent U 235 , which is not enough to sustain a chain reaction. Commercial nuclear reactors normally use uranium fuel that has had its U 235 content enriched to somewhere between 3 and 8 percent by weight. Although the U 235 does most of the fissioning, more than 90 percent of the atoms in the fuel are U 238 potential neutron capture targets and future plutonium atoms.

Pu 239 , which is created when U 238 captures a neutron, forms U 239 and then undergoes two beta decays, happens to be even better at fissioning than U 235 . Pu 239 is formed in every reactor and also fissions as the reactor operates. In fact, a nuclear reactor can derive a significant amount of energy from such plutonium fission.

The above process of transmutation is shown in the above diagram clearly.

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FEATURES OF REACTOR CORE

The core of a fast reactor is very much different from that of a thermal reactor. The key distinction between the core of a fast reactor and that of a thermal reactor is the absence of moderator in fast reactor. It may be recalled that the fast reactor produces energy due to fission caused by fast neutrons (with energy ~ MeV). The presence of a moderator would cause loss of kinetic energy of fast neutrons due to collision with the nuclei of moderator. Hence components made of lighter elements are absent in the fast reactor core.

Another difference between the two cores is their shape. The reactor cores for thermal reactors are rectangular in shape, while a fast (breeder) reactor has a hexagonal core. In thermal reactors, fuel elements are arranged in square lattice. Square lattice provides sufficient space to accommodate water and hence satisfy the required moderator-fuel ratio. With moderator excluded from the core of fast reactors, fuel elements can be arranged closer. With triangular arrangement of fuel elements, higher volume fraction of fuel can be achieved in the core, paving way for reduction in fissile loading. Hence the fast reactor core is hexagonal in shape.

The core configuration is decided taking into account of the breeding requirements and high burnup required for achieving better economics. We shall see the core configuration taking the Prototype Fast Breeder Reactor (PFBR) being built at Kalpakkam as the example. This reactor has been designed with extensive research and operating experience gained by BARC

in operating the Fast Breeder Test Reactor at IGCAR, Kalpakkam. It is one among a list of

very few fast reactors built across the world.

A schematic diagram of the core of PFBR can be seen in Figure 1. The core is composed of

several subassemblies. The fuel subassembly contains the mixed oxide fuel with axial blanket and shield. Within the fuel subassembly, there are two zones: inner and outer zones. The inner zone (~ 21 % PuO2) houses 9 control & safety rods and 3 diverse safety rods. The inner zone is surrounded by outer zone (with relatively higher enrichment ~ 28 % PuO2). The variation in enrichment in the radial direction helps in radial flux flattening.

In the Prototype Fast Breeder Reactor (PFBR), there are 181 fuel subassemblies with each

subassembly containing 217 fuel pins. The pins are of diameter 6 mm. The fuel is mixed oxide (UO2-PuO2). The total length of each pin is 1600 mm that comprises 1000 mm of mixed oxide fuel, 300 mm of blanket in the upper and 300 mm of blanket in the lower.

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FIGURE 2: Reactor Core The radial blanket subassembly containing depleted Uranium oxide surrounds the fuel

FIGURE 2: Reactor Core

The radial blanket subassembly containing depleted Uranium oxide surrounds the fuel subassembly. Depleted Uranium oxide contains a larger proportion of U-238, a fertile material. Neutrons escaping from the fuel sub assembly encounter depleted Uranium oxide in the radial blanket transmuting them to fissile isotope. This contributes to the generation of fissile material and improves the breeding ratio. This type of fast reactor core is called homogenous core, in which all subassemblies containing the fissile material are located in radial and axial blankets. The fissile and fertile materials are distributed uniformly in the core and hence the term ‘homogenous core’.

Stainless steel reflector sub assembly and inner B4C absorber sub assembly surround the radial blanket subassembly. The spent rods or the fuel rods that have been irradiated for longer duration are moved to the storage location surrounding the inner B4C sub assembly. Another layer of steel shielding and B4C shielding (outer) surround the spent rods in storage providing radial shielding.

Reflector is provided to minimize the escape of neutrons out of the reactor core. Also, reflector contributes to flux flattening, which is essential to extract higher power from the fuel without suffering fuel melt down.

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Burnup

Burnup is defined as the amount of thermal energy produced (in terms of product of thermal output and number of days) per unit mass of heavy metal. It is the product of specific power in (MW/tonne) and the number of days of reactor operation. Hence, Burnup is expressed in MWd/t. Burnup is an indication of effective utilization of heavy metal with higher burnup indicating extraction of larger quantity of thermal energy from the heavy metal.

The Super-Phenix of France achieved an average burnup of 60,000 MWd/t prior to shutdown. The maximum burnup achieved was 90,000 MWd/t.

The PFBR targets a burnup of 100,000 MWd/t. Higher burnups are preferred due to advantages with respect to the economics of nuclear power. With higher burnups, it is possible to extract more thermal energy and hence electrical energy from the same quantity of fuel. This results in lower expenditure on fuel procurement and fabrication, apart from reduced expenditure in reprocessing. All these bring down the unit cost of electricity generated.

To achieve higher burnups, either higher degree of enrichment or higher neutron flux is required. While the requirement of higher degree of enrichment involves substantial cost, higher neutron flux can be maintained provided appropriate materials are used for various components.

Linear Heat Rating

It is defined as the ratio of thermal power to the product of number of fuel pins and the height (length) of the pin.

The maximum linear rating for PFBR is 450 W/cm with an active core height of 1 m. The linear rating depends on the thermal conductivity of the fuel, surface temperature of the fuel and the centre-line or maximum temperature of the fuel.

Fast reactor fuel cycles Reprocessing used fuel, and especially the blanket assemblies, is fundamental to the FBR fuel cycle. Typically the recovered plutonium from aqueous reprocessing is incorporated into the core as MOX fuel and any surplus deployed elsewhere. The general principles of this are described above. In France about 25 tonnes of fuel from Phenix was reprocessed and the plutonium incorporated into fresh fuel elements, some of it recycled three times. However, with the transition from core and blanket designs to integrated core designs, it is likely that used fuel will be reprocessed using electrometallurgical processes (so-called pyro- processing) and plutonium will not be separated but will remain with other transuranics and some highly radioactive fission products. Pyroprocessing has several advantages for fast reactors which greatly simplify waste management and closing the fuel cycle.

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A generalised picture of fast reactor fuel cycle is two-stage separation of uranium then transuranics, leaving most fission products as a small waste stream. Some or all of the uranium, and the transuranics (including plutonium and minor actinides), are recycled. See also: Processing used nuclear fuel for recycle paper. India's nuclear power program has been focused on developing an advanced heavy-water thorium cycle, based on converting abundant thorium-232 into fissile uranium-233. The first stage of this employs PHWRs fuelled by natural uranium, and light water reactors, to produce plutonium. Stage two uses fast neutron reactors burning the plutonium to breed U-233 from thorium. The blanket around the core will have uranium as well as thorium, so that further plutonium (ideally high-fissile Pu) is produced as well as the U-233. Then in stage three, advanced heavy water reactors burning the U-233 and this plutonium as driver fuels, but utilising thorium as their main fuel, and getting about two thirds of their power from the thorium.

A 500 MWe prototype fast breeder reactor (PFBR) is under construction at Kalpakkam and is

expected to be operating late in 2014, fuelled with uranium-plutonium oxide. It will have a blanket with thorium and uranium to breed fissile U-233 and plutonium respectively. Initial FBRs will have mixed oxide fuel or carbide fuel but these will be followed by metallic fuelled ones to enable shorter doubling time.

Fast Reactor Fuel Types Oxide (UO 2 -20PuO 2 ) has low thermal conductivity and a low density of fissile atoms but it does not react with lead or sodium. It is well-known in all the main countries.

Metal (U-20Pu-10Zr) has very high thermal conductivity than oxide, but high swelling and melts at a relatively low 1160°C. It is not compatible with lead coolant, due to solubility (in case of cladding failure). It is being researched in Russia, USA, Japan, UK, China, and South Korea. Nitride (UN-20PuN) has high thermal conductivity and a high density of fissile atoms but is subject to swelling and C-14 contamination (form N-14 + neutron). To avoid this pure N-15

is needed, which requires enrichment. It is being researched in USA, Russia and Japan.

Carbide (UC-10PuC) has high thermal conductivity and a high density of fissile atoms, but high swelling and poor compatibility with air and water. There are several types of carbide fuels, such as UC, UC2, U2C3 and (U, Pu)C. Research is being pursued in India. The production of both nitride and carbide fuels is more complex than MOX or metal fuels.

A reprocessing centre for thorium fuels is being set up at Kalpakkam in India

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FAST BREEDER REACTOR DESIGN

FAST BREEDER REACTOR DESIGN FIGURE 3: Power Generation process and Design The above figure contains the

FIGURE 3: Power Generation process and Design

The above figure contains the five labelled parts as shown:

1)

Highly enriched uranium or plutonium.

2)

Control rods (same material as core).

3)

Depleted uranium.

4)

Heat is transferred from primary to secondary sodium.

5)

Heat is transferred from secondary sodium to water .

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Other later FNR designs

The Encapsulated Nuclear Heat Source (ENHS) concept is a liquid metal-cooled reactor of 50 MWe being developed by the University of California. The core is in a metal-filled module sitting in a large pool of secondary molten metal coolant which also accommodates

the separate and unconnected steam generators. Fuel is a uranium-zirconium alloy with 13%

U enrichment (or U-Pu-Zr with 11% Pu) with a 15-year life. After this the module is

removed, stored on site until the primary lead (or Pb-Bi) coolant solidifies, and it would then

be shipped as a self-contained and shielded item. A new fuelled module would be supplied

complete with primary coolant. The ENHS is designed for developing countries but is not yet close to commercialisation.

A related project is the Secure Transportable Autonomous Reactor STAR being

developed by DOE's Argonne National Laboratory. It is a fast neutron modular reactor cooled by lead-bismuth eutectic, with passive safety features. Its 300-400 MWt size means it can be shipped by rail and cooled by natural circulation. It uses U-transuranic nitride fuel in a 2.5 m diameter cartridge which is replaced every 15 years. Decay heat removal is by external air circulation. The STAR-LM was conceived for power generation, running at 578°C and producing 180 MWe. STAR-H2 is an adaptation for hydrogen production, with reactor heat at up to 800°C being conveyed by a helium circuit to drive a separate thermochemical hydrogen production plant, while lower grade heat is harnessed for desalination (multi-stage flash process). Any commercial electricity generation then would be by fuel cells, from the hydrogen. Its development is further off.

A smaller STAR variant is the Small Sealed Transportable Autonomous Reactor SSTAR

being developed in collaboration with Toshiba and others in Japan (see 4S above). It has lead

or Pb-Bi cooling, runs at 566°C and has integral steam generator inside the sealed unit, which would be installed below ground level. Conceived in sizes 10-100 MWe, main development

is now focused on a 45 MWt/ 20 MWe version as part of the US Generation IV effort. After a

20-year life without refuelling, the whole reactor unit is then returned for recycling the fuel.

The core is one metre diameter and 0.8m high. SSTAR will eventually be coupled to a Brayton cycle turbine using supercritical carbon dioxide. A prototype was envisaged by 2015. For all STAR concepts, regional fuel cycle support centres would handle fuel supply and reprocessing, and fresh fuel would be spiked with fission products to deter misuse. Complete burnup of uranium and transuranics is envisaged in STAR-H2, with only fission products being waste.

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PROPERTIES OF LIQUID METAL COOLANT

Typical metal used is sodium.

Some reactors use lead, lead-bismuth alloy, or sodium fluoride salt.

ADVANTAGES OF SODIUM:

Low melting temperature (98°C)

Low melting point enables the metal to be in the liquid state, which enables to have good transportation properties and thus effective as coolant.

High boiling temperature (892°C)

High boiling point enables liquid to be in its original state only and thus escapes the route to

be in

of liquid phase.

vapour phase. The vapour phase doesn’t have good transportation properties as that

High heat capacity.

High heat capacity is a necessary property for a coolant. If the coolant have high heat capacity it will have tendency to absorb more heat and vice-versa.

System can run at low pressure.

It is an important prospect for a coolant to have with regarding to the design consideration of reactor vessel.

RISKS OF SODIUM :

Burns when it comes in contact with air or water.

Sodium reacts vigorously when it is exposed with air or water.

Poisonous fumes.

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FAST BREEDER REACTOR VS. REGULAR NUCLEAR REACTOR

Nuclear reactors generate energy through fission, the process by which an atomic nucleus splits into two or more smaller nuclei. During fission, a small amount of mass is converted into energy, which can be used to power a generator to create electricity. In order to harness this energy, a controlled chain reaction is required for fission to take place. When a uranium nucleus in a reactor splits, it produces two or more neutrons that can then be absorbed by other nuclei, causing them to undergo fission as well. More neutrons are released in turn and continuous fission is achieved.

Neutrons produced by fission have high energies and move extremely quickly. These so- called fast neutrons do not cause fission as efficiently as slower-moving ones so they are slowed down in most reactors by the process of moderation. A liquid or gas moderator, commonly water or helium, cools the neutrons to optimum energies for causing fission. These slower neutrons are also called thermal neutrons because they are brought to the same temperature as the surrounding coolant.

In contrast to most normal nuclear reactors, however, a fast reactor uses a coolant that is not an efficient moderator, such as liquid sodium, so its neutrons remain high-energy. Although these fast neutrons are not as good at causing fission, they are readily captured by an isotope of uranium (U 238 ), which then becomes plutonium (Pu 239 ). This plutonium isotope can be reprocessed and used as more reactor fuel or in the production of nuclear weapons. Reactors can be designed to maximize plutonium production, and in some cases they actually produce more fuel than they consume. These reactors are called breeder reactors.

Breeder reactors are possible because of the proportion of uranium isotopes that exist in nature. Natural uranium consists primarily of U 238 , which does not fission readily, and U 235 , which does. Natural uranium is unsuitable for use in a nuclear reactor, however, because it is only 0.72 percent U 235 , which is not enough to sustain a chain reaction. Commercial nuclear reactors normally use uranium fuel that has had its U 235 content enriched to somewhere between 3 and 8 percent by weight. Although the U 235 does most of the fissioning, more than 90 percent of the atoms in the fuel are U 238 --potential neutron capture targets and future plutonium atoms.

Pu 239 , which is created when U 238 captures a neutron, forms U 239 and then undergoes two beta decays, happens to be even better at fissioning than U 235 . Pu 239 is formed in every reactor and also fissions as the reactor operates. In fact, a nuclear reactor can derive a significant amount of energy from such plutonium fission. But because this plutonium fissions, it reduces the amount that is left in the fuel. To maximize plutonium production, therefore, a reactor must create as much plutonium as possible while minimizing the amount that splits.

This is why many breeder reactors are also fast reactors. Fast neutrons are ideal for plutonium production because they are easily absorbed by U 238 to create Pu 239 , and they cause less fission than thermal neutrons. Some fast breeder reactors can generate up to 30 percent more fuel than they use.

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ADVANTAGES OF FAST BREEDER REACTOR

Nuclear reactors are devices that utilize the heat generated during the splitting of atoms, to produce energy which is used in the generation of power. These reactors are nuclear reactors which produce more fuel than they utilize in their operation. They contain an inner core of the plutonium isotope Pu-239. This core is surrounded by a shield of the uranium isotope U- 238. When it is bombarded with neutrons, plutonium splits to produce smaller fragments, some heat energy, and more neutrons. Some neutrons hit the surrounding U-238 atoms which get converted to Pu-239, effectively producing the fuel itself. The remaining neutrons bombard other plutonium atoms, starting a chain reaction which produces more energy and neutrons. When all the surrounding uranium is converted to plutonium, the fuel is completely regenerated. A breeding reactor is named so because it 'breeds' its own fuel.

There is a coolant surrounding the reactor which is used to protect the core from overheating. It absorbs the heat generated during the fission of plutonium atoms and circulates it to a heat exchanger. This heat converts water in the exchanger into steam, which is used to drive a turbine and generate electricity. Let us have a look at the pros and cons of breeder reactors.

A breeder reactor creates 30% more fuel than it consumes. After an initial introduction of enriched uranium, the reactor only needs infrequent addition of stable uranium, which is then converted into the fuel.

It can generate much more energy than traditional coal power plants. Even 3 g of uranium, on undergoing fission, can release ten times the energy produced by a ton of coal.

Breeder reactors can even use the uranium waste from uranium processing plants and spent fuel from traditional fission reactors, along with depleted uranium from nuclear weapons.

Uranium-235 used by light-water reactors is rare on Earth, and its reserves are likely to run out within 100 years. On the other side, uranium-238 used by breeder reactors is plentiful; in fact as common as tin. In the US alone, its reserves are expected to last for at least 1,000 years.

Since it reuses fuel, the expenses for mining, milling, and processing of uranium ore are minimized.

Fuel prices of breeder reactors will remain fairly stable because of the abundance of uranium-238 on Earth.

This technology does not contribute to air pollution, except during the mining and processing of uranium ore.

Breeder reactors can use a small core, which is important to sustain chain reactions. Besides, they do not even need moderators for slowing down neutrons, as they use fast neutrons.

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DISAVANTAGES OF FAST BREEDER REACTOR

Breeder reactors use highly enriched fuels, which pose the danger of critical accidents. They also work at a very high temperature and a fast pace.

The byproducts formed during the fission of plutonium have to be removed by reprocessing, as they slow down the neutrons and reduce efficiency. However, this step of reprocessing produces a very pure strain of plutonium, which is ideal for use in nuclear weapons. This poses a risk, as in, terrorists may attempt to sabotage or steal the plutonium.

Plutonium persists for a long time in the environment, with a half-life of 24,000 years, and is highly toxic, causing lung cancer even if a small amount is inhaled.

Till date, not a single breeder reactor has been economically feasible.

Every year, billions of dollars worldwide are spent for the safe storage of the plutonium produced, which is then useless, as few reactors use it as fuel.

In practice, a breeder reactor requires 30 years to produce as much plutonium as it utilizes in its operation.

It requires liquified sodium or potassium metal as a coolant, as water would slow down the neutrons. These metals can cause a mishap, as they react violently when exposed to water or air.

The construction and operation is very costly. Between $4 to $8 billion is required in the construction alone.

These reactors are complex to operate. Moreover, even minor malfunctions can cause prolonged shutdowns. Their repair is tedious and expensive too.

Breeder reactors have had several accidents. For example, in the US, the Experimental Breeder Reactor I suffered a meltdown in 1955. Similarly, Reactor Fermi I suffered a partial meltdown in 1966, and was closed down after a series of sodium explosions. Currently, only Russia, China, India, and Japan have operational breeder reactors.

So, while breeder reactors are highly efficient in producing their own fuel, the danger of nuclear weapons is precisely why most nations choose to stay away from them. This is why, US President Jimmy Carter passed an executive order in 1977, which banned the reprocessing of nuclear material.

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FAST BREEDER REACTOR IN INDIA

Vision of a 3-stage Nuclear Power Programme enunciated by Dr. Homi Jehangir Bhabha was indeed the beginning of a dream for energy security in the country. The vision took cognizance of the limited uranium and vast thorium resources within the country. The first stage, namely Pressurised Heavy Water Reactor Programme (PHWR) has now matured into a robust technology with the capacity factors touching 90% consistently. These reactors use natural uranium as the fuel which contains only 0.7% of fissionable Uranium-235. Hence, the PHWR programme cannot be taken beyond a power level of ~10,000 MWe based on the presently known and exploitable indigenous resources of natural uranium. In a fast neutron spectrum that exists in Fast Breeder Reactors (FBR) beside fission of Uranium 235, there is gainful conversion of the 99.3% Uranium-238 to Plutonium-239, which in turn is a fissionable material. When the fissile material produced is more than that consumed, the reactors are referred to as Breeder Reactors.The effective utilization of the indigenous uranium resources is therefore possible only through the FBR route, by which India can achieve a power capacity of 300,000 MWe. It was Dr. Vikram Sarabhai, who recognized the inevitability and complexity of FBR’s in India and put into action the second stage of country’s Nuclear Power Programme. For this purpose, he created a road map for a truly interdisciplinary research in reactor engineering, materials, chemistry, reprocessing, safety, instrumentation and other allied disciplines, which finally led to the establishment of the Reactor Research Centre, later renamed as Indira Gandhi Centre for Atomic Research (IGCAR).

Fast Breeder Test Reactor

The story of Fast Breeder Test Reactor (FBTR) is itself a proof of the strength and resilience of the Department. It is exemplified by landmark achievements in all facets right from design to commissioning and finally achieving the objectives. The agreement with CEA, France in 1971 was only for the transfer of the design of Rapsodie type reactor, training of personnel and transfer of manufacturing technology. The responsibility for construction was totally with India. FBTR includes the steam generator and associated steam system which was absent in Rapsodie. Except for the grid plate, one control rod drive mechanism, one sodium pump and raw materials for critical nuclear components, which were imported from France, all the other components were manufactured in India. Sodium purification rig was set up at this Centre and 150 tonnes of reactor grade sodium coolant for Fast Breeder Test Reactor was prepared from commercially available grade. The total indigenous content of FBTR is more than 80%, considered quite high in the light of the standards of Indian industries in the seventies and eighties.

Fuel

The original design of MOX fuel with plutonium oxide (PuO2) and / uranium oxide (UO2) (with the latter enriched to 85%) was reviewed in the light of the embargo due to the Peaceful Nuclear Explosion (PNE) by India in 1974, denying supply of enriched uranium. It was a challenge to the start of the second stage programme of nuclear energy in India. It was also an opportunity to develop advanced fuels. The DAE took a bold decision to develop mixed

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carbide fuel with high Pu content. Being a unique fuel of its kind without any irradiation data, it was decided to use the reactor itself as the test bed for this driver fuel. The synergism between the different units of the department like BARC, IGCAR and NFC, has resulted in success of this bold initiative.

The reactor has been operated up to a maximum power 17.4 MWt. Eleven irradiation campaigns have so far been completed. The fuel has seen a burnup of 123.5 GWd/t (energy generated in the fuel multiplied by days of operation per tonne of fuel consumed) without failure. This has been possible by the encouraging results obtained from Post Irradiation Examination studies conducted on fuel subassemblies discharged at intermediate stages (25,50,75&100GWd/t). Based on extensive work done by multidisciplinary team, the burnup of level of 150 GWd/t is now a reality. In addition to its use as a self-driven irradiation facility for the Pu-rich monocarbide fuel, FBTR is being utilized as a irradiation facility for fuels and materials. Currently, FBTR is being used to irradiate the MOX fuel (29 % PUO2) chosen for PFBR (500MWe) to the target burnup of 100 GWd/t . These are truly international landmarks made possible due to interorganizational and interdisciplinary collaborative work.

Beyond PFBR

Vision 2020 of the Department envisages a series of four 500 MWe FBRs after PFBR.

The cost studies indicate that a series construction of four at a given site would reduce the cost by about 25% compared to PFBR and construction time could be brought down to 5 years from 7 years. Constant improvements in design, operation and material development would certainly result in better capacity factors of the plants. Future plans are to go in for 1000 MWe FBRs with improved design features and optimisation at all stages. All efforts are focused on developing high burn-up and high breeding fuel, advanced structural materials for longer life of FBR’s upto 60 years, development of better shielding materials, etc. Closing the fuel cycle with high efficiency in an environmentally benign manner is the priority in the programme. The challenges ahead are exciting and highly rewarding to realise dreams of Dr. Bhabha through the courageous path shown by Dr. Sarabhai. Interdisciplinary Collaboration, Interorganisational synergy, multitasking by experts and the mobility of personnel from one type of activity to another, have undoubtedly provided the impetus for growth of FBR’s in this centre.

Currently, international community has identified liquid sodium cooled Fast Breeder Reactor as one of the five advanced and innovative types of reactors to meet the future energy needs in safe and cost-effective manner. However, India had unwavering faith in FBRs and pursued the path with courage and conviction since 1970s. It can be said with confidence that energy security for India, in the next few decades, would be realized through FBRs.

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FIGURE 4: Mud mat filling at Prototype Fast Breeder Reactor The unique features of Indian

FIGURE 4: Mud mat filling at Prototype Fast Breeder Reactor

The unique features of Indian FBTR are

Indigenously developed U-Pu carbide fuel rich in Pu.

Design, development and fabrication of all machineries, peripheral units and materials are by the Indian Scientists in close co ordination with industry.

Status Initial operational problems sorted out and the reactor operates smoothly at a steady power level of 10.5 Mwt- maximum possible power output owing to its small core. Future plans based on the Design, setting up and operation of FBTR has provided rich experience and immense information with liquid metal cooled Fast Breeder Reactor Technology and also confidence to embark upon the design of a 500 MWe prototype fast breeder reactor [PFBR], is in advanced stage of completion at Kalpakkam.

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FIGURE 5: Graph showing future plans of power generation regarding various nuclear reactors OTHER FAST

FIGURE 5: Graph showing future plans of power generation regarding various nuclear reactors

OTHER FAST BREEDER REACTORS

Another proposed fast reactor is a fast molten salt reactor, in which the molten salt's moderating properties are insignificant. This is typically achieved by replacing the light metal fluorides (e.g. LiF, BeF 2 ) in the salt carrier with heavier metal chlorides (e.g., KCl, RbCl, ZrCl 4 ).

Several prototype FBRs have been built, ranging in electrical output from a few light bulbs' equivalent (EBR-I, 1951) to over 1,000 MWe. As of 2006, the technology is not economically competitive to thermal reactor technologybut India, Japan, China, South Korea and Russia are all committing substantial research funds to further development of Fast Breeder reactors, anticipating that rising uranium prices will change this in the long term. Germany, in contrast, abandoned the technology due to safety concerns. The SNR- 300 fast breeder reactor was finished after 19 years despite cost overruns summing up to a total of 3.6 billion Euros, only to then be abandoned. [49]

As well as their thermal breeder program, India is also developing FBR technology, using both uranium and thorium feedstocks.

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CONCLUSION

Fast neutron reactors are a technological step beyond conventional power reactors, but are poised to become mainstream.

They offer the prospect of vastly more efficient use of uranium resources and the ability to burn actinides which are otherwise the long-lived component of high-level nuclear wastes.

Some 400 reactor-years experience has been gained in operating them.

Generation IV reactor designs are largely FNRs, and international collaboration on FNR designs is proceeding with high priority.

About 20 Fast Neutron Reactors (FNR) have already been operating, some since the 1950s, and some supplying electricity commercially. About 400 reactor-years of operating experience have been accumulated to the end of 2010. Fast reactors more deliberately use the uranium-238 as well as the fissile U-235 isotope used in most reactors. If they are designed to produce more plutonium than they consume, they are called Fast Breeder Reactors (FBR). But many designs are net consumers of fissile material including plutonium.* Fast neutron reactors also can burn long-lived actinides which are recovered from used fuel out of ordinary reactors. * If the ratio of final to initial fissile content is less than 1 they are burners, consuming more fissile material (U-235, Pu and minor actinides) than they produce (fissile Pu), if more than 1 they are breeders. This is the burn ratio or breeding ratio. If the ratio is 1 they are iso- breeders, producing the same amount of fuel as they consume during operation. Several countries have research and development programs for improved Fast Neutron Reactors, and the IAEA's INPRO program involving 22 countries (see later section) has fast neutron reactors as a major emphasis, in connection with closed fuel cycle. For instance one scenario in France is for half of the present nuclear capacity to be replaced by fast neutron reactors by 2050 (the first half being replaced by 3rd-generation EPR units).

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REFERENCES

1. Waltar, A.E.; Reynolds, A.B (1981). Fast breeder reactors. New York: Pergamon Press. p. 853. ISBN 978-0-08-025983-3.

2. Helmreich, J.E. Gathering Rare Ores: The Diplomacy of Uranium Acquisition, 19431954, Princeton UP, 1986: ch. 10 ISBN 0-7837-9349-9

9. Government of India, Department of atomic Energy. www.dae.in

10. www.nptel.ac.in ,National Program for Technical Enhanced Learning

11. Mars and Beyond, Rajya Sabha TV

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