PROTOTYPE FAST BREEDER REACTOR (Syllabus: GS Paper 3 – Sci & Tech)

News-CRUX-10     5th March 2024        

Context: Prime Minister of India  witnessed the start of the process of core-loading the indigenous prototype fast breeder reactor (PFBR) at the Madras Atomic Power Station in Kalpakkam, Tamil Nadu

Prototype Fast Breeder Reactor (PFBR)

  • About: The PFBR is a machine designed to generate more nuclear fuel than it consumes, marking the beginning of stage II of India's three-stage nuclear power program.
  • Stage I: In the first stage, India utilized pressurized heavy water reactors (PHWRs) and natural uranium-238 (U-238) as the fissile material for nuclear fission reactions.
  • Mechanism of Nuclear Fission: Nuclear fission involves the absorption of a neutron by an atomic nucleus, causing it to destabilize and split into two, releasing energy. Neutrons released during fission reactions can trigger subsequent fission reactions.
  • Role of Heavy Water in PHWRs: Heavy water, containing the deuterium isotope of hydrogen, slows down neutrons released during fission reactions, enabling them to be captured by other U-238 and U-235 nuclei, leading to additional fission reactions.
  • Production of Plutonium-239: Fission reactions in PHWRs produce plutonium-239 (Pu-239) along with energy as byproducts.
  • Stage II: In stage II of the program, Pu-239, along with U-238, will be used in the PFBR to generate energy, U-233, and more Pu-239, managed by Bharatiya Nabhikiya Vidyut Nigam, Ltd. (BHAVINI).
  • Design of Stage III with Thorium: Stage III involves combining Pu-239 with thorium-232 (Th-232) in reactors to produce energy and U-233, based on the vision of Homi J. Bhabha, leveraging India's significant thorium resources.
  • Self-Sufficiency in Nuclear Energy: The three-stage program is intended to ensure complete self-sufficiency in nuclear energy for India, utilizing its abundant thorium reserves.
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