Nuclear Energy

Nuclear Energy

Baikal Gigaton Volume Detector

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : GVD

Mains level : Paper 3- Baikal Gigaton Volume detector

Russian scientists have launched one of the world’s biggest underwater neutrino telescopes called the Baikal-GVD (Gigaton Volume Detector) in the waters of Lake Baikail, the world’s deepest lake situated in Siberia.

Try this PYQ from CSP 2020:

Q. The experiment will employ a trio of spacecraft flying in formation in the shape of equilateral triangle that has sides one million km long, with lasers shining between the craft.” the experiment in the question refers to?
(a) Voyager-2
(b) New horizons
(c) LISA pathfinder
(d) Evolved LISA

Baikal GVD

  • The Baikal-GVD is one of the three largest neutrino detectors in the world along with the IceCube at the South Pole and ANTARES in the Mediterranean Sea.
  • The construction of this telescope, which started in 2016, is motivated by the mission to study in detail the elusive fundamental particles called neutrinos and to possibly determine their sources.
  • It will help understanding the origins of the universe since some neutrinos were formed during the Big Bang while others continue to be formed as a result of supernova explosions or because of nuclear reactions in the Sun.
  • An underwater telescope such as the GVD is designed to detect high-energy neutrinos that may have come from the Earth’s core, or could have been produced during nuclear reactions in the Sun.

What are fundamental particles?

  • So far, the understanding is that the universe is made of some fundamental particles that are indivisible.
  • Broadly, particles of matter that scientists know about as of now can be classified into quarks and leptons.
  • Explorations has led to the discovery of over 12 such quarks and leptons, but three of these (protons, neutrons and electrons) is what everything in the world is made up of.
  • Protons (carry a positive charge) and neutrons (no charge) are types of quarks, whereas electrons (carry a negative charge) are types of leptons.
  • These three particles make what is referred to as the building block of life– the atom.

Why do scientists study fundamental particles?

  • Studying what humans and everything around them is made up of gives scientists a window into understanding the universe a better way.
  • This is one reason why scientists are so keen on studying neutrinos (not the same as neutrons), which are also a type of fundamental particle.
  • Fundamental means that neutrinos, like electrons, protons and neutrons cannot be broken down further into smaller particles.

So where do neutrinos fit in?

  • What makes neutrinos especially interesting is that they are abundant in nature, with about a thousand trillion of them passing through a human body every second.
  • In fact, they are the second most abundant particles, after photons, which are particles of light.
  • But while neutrinos are abundant, they are not easy to catch, this is because they do not carry a charge, as a result of which they do not interact with matter.
  • One way of detecting neutrinos is in water or ice, where neutrinos leave a flash of light or a line of bubbles when they interact.
  • To capture these signs, scientists have to build large detectors.

Back2Basics: Lake Baikal

  • Lake Baikal is a rift lake located in southern Siberia, Russia, between Irkutsk Oblast to the northwest and the Buryat Republic to the southeast.
  • It is the largest freshwater lake by volume in the world, containing 22 to 23% of the world’s fresh surface water.
  • With a maximum depth of 1,642 m it is the world’s deepest lake.
  • It is among the world’s clearest lakes and is the world’s oldest lake, at 25–30 million years. It is the seventh-largest lake in the world by surface area.
  • Lake Baikal formed as an ancient rift valley and has a long, crescent shape, with a surface area of 31,722 km2 (12,248 sq mi), slightly larger than Belgium.
  • The region to the east of Lake Baikal is referred to as Transbaikalia or as the Transbaikal and the loosely defined region around the lake itself is sometimes known as Baikalia.
  • UNESCO declared Lake Baikal a World Heritage Site in 1996.

Nuclear Energy

Einsteinium: the mysterious element named after Albert Einstein

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Einsteinium

Mains level : Not Much

The University of California has reported some of the properties of element 99 in the periodic table called “Einsteinium”, named after Albert Einstein.

Try this PYQ:

Q.The known forces of nature can be divided into four classes, viz, gravity, electromagnetism, weak nuclear force and strong nuclear force.

With reference to them, which one of the following statements is not correct? (CSP 2012)

(a) Gravity is the strongest of the four

(b) Electromagnetism act only on particles with an electric charge

(c) Weak nuclear force causes radioactivity

(d) Strong nuclear force holds protons and neutrons inside the nuclear of an atom.

Einsteinium

  • It was discovered in 1952 in the debris of the first hydrogen bomb (the detonation of a thermonuclear device called “Ivy Mike” in the Pacific Ocean).
  • Since its discovery, scientists have not been able to perform a lot of experiments with it because it is difficult to create and is highly radioactive.
  • Therefore, very little is known about this element.
  • With this new study published in the journal Nature last week, for the first time researchers have been able to characterize some of the properties of the element.

The discovery of the element

  • Ivy Mike was detonated on November 1, 1952, as part of a test at a remote island location called Elugelab on the Eniwetok Atoll in the South Pacific.
  • The blast produced an explosion that was about 500 times more destructive than the explosion that occurred at Nagasaki.
  • Subsequently, the fallout material from this explosion was sent to Berkeley in California for analysis which identified over 200 atoms of the new element.

Properties of the element

  • Einsteinium has a half-life of 20 days.
  • Because of its high radioactivity and short half-life of all einsteinium isotopes, even if the element was present on Earth during its formation, it has most certainly decayed.
  • This is the reason that it cannot be found in nature and needs to be manufactured using very precise and intense processes.
  • Therefore, so far, the element has been produced in very small quantities and its usage is limited except for the purposes of scientific research.
  • The element is also not visible to the naked eye and after it was discovered, it took over nine years to manufacture enough of it so that it could be seen with the naked eye.

Nuclear Energy

HL-2M Tokamak: The Artificial Sun of China

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : HL-2M Tokamak, Nuclear fusion and fission

Mains level : Artificial Sun

China successfully powered up its “artificial sun” nuclear fusion reactor for the first time marking a great advance in the country’s nuclear power research capabilities.

Scratch your school basics to answer this PYQ:

Q.The known forces of nature can be divided into four classes, viz, gravity, electromagnetism, weak nuclear force and strong nuclear force.

With reference to them, which one of the following statements is not correct? (CSP 2012)

(a) Gravity is the strongest of the four

(b) Electromagnetism act only on particles with an electric charge

(c) Weak nuclear force causes radioactivity

(d) Strong nuclear force holds protons and neutrons inside the nuclear of an atom.

HL-2M Tokamak

  • The HL-2M Tokamak reactor is China’s largest and most advanced nuclear fusion experimental research device.
  • The mission is named Experimental Advanced Superconducting Tokamak (EAST).
  • Located in Sichuan province and completed late last year, the reactor is often called an “artificial sun” on account of the enormous heat and power it produces.
  • It uses a powerful magnetic field to fuse hot plasma and can reach temperatures of over 150 million degrees Celsius- approximately ten times hotter than the core of the sun.
  • Scientists hope that the device can potentially unlock a powerful clean energy source.

Back2Basics: Nuclear Fusion

  • Nuclear fusion is a reaction in which two or more atomic nuclei are combined to form one or more different atomic nuclei and subatomic particles (neutrons or protons).
  • Fusion is the process by which the sun and other stars generate light and heat. It is a nuclear process, where energy is produced by smashing together light atoms.
  • It is the opposite reaction of fission, where heavy elements like Uranium and Thorium are split apart.

Nuclear Fusion Reaction

  • For a nuclear fusion reaction to occur, it is necessary to bring two nuclei so close that nuclear forces become active and glue the nuclei together.
  • Nuclear forces are small-distance forces and have to act against the electrostatic forces where positively charged nuclei repel each other.
  • This is the reason nuclear fusion reactions occur mostly in high density, high-temperature environment (millions of degree Celsius) which is practically very difficult to achieve under laboratory conditions.

Nuclear Energy

[pib] Kakrapar Atomic Power Project (KAPP-3) in Gujarat

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Criticality of the nuclear reactors

Mains level : India's nuclear energy policy

The indigenously designed 700 MWe reactor at the Kakrapar Atomic Power Project has achieved Criticality.

Try this PYQ from CSP 2013:

Q. The known forces of nature can be divided into four classes, viz, gravity, electromagnetism, weak nuclear force and strong nuclear force. With reference to them, which one of the following statements is not correct?

(a) Gravity is the strongest of the four

(b) Electromagnetism act only on particles with an electric charge

(c) Weak nuclear force causes radioactivity

(d) Strong nuclear force holds protons and neutrons inside the nuclear of an atom.

What is ‘Criticality’ in Atomic/Nuclear Power Plants?

  • Reactors are the heart of an atomic power plant, where a controlled nuclear fission reaction takes place that produces heat, which is used to generate steam that then spins a turbine to create electricity.
  • Fission is a process in which the nucleus of an atom splits into two or smaller nuclei, and usually some by-product particles.
  • When the nucleus splits, the kinetic energy of the fission fragments is transferred to other atoms in the fuel as heat energy, which is eventually used to produce steam to drive the turbines.
  • For every fission event, if at least one of the emitted neutrons on average causes fission, a self-sustaining chain reaction will take place.
  • A nuclear reactor achieves criticality when each fission event releases a sufficient number of neutrons to sustain an ongoing series of reactions.

Controlling Criticality

  • When a reactor is starting up, the number of neutrons is increased slowly in a controlled manner. Neutron-absorbing control rods in the reactor core are used to calibrate neutron production.
  • The control rods are made from neutron-absorbing elements such as cadmium, boron, or hafnium.
  • The deeper the rods are lowered into the reactor core, the more neutrons the rods absorb and the less fission occurs.
  • Technicians pull up or lower down the control rods into the reactor core depending on whether more or less fission, neutron production, and power are desired.
  • If a malfunction occurs, technicians can remotely plunge control rods into the reactor core to quickly soak up neutrons and shut down the nuclear reaction.

Why is this achievement significant?

  • It is the biggest indigenously developed variant of the Pressurized Heavy Water Reactor (PHWR).
  • The PHWRs, which use natural uranium as fuel and heavy water as moderator, is the mainstay of India’s nuclear reactor fleet.
  • Until now, the biggest reactor size of the indigenous design was the 540 MWe PHWR, two of which have been deployed in Tarapur, Maharashtra.
  • India works to ramp up its existing nuclear power capacity of 6,780 MWe to 22,480 MWe by 2031.
  • The 700MWe capacity constitutes the biggest component of the expansion plan.

Back2Basics: India’s PHWR technology

  • PHWR technology started in India in the late 1960s with the construction of the first 220 MWe reactor, Rajasthan Atomic Power Station, RAPS-1 under the joint Indo-Canadian nuclear co-operation.
  • Canada supplied all the main equipment for this first unit, while India retained responsibility for construction, installation, and commissioning.
  • For the second unit (RAPS-2), import content was reduced considerably, and indigenization was undertaken for major equipment.
  • Following the withdrawal of Canadian support in 1974 after Pokhran-1, Indian nuclear engineers completed the construction, and the plant was made operational with a majority of components being made in India.

Nuclear Energy

International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor (ITER) Project

The heavy engineering division of L&T dispatched a giant Cryostat lid, to International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor (ITER) site in France from its Hazira unit in Gujarat.

Try this MCQ:

Q.With reference to International science projects, consider the following:

  1. Large Hadron Collider (LHC)– The God Particle
  2. Thirty Metre Telescope (TMT) – The World’s Most Advanced Telescope
  3. International-Thermonuclear-Experimental-Reactor (ITER) – Fusion Energy
  4. Facility for Antiproton and Ion Research (FAIR) – Antiproton and Ion Research

Which of the above projects have India’s active participation?

a) 1 only

b) 2 and 3 only

c) 1, 3 and 4 only

d) All of them

ITER Project

  • ITER is international nuclear fusion research and engineering megaproject, which will be the world’s largest magnetic confinement plasma physics experiment.
  • The goal of ITER is to demonstrate the scientific and technological feasibility of fusion energy for peaceful use.

Minutes of the project

  • The project is funded and run by seven member entities—the European Union, India, Japan, China, Russia, South Korea and the United States.
  • The EU, as host party for the ITER complex, is contributing about 45 per cent of the cost, with the other six parties contributing approximately 9 per cent each.
  • Construction of the ITER Tokamak complex started in 2013 and the building costs were over US$14 billion by June 2015.

How does it work?

  • ITER is the most complex science project in human history. The ITER aims to use a strong electric current to trap plasma inside a doughnut-shaped enclosure long enough for fusion to take place.
  • Hydrogen plasma will be heated to 150 million degrees Celsius, ten times hotter than the core of the Sun, to enable the fusion reaction.
  • The process happens in a doughnut-shaped reactor, called a tokamak 1, which is surrounded by giant magnets that confine and circulate the superheated, ionized plasma, away from the metal walls.
  • The superconducting magnets must be cooled to -269°C (-398°F), as cold as interstellar space.
  • Scientists have long sought to mimic the process of nuclear fusion that occurs inside the sun, arguing that it could provide an almost limitless source of cheap, safe and clean electricity.
  • Unlike in existing fission reactors, which split plutonium or uranium atoms, there’s no risk of an uncontrolled chain reaction with fusion and it doesn’t produce long-lived radioactive waste.

Back2Basics: Nuclear Fusion

  • Nuclear fusion is the process of making a single heavy nucleus (part of an atom) from two lighter nuclei. This process is called a nuclear reaction.
  • The nucleus made by fusion is heavier than either of the starting nuclei. It releases a large amount of energy.
  • Fusion is what powers the sun. Atoms of Tritium and Deuterium (isotopes of hydrogen, Hydrogen-3 and Hydrogen-2, respectively) unite under extreme pressure and temperature to produce a neutron and a helium isotope.
  • Along with this, an enormous amount of energy is released, which is several times the amount produced by fission.
  • Scientists continue to work on controlling nuclear fusion in an effort to make a fusion reactor to produce electricity.

How it is different from nuclear fission?

  • Simply put, fission is the division of one atom into two (by neutron bombardment), and fusion is the combination of two lighter atoms into a larger one (at a very high temperature).
  • Nuclear fission takes place when a large, somewhat unstable isotope (atoms with the same number of protons but a different number of neutrons) is bombarded by high-speed particles, usually neutrons.

Nuclear Energy

Pokhran-II nuclear tests

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : NSG, NPT, Op Smiling Buddha

Mains level : India's nuclear policy

Yesterday, May 11 was celebrated as the National Technology Day. It marks the day on which India successfully test-fired its first nuclear bombs in 1998.

Practice question for mains

Q. India’s nuclear policy of ‘No First Use’ needs a revamp. Examine.

India and nuclear weapons

  • India is currently among eight countries in the world that have a publicly known nuclear weapons program.
  • At the time of our independence, leaders were opposed to fully embracing nuclear weapons.
  • Just two years before in 1945, the world had witnessed the horrific nuclear bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
  • Mahatma Gandhi called the use of nuclear weapons morally unacceptable.

Why India did equip itself with nuclear arms?

  • Then PM Jawaharlal Nehru was sceptical but kept the door open for future consideration.
  • This future beckoned early, as India’s defeat in the 1962 Sino-Indian War gave rise to legitimate fears about national security.
  • Then in 1974, India conducted its first nuclear test, codenamed “Smiling Buddha”, at Pokhran in Rajasthan.
  • Then-Prime Minister Indira Gandhi called the test a peaceful nuclear explosion.
  • India demonstrated to the world that the country could defend itself in an extreme situation and chose not to immediately weaponize the nuclear device it tested at Pokhran.

 The Pokhran II tests

  • India’s fence-sitting finally ended when it detonated another device in 1998, again at Pokhran.
  • Assigned the code name Operation Shakti, the mission was initiated on May 11, 1998.
  • The tests consisted of 5 detonations, the first being a fusion bomb while the remaining four were fission bombs.
  • One fusion and two fission bombs were tested on May 11, and two more fission bombs on May 13.
  • With the tests, India achieved its objective of building fission and thermonuclear weapons with yields up to 200 kilotons.

Aftermath

  • After Pokhran-II, Vajpayee had declared India a nuclear state — then the sixth country in the world to join this league.
  • Unlike in 1974, India had this time chosen to actively develop its nuclear capabilities, and the tests followed economic sanctions by the United States and Japan. The sanctions were later lifted.

Back2Basics: India’s nuclear programme

  • India started its own nuclear programme in 1944 when Homi Jehangir Bhabha founded the Tata Institute of Fundamental Research.
  • Physicist Raja Ramanna played an essential role in nuclear weapons technology research; he expanded and supervised scientific research on nuclear weapons and was the first directing officer of the small team of scientists that supervised and carried out the test.
  • After independence, PM Nehru authorised the development of a nuclear programme headed by Homi Bhabha.
  • The Atomic Energy Act of 1948 focused on peaceful development.
  • India was heavily involved in the development of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty but ultimately opted not to sign it.
  • In 1954, two important infrastructure projects were commissioned. The first established Trombay Atomic Energy Establishment at Mumbai (Bombay). The other created a governmental secretariat, Department of Atomic Energy (DAE), of which Bhabha was the first secretary.

Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG)

  • The NSG is a multilateral export control regime and a group of nuclear supplier countries that seek to prevent nuclear proliferation by controlling the export of materials, equipment and technology that can be used to manufacture nuclear weapons.
  • The NSG was founded in response to the Indian nuclear test in May 1974 and first met in November 1975.
  • It was solely aimed to deny advanced technology, and isolate and contain India.

Nuclear Energy

Dumping of Radioactive Nuclear Waste

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Heavy Water

Mains level : Nuclear pollution

In a controversial move, Japan has decided to dump the radioactive heavy water from the Fukushima nuclear power plant into the Sea.  The dumping of nuclear waste is considered to be the easiest way to get rid of it.

What is Heavy Water?

  • Heavy water (deuterium oxide) is a form of water that contains a larger than normal amount of the hydrogen isotope deuterium rather than the common hydrogen that makes up most of the hydrogen in normal water.
  • Heavy water is used in certain types of nuclear reactors, where it acts as a neutron moderator to slow down neutrons.
  • Slowed neutrons are more likely to react with the fissile uranium-235 than with uranium-238 which captures neutrons without fissioning.

Where is Fukushima waste?

  • It is currently being stored in large tanks, but those are expected to be full by 2022.
  • Almost 1.2 million liters of radioactive water from the Fukushima nuclear power plant is to be released into the ocean.
  • The contaminated water has since been used to cool the destroyed reactor blocks to prevent further nuclear meltdowns.

Hazards of the nuclear contamination

  • Radioactive pollution in the ocean has been increasing globally — and not just since the disaster at Fukushima.
  • Radiation levels in the sea off Fukushima were millions of times higher than the government’s limit of 100 Becquerel.
  • A single Becquerel that gets into our body is enough to damage a cell that will eventually become a cancer cell.
  • Even the smallest possible dose, a photon passing through a cell nucleus, carries a cancer risk. Although this risk is extremely small, it is still a risk.

Who else dumped radioactive water into oceans?

The dumping of nuclear waste in drums was banned in 1993 by the London Convention on the Prevention of Marine Pollution. But discharging liquid contaminated with radiation into the ocean is still permitted internationally.

  • The lion’s share of dumped nuclear waste came from Britain and the Soviet Union, figures from the IAEA show.
  • By 1991, the US had dropped more than 90,000 barrels and at least 190,000 cubic meters of radioactive waste in the North Atlantic and Pacific.
  • To this day, around 90% of the radiation in the ocean comes from barrels discarded in the North Atlantic, most of which lie north of Russia or off the coast of Western Europe.

Nuclear Energy

Pushing the wrong energy buttons

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Not much.

Mains level : Paper 3- Nuclear energy-issues involved.

Context

For more than a decade, no major meeting between an Indian Prime Minister and a U.S. President has passed without a ritual reference to India’s promise made in 2008 to purchase American nuclear reactors.

Issues in the nuclear deal

  • Construction of reactors: During president Trumps visit techno-commercial offer for the construction of six nuclear reactors in India at the earliest date was considered.
  • More expensive: Indeed, it has been clear for years that electricity from American reactors would be more expensive than competing sources of energy.
  • Prone to disasters: Moreover, nuclear reactors can undergo serious accidents, as shown by the 2011 Fukushima disaster.
  • No liability for accidents: Westinghouse has insisted on a prior assurance that India would not hold it responsible for the consequences of a nuclear disaster.
    • Which is effectively an admission that it is unable to guarantee the safety of its reactors.

Who will be benefited from the deal?

  • The two beneficiaries: The main beneficiaries from India’s import of reactors would be Westinghouse and India’s atomic energy establishment that is struggling to retain its relevance given the rapid growth of renewables.
  • Political implications: Mr Trump has reasons to press for the sale too. His re-election campaign for the U.S. presidential election in November.
    • The election centrally involves the revival of U.S. manufacturing and he has been lobbied by several nuclear reactor vendors, including Westinghouse.
    • Finally, he also has a conflict-of-interest.

Comparisons with the renewables

  • The total cost of the reactors: The six reactors being offered to India by Westinghouse would cost almost ₹6 lakh crore.
    • If India purchases these reactors, the economic burden will fall upon consumers and taxpayers.
  • Per unit price: In 2013, it was estimated that even after reducing these prices by 30%, to account for lower construction costs in India, the first year tariff for electricity would be about ₹25 per unit.
  • Comparison with solar energy: Recent solar energy bids in India are around ₹3 per unit.
    • Lazard, the Wall Street firm, estimates that wind and solar energy costs have declined by around 70% to 90% in just the last 10 years and may decline further in the future.

Safety concern with nuclear energy

  • Long term cost in case of disasters: Nuclear power can also impose long-term costs.
    • Chernobyl accident: Large areas continue to be contaminated with radioactive materials from the 1986 Chernobyl accident and thousands of square kilometres remain closed off for human inhabitation.
    • Fukushima accident: Nearly a decade after the 2011 disaster, the Fukushima prefecture retains radioactive hotspots.
    • The cost of clean-up: the cost of clean-up has been variously estimated to range from $200-billion to over $600-billion.
  • No liability towards company: The Fukushima accident was partly caused by weaknesses in the General Electric company’s Mark I nuclear reactor design.
  • But that company paid nothing towards clean-up costs, or as compensation to the victims, due to an indemnity clause in Japanese law.
  • What are the provisions in Indian laws: Westinghouse wants a similar arrangement with India. Although the Indian liability law is heavily skewed towards manufacturers, it still does not completely indemnify them.
    • So nuclear vendors have tried to chip away at the law. Instead of resisting foreign suppliers, the Indian government has tacitly supported this process.

India’s experience with nuclear energy

  • Starting with the Tarapur 1 and 2 reactors, in Maharashtra, India’s experiences with imported reactors have been poor.
  • The Kudankulam 1 and 2 reactors, in Tamil Nadu, the only ones to have been imported and commissioned in the last decade, have been repeatedly shut down.
  • Producing less than capacity: In 2018-19, these reactors produced just 32% and 38%, respectively, of the electricity they were designed to produce.
  • These difficulties are illustrative of the dismal history of India’s nuclear establishment.
  • Electricity generation stagnant at 3%: In spite of its tall claims, the fraction of electricity generated by nuclear power in India has remained stagnant at about 3% for decades.

Conclusion

The above factors indicate that the government should take the rational decision on the adoption of nuclear energy given its cost and the risk involved and the better alternative available in the form of solar and other renewable energies.

 

Nuclear Energy

‘Core catcher’ in a nuclear plant

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Core Catcher

Mains level : Nuclear energy and its hazards

The Moscow-based Rosatom State Corporation Engineering Division has installed a core melt localisation device (CMLD) or “core catcher” at Tamil Nadu’s Kudankulam Nuclear Power Plant (KKNPP).

What is the protective “core catcher” device?

  • Molten core material, or corium, is lava-like material that gets formed in the core of a nuclear reactor in the event of a meltdown accident.
  • Such an accident occurs when the nuclear fission reaction taking place inside a reactor is not sufficiently cooled, and the buildup of heat causes fuel rods to melt down.
  • The corium so formed can remain radioactive for several decades, even centuries.
  • In the past, meltdown accidents have occurred at Chernobyl in Russia in 1986 and at Fukushima in Japan in 2011.
  • The device has improved seismic resistance, hydro-dynamic and shock strength as well as equipped with flood protection and simplified installation and assembly technology.

Its construct

  • The core catcher is a cone shaped metal structure that weighs about 800 tonnes.
  • The structure is double walled, with the gap between the two walls filled with FAOG (ferric and aluminium oxide granules).
  • The core catcher is filled with a ceramic mixture also including ferric oxide and aluminium oxide, called ‘sacrificial material’.
  • The sacrificial material prevents the corium from trickling through and also acts as a cooling mechanism.

Installation

  • The core catcher device is installed at the bottom of the nuclear station’s protective shell.
  • It is designed to save the latter as well as exude radioactive emission in the environment in case of a serious accident.

Nuclear Energy

Akademik Lomonosov: Worlds first floating Nuclear Plant

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : About the reactor

Mains level : Protective measures against nuclear hazards


  • Recently, a Russian-built floating nuclear power plant completed its 5,000-km journey along the Northern Sea Route.
  • This has sparked fears among environmentalists over the safety of the Arctic region.

Akademik Lomonosov

  • The Akademik Lomonosov is a first-of-its-kind floating nuclear power station built in St Petersburg, the Russian port city on the Gulf of Finland.
  • Three tugboats pulled it from the northern port of Murmansk for 5,000 kilometres to Chukotka, in Russia’s far east.
  • Named after the 18th-century Russian scientist Mikhail Lomonosov, the 21,000-tonne floating plant is 144 m long and 30 m wide, and contains two nuclear reactors of 35 MW each.
  • It is a small plant compared to conventional land-based nuclear projects.
  • Run by the state-owned nuclear energy corporation Rosatom, it is expected to have a working life of 40 years.

Why such a plant

  • After it becomes operational next year, the plant will supply electricity to the Chukotka region, where important Russian national assets such as oil, gold, and coal reserves are located.
  • Some 50,000 people currently live in the area, and get their electricity from a coal power station and an ageing nuclear power plant.
  • The floating station would become the northernmost nuclear power project in the world.
  • Electricity supplied by floating power stations, without long-duration contracts or massive investments, is an option that island nations could consider.
  • Power from such small-sized plants can also be supplied to remote regions, as Russia plans to do.
  • Additionally, it is argued that nuclear power plants are a more climate-friendly option than coal-fired plants that emit greenhouse gases.

Fears and apprehensions

  • Environmental groups such as Greenpeace have criticised the project as a “Chernobyl on ice” and a “nuclear Titanic”.
  • Activists fear that any accident aboard the plant could cause great damage to the fragile Arctic region.
  • A recent nuclear accident in Russia after which there was a brief spike in radiation levels has added to the fears.
  • The radiation fallout from the Fukushima nuclear disaster in Japan is also cited as a reason to not rush into such projects.

Nuclear Energy

[pib] Indian Nuclear Insurance Pool

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Nuclear Insurance Pool

Mains level : Protective measures against nuclear hazards

  • The Government has created an Indian Nuclear Insurance Pool (INIP) in June 2015, a union minister informed in Lok Sabha.

Indian Nuclear Insurance Pool

  • M/s. General Insurance Corporation of India (GIC-Re), along with several other Indian Insurance Companies, have launched the Indian Nuclear Insurance Pool (INIP) with a capacity of ₹1500 crore.
  • This aims to provide insurance to cover the liability against accidents as prescribed under Civil Liability for Nuclear Damage (CLND) Act, 2010.
  • This has addressed issues related to Civil Liability for Nuclear Damage (CLND) Act and had facilitated commencement of work in setting up new nuclear power projects.

Back2Basics

Nuclear Power in India

  • The present nuclear power capacity is 6780 MW comprising of 22 reactors.
  • There are 9 reactors with a capacity of 6700 MW (including 500 MW PFBR being implemented by BHAVINI) under construction.
  • The Government in 2017 has also accorded administrative approval and financial sanction of 12 nuclear power plants totaling to a capacity of 9000 MW.
  • On their progressive completion, the installed nuclear capacity is expected to reach 8180 MW by 2020 and 22480 MW by 2031.

Nuclear Energy

[pib] Thorium-Based Nuclear Reactors

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Thorium based reacter

Mains level : India’s Three Stage Nuclear Programme

  • Department of Atomic Energy (DAE) has planned the use of large deposits of Thorium available in the country as a long-term option.

Thorium-Based Nuclear Reactors

  • A three-stage nuclear power programme has been chalked out to use Thorium as a viable and sustainable option, right at the inception of India’s nuclear power programme.
  • The three stage nuclear power programme aims to multiply the domestically available fissile resource through the use of natural Uranium in Pressurized Heavy Water Reactors.
  • It is followed by the use of Plutonium obtained from the spent fuel of Pressurized Heavy Water Reactors in Fast Breeder Reactors.

Why Thorium?

  • The utilization of Thorium, as a practically inexhaustible energy source, has been contemplated during the third stage of the Indian Nuclear Programme.
  • As is the case with generation of electricity from Uranium, there will be no emission of green house gases from Thorium also and therefore, it will be a clean source of energy.
  • It is not possible to build a nuclear reactor using Thorium (Thorium-232) alone due to its physics characteristics.
  • Thorium has to be converted to Uranium-233 in a reactor before it can be used as fuel.

Back2Basics

India’s Three Stage Nuclear Programme

  • India’s three-stage nuclear power programme was formulated by Homi Bhabha in the 1950s to secure the country’s long term energy independence, through the use of uranium and thorium reserves found in the monazite sands of coastal regions of South India.
  • The ultimate focus of the programme is on enabling the thorium reserves of India to be utilised in meeting the country’s energy requirements.
  • Thorium is particularly attractive for India, as it has only around 1–2% of the global uranium reserves, but one of the largest shares of global thorium reserves at about 25% of the world’s known thorium reserves.
  • However, thorium is more difficult to use than uranium as a fuel because it requires breeding, and global uranium prices remain low enough that breeding is unnecessary.

Stage I – Pressurized Heavy Water Reactor

  • In the first stage of the programme, natural uranium fueled pressurised heavy water reactors (PHWR) produce electricity while generating plutonium-239 as by-product.
  • PHWRs was a natural choice for implementing the first stage because it had the most efficient reactor design in terms of uranium utilisation, and the existing Indian infrastructure in the 1960s allowed for quick adoption of the PHWR technology.

Stage II – Fast Breeder Reactor

  • In the second stage, fast breeder reactors (FBRs) would use a mixed oxide (MOX) fuel made from plutonium-239, recovered by reprocessing spent fuel from the first stage, and natural uranium.
  • In FBRs, plutonium-239 undergoes fission to produce energy, while the uranium-238 present in the mixed oxide fuel transmutes to additional plutonium-239.
  • Thus, the Stage II FBRs are designed to “breed” more fuel than they consume.

Stage III – Thorium Based Reactors

  • A Stage III reactor or an advanced nuclear power system involves a self-sustaining series of thorium-232–uranium-233 fuelled reactors.
  • This would be a thermal breeder reactor, which in principle can be refueled after its initial fuel charge – using only naturally occurring thorium.
  • According to the three-stage programme, Indian nuclear energy could grow to about 10 GW through PHWRs fueled by domestic uranium, and the growth above that would have to come from FBRs till about 50GW.
  • The third stage is to be deployed only after this capacity has been achieved. Full exploitation of India’s domestic thorium reserves will likely not occur until after the year 2050.

Nuclear Energy

[op-ed snap] Jaitapur: A risky and expensive project

Note4students

Mains Paper 3: Economy| Infrastructure: Energy, Ports, Roads, Airports, Railways etc.

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important:

Prelims level: Basics of nuclear technology, AERB,IAEA, Indian nuclear Programme.

Mains level: The newscard discusses issues and challenges of EPR in a brief manner.


Context

  1. The idea of nlems, in the past few months, the Modi government has taken several high-level steps towards actuating the project.

Background

  1. Nuclear energy is undoubtedly most controversial, yet critical part for India’s future energy security. As we know India’s annual energy demand is expected to rise to 800 GW by 2032, it is very important to consider every source of energy in the optimum energy mix.
  2. Jaitapur Nuclear Power Project is a proposed 9900 Megawatt project of Nuclear Power Corporation of India (NPCIL) at Madban village of Ratnagiri district in Maharashtra. If and when completed, Jaitapur “will be the largest nuclear power plant in the world”.

IMPACT ASSESSMENT REPORT CRITICISES JAITAPUR NUCLEAR PLANT

  1. An impact assessment report by the Tata Institute of Social Sciences (TISS) has strongly criticized the nuclear power plant being proposed at Jaitapur in the Konkan region.
  2. The report has indicated that the project – which requires about 968 hectares of land panning five villages – will have a huge negative impact on the social as well as environmental development of not just these villages and the surrounding areas, but also on the Konkan region in general.
  3. The findings suggest that the government subverted facts and called fertile agricultural land barren. It also says that the Jaitapur project is sitting on a high to moderate severity earthquake zone.

Issues

  1. The urgency is inexplicable as it comes before the techno-commercial offer has been examined and as earlier questions about costs and safety remain unanswered.
  2. Moreover, with the Indian power sector facing surplus capacity and a crisis of non-performing assets (NPAs), a large investment in the Jaitapur project is particularly risky.

Pricing

  1. It is clear that electricity from the Jaitapur project will be more expensive than many other sources of electricity, including solar and wind power.
  2. Using international estimates of capital costs for EPRs from the 2010-2012 period, it is argued that first year tariffs would be around 15 per kilowatt-hour.

Delays and cost overrun

  1. Across the world, EPRs have experienced delays and cost increases. For instance, the first EPR entered commercial operation in December 2018 at the Taishan site in China, five years later than originally projected.
  2. Its final capital cost was estimated by industry sources to be “40% over the original estimate

High capital cost and NPA

  1. The high capital costs of the EPRs are of particular concern because power-generating capacity in India has grown faster than demand causing projects to run into financial difficulties.
  2. In March 2018, the parliamentary standing committee on energy listed 34 “stressed” projects, including NPAs and “those which have the potential to become NPAs”, with a cumulative outstanding debt of 1.74 lakh crore.
  3. The NPCIL’s debts would ultimately be underwritten by the Indian government, if the project encounters financial difficulties, the costs would fall on Indian taxpayers.

Safety problems

  1. Safety problems with the reactor design and construction have emerged in several EPRs. The most serious of these pertained to the pressure vessel, which is the key barrier that prevents the spread of radioactive materials from the reactor.
  2. For instance, the EPR at Olkiluoto in Finland encountered problems with vibrations in the pipe that connects the primary coolant system with the pressuriser, which maintains the pressure of the water circulating in the reactor.

Indian nuclear Liability law issue

  1. The safety concerns are exacerbated by India’s flawed nuclear liability law. In the event of an accident, the nuclear liability law would require the public sector NPCIL to compensate victims and pay for clean-up, while largely absolving EDF of responsibility.
  2. Further, the Indian law provides NPCIL with a limited opportunity to obtain compensation from the French company Électricité de France (EDF) for the “supply of equipment… with… defects… or sub-standard services”.
  3. The “enforcement of India’s rules” in accordance with the international Convention on Supplementary Compensation for nuclear damage, which severely limits the operator’s (NPCIL) right of recourse, i.e. not to exercise its right to claim compensation from EDF as allowed by Indian law.
  4. Thus, thereby EDF can escape with limited or no consequences even after a severe accident, having little material incentive to maintain the highest safety standards, particularly if the requirements of safety come into conflict with the imperative to lower costs.

Data secrecy

  • There is little public data about the EPRs being built in China, but these prices are consistent with those proposed for EPRs in Britain and indicate that each Indian reactor may cost as much as Rs. 60,000 crore.

Way forward

  1. Nuclear energy, though is critical for India’s energy security but is not panacea for the problem. People of India have right to have safe and sustainable energy.
  2. So future development should depend upon cost benefit analysis taking into account all the externalities involved in various components of energy mix.
  3. If this is done, it is most likely that policy will get incline strongly in favor of non-conventional sources of energy that is solar, wind and biomass.

Back2Basics

Pressurized Water Reactor (PWR)

  • The PWR uses regular water as a coolant.
  • The primary cooling water is kept at very high pressure so it does not boil.
  • Pressurized water reactors (PWRs) constitute the large majority of all Western nuclear power plants.
  • In a PWR, the primary coolant (water) is pumped under high pressure to the reactor core where it is heated by the energy generated by the fission of atoms.
  • The heated water then flows to a steam generator where it transfers its thermal energy to a secondary system where steam is generated and flows to turbines which, in turn, spin an electric generator.
  • In contrast to a boiling water reactor, pressure in the primary coolant loop prevents the water from boiling within the reactor.
  • PWRs were originally designed to serve as nuclear marine propulsion for nuclear submarines.
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