India has an active Thorium program. • India has a flourishing and largely indigenous nuclear power program and did at one time expect to have 20,000 MWe nuclear capacity on line by 2020 and 63,000 MWe by 2032, but being India and subject to Indian bureaucracy and economic limitation the goals tend to get delayed. It aims to supply 25% of electricity from nuclear power by 2050. • Because India is outside the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty due to its weapons program, it was for 34 years largely excluded from trade in nuclear plant or materials, which has hampered its development of civil nuclear energy until 2009. • Due to these trade bans and lack of indigenous uranium, India has uniquely been developing a nuclear fuel cycle to exploit its reserves of thorium. • Now, foreign technology and fuel are expected to boost India’s nuclear power plans considerably. All plants will have high indigenous engineering content. • India has a vision of becoming a world leader in nuclear technology due to its expertise in fast reactors and thorium fuel cycle. • India’s Kakrapar-1 reactor is the world’s first reactor which uses thorium rather than depleted uranium to achieve power flattening across the reactor core. India, which has about 25% of the world’s thorium reserves, is developing a 300 MW prototype of a thorium-based Advanced Heavy Water Reactor (AHWR). The prototype is expected to be fully operational by 2011, following which five more reactors will be constructed. Considered to be a global leader in thorium-based fuel, India’s new thorium reactor is a fast-breeder reactor and uses a plutonium core rather than an accelerator to produce neutrons. As accelerator-based systems can operate at sub-criticality they could be developed too, but that would require more research. India currently envisages meeting 30% of its electricity demand through thorium-based reactors by 2050.
“[F]ast reactors can help extract up to 70 percent more energy than traditional reactors and are safer than traditional reactors while reducing long lived radioactive waste by several fold,” Yukiya Amano, Director General of International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) in Vienna, explained to the Times of India.
Uranium isn’t common in India, but the country has the second largest store of Thorium, so the Prototype Fast Breeder Reactor (PFBR) in Kalpakkam uses rods of that element.
Arun Kumar Bhaduri, Director of the Indira Gandhi Centre for Atomic Research (IGCAR), Kalpakkam, told the Times of India that the technology is safe: “[F]ast breeder reactors are far safer than the current generation of nuclear plants.”
With the PFBR, India is pioneering a kind of nuclear technology that could potentially be the country’s greatest renewable energy source. That’s a big step, especially since nuclear fission remains the only kind of nuclear reaction we’ve managed to sustain, though efforts to make nuclear fusion viable are still in the works.