What do you understand by Breeder reactors? Why India's nuclear energy programme focuses on breeder reactors while most advanced countries give them less preference? Justify.

Nuclear reactors are system that contain and control sustained nuclear chain reactions. Reactors use elements as fuel which undergo fission to produce heat. These reactors are used for generating electricity, in submarines, producing medical isotope for cancer treatment and conducting research. There are many types of reactor used such as Pressurised Heavy water type, Breeder Reactor.
Breeder reactors are those reactors which produce more fissionable material than it consumes as fuel. This reactor uses Thorium or Uranium 238 as fuels.
India has 3 stage nuclear program-formulated by Homi bhabha in 1950 to secure India’s long term energy independence using thorium and uranium found in monazite sand of Kerala, with ultimate focus on utilising the thorium reserves of India-India has only 1-2% of uranium reserve but 25% of thorium reserve.
India focuses more on breeder reactors because:

  • Fast breed reactor which forms second stage, will require mixed fuel oxide made from Pt 239 and natural uranium as fuel. In this Pt 239 would under go fission and Uranium will also produce Pt 239. Thus it will breed fuel than consume.
  • Surplus plutonium bred in each fast reactor can be used to set up more such reactors, and might thus grow the Indian civil nuclear power capacity till the point where the third stage reactors using thorium as fuel can be brought online
  • It would help India move to third generation of nuclear reactor which uses Thorium as fuel
  • India has large deposits of thorium and no natural deposit of Uranium is known and hence has to depend on import supply
  • Moving to third generation would make India self reliant.
  • Thorium based reactor produces far less amount of waste.
  • Miniscule waste that is generated remains toxic only for 400-500 years rather than thousand years like other reactors.
  • Thorium reactors are much cheaper than others

Thus India’s emphasis on FBR is to gain hasten the process to third stage of nuclear program

Question for UPSC Mains:
What do you understand by Breeder reactors? Why India's nuclear energy programme focuses on breeder reactors while most advanced countries give them less preference? Justify.

Published: September 25, 2017 | Modified:June 27, 2019

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