Monday, August 17, 2020

These Photographs Of India's Under Construction CIRUS Reactor Is The Stuff That Says, "Forward Thinking Nation"

Canada India Reactor Utility Service [CIRUS] Nuclear Reactor - BARC - India
From the Spent fuel rods of the Canada India Reactor Utility Service [CIRUS] reprocessed India the Plutonium utilized in it's 1974 device. This, it announced to the world as a Peaceful Use of Nuclear Energy [PUNE]* [via]. The 'CANADA-INDIA COLOMBO PLAN ATOMIC REACTOR PROJECT' of April 28, 1956, enabled setting up of this NRX Reactor in India. The System was a high flux, Vertical Tank-type Research Reactor, "burning" Canadian Natural Uranium, moderated with American Heavy Water, cooled with Indian Light Water. Graphite functioned as the Neutron Reflector. At peak performance, it generated 40 MW-th of Power.

India, helmed by Dr. Homi Bhabha, zeroed in on this design, over the smaller British E-443 Research Reactor, also on offer.

These historically significant photographs, taken in the 50s, shows the CIRUS Reactor under construction. The Dome Structure is a Containment enclosure, encapsulating the Reactor Core. At that time, it was India's largest Nuclear Power Plant [NPP]. India's previous Reactor, Asia's first, Apsara outputted 1 MWth Power. CIRUS went critical on July 10, 1960.

CIRUS Reactor - BARC - Containment Dome - India
CIRUS Reactor - BARC - Construction - India
CIRUS Reactor - BARC - Containment Dome - India
CIRUS Reactor - BARC - Containment Dome - India
CIRUS Reactor - BARC - Containment Dome - India
CIRUS Reactor - BARC - Containment Dome - India
CIRUS Reactor - BARC - Containment dome - India

The hemispherical Containment Dome ensures uniform Stress distribution, in the event of an unexpected, uncontrolled outward transfer of Energy, preventing development of Stress concentration on the surface, where it would be most prone to failure.

Dr. Homi Jehangir Bhabha - CIRUS Reactor - India
The CIRUS Reactor, upon Installation & Commissioning, under Canadian supervision, was besieged with a number of operational issues, which Indian Engineers had to address before they could push it to the rated power output. Dr. Bhabha, in a letter to the then Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru, whom he addressed as Bhai [Brother], dated January 9, 1962, appraises him of the efforts,

"My dear Bhai,

I am glad to inform you that CIR operated for the first time for over ten hours at a power level of 30,000 kilowatts on the 4th and 5th of this month with a charge of 160 fuel rods only. Had we had the full charge of 192 fuel rods, the operation would have corresponded to the maximum rated power of 40,000 kilowatts. When the Canadians handed over the Reactor at the end of 1960 it could not be taken up to a power above 17 megawatts, and a number of difficulties, such as, growth of algae in the primary system, corrosion, pressure drop in the rods, rupturing of rods, etc., impeded its operation even at a relatively low power level. Since then the reactor has been furnished with an entirely new charge fabricated at Trombay and apart from a thorough clean up of the primary system a great many improvements have been made on it. It was first taken up to a power level of 20,000 kilowatts several times during the first few days of this month, and its trouble free operation at 30,000 kilowatts now establishes that all problems connected with its operation have been overcome by our staff. In overcoming these difficulties, the staff of the Reactor Operations Division were helped in an important way by the staff of the other Divisions, as for example the Analytical Chemistry, Radiochemistry, Metallurgy and Biology Divisions. Unless the work of the Establishment covered all these other fields, we would not have been able to overcome the difficulties on our own. The scientific staff of the Establishment, and especially that of the Reactor Operations Division, have put up a very creditable performance."

~ Nuclear India, Nov-Dec.2008

Three years after attaining Criticality, on October 15, 1963, CIRUS finally generated power output of 40 MWth for the first time.

Following revelation that the unsafeguarded CIRUS had borne the Plutonium for India's '74 PUNE, in the US & Canada, "बहुत बवाल खड़ा हो गया" अथवा "उनमे बवासीर के लक्षण दिखने लगे". Their support freezed, Reactor operation ceased, not.

Ball Tank - CIRUS Reactor - Gravity-driven Light Water Coolant

India continued operating the CIRUS till 1997, 37 years after going Critical. Following 5 years of inoperation, fissioning resumed from October 30, 2002.

Desalination Plant - CIRUS Reactor - India - 01
In the intervening period, BARC carried out extensive upgrades to it. This included integrating a Desalination Plant, in the primary Coolant circuit, that made use of the waste heat from the Reactor. Utilising low temperature vacuum evaporation process it produced 30 TPD of potable water. Other undertakings executed during this shutdown period included enhancing Reactor safety and addressing age-related degradation issues.

CIRUS Reactor - BARC - 12

As an Olive Branch gesture, more like a Fig Leaf measure, during negotiations for the 123 Programme, India agreed to shutting down the CIRUS, that did not come under the purview of the IAEA. It's detrimental impact on India's Nuclear pursuits would have been negligible, if any. By December 31, 2010, when Operators permanently ceased it's operations, the Reactor was more than half a century old - the oldest operational Reactor. Challenges of keeping operational such an old system are not without it's perils and pitfalls.

CIRUS Reactor - BARC - 12

For pursuits that India does not wish the world to gape at, it continues to operate Research Reactors that the IAEA has no jurisdiction over. India's Fast Reactor programmes, which include the upcoming Prototype Fast Breeder Reactor [PFBR], are also outside the ambit of the Vienna-based Organisation. Requirement of Plutonium [Pu-239] can be met introducing a blanket of Uranium-238 [U-238] in it's Core. In fact, a critical aim of the PFBR is to increase the country's Plutonium Stockpile.

India gave the Queen of England a tour of the CIRUS Reactor during her tour of India, in 1961.

Queen Elizabeth II - CIRUS Reactor - India - 1961


A very different world, people inhabited, then.

* - Took the liberty of conceiving the acronym. Please feel free to use it, without hesitation or attribution.


Also Read: Now, December 2021 - India's Prototype Fast Breeder Reactor [PFBR] To Go Critical