As India piles up uranium, enrichment facilities are needed

As India piles up uranium, enrichment facilities are needed

5:19 AM, 22nd December 2015
As India piles up uranium, enrichment facilities are needed
Uranium ore. © File photo

BENGALURU, INDIA: As India piles up uranium to create a ‘strategic reserve’ for the future, it will need enrichment plants like the one proposed in Chitradurga district (Karnataka), as raw uranium cannot be used directly at plants to make fuel, experts said.

Explaining why enriching facilities are important for a nation looking to increase its energy production using nuclear fuel, a source said: “Raw uranium cannot be used to make nuclear fuel. It has to be enriched into an isotope, before which you store it as uranium oxide concentrate.” He said that the isotopes finally need to be made into pellets that are loaded into the fuel assembly.

The centre is clear that it has to procure and store uranium, a naturally-occurring mineral, while it is available at convenient rates internationally, to ensure that reactors under the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) safeguards don't face any shortage. Out of the 21 reactors (installed capacity is 5,780 MWe) operational in the country, 13 (3,380 MWe) are under the IAEA safeguards.

Through IAEA safeguards, the agency provides "credible" assurances that India is honouring its international obligations to use nuclear material only for peaceful purposes.

The plant in Mysuru is not open to IAEA inspection or safeguard, and the Challakere one is barely a plant with clearing of shrubs and excavation having just begun. The defence needs of India are largely led by nuclear-powered submarines, besides the warheads, which international organisations peg to be over 100, while Indian officials remain mum.

A 2011 New Delhi Cable released by Wikileaks revaled that reactors in India were not working their full capacity due to shortage of uranium in 2008. According to the cable, which was based on opinions from a visiting group of experts from the US, “BARC engineers indicated to experts during the tour that Dhruva reactor (in Trombay) was operating at 400Kw, less than half of capacity, because of the shortage of uranium fuel.”

The country has been importing uranium, mostly from Kazakhstan and long-time partner Russia, while a deal has been struck with Canada during PM Narendra Modi’s recent visit, and talks with Australia have fructified.

According to documents 2,680.47 tonne of uranium has been imported from Russia and Kazakhstan between March 2011 and March 2015.

The agreement with Kazakhstan covers an import of 5,000 MT of uranium ore concentrate over a period of five years.

© Times of India News

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