India about to step up its renewable energy game

India about to step up its renewable energy game
A gigantic nuclear facility to be commissioned this year in India could potentially become the country's most significant renewable energy source. The fast breeder-style reactor will be one of a kind using special thorium rods.

The 500 MW reactor is being constructed in the city of Kalpakkam on the shores of the Bay of Bengal. It is part of a massive three-part nuclear energy strategy.

Fast breeder reactors (FBR) are different from conventional nuclear plants. They generate more atomic fuel than they consume as they work.

According to Mikhail Chudakov, Deputy Director General of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), "these reactors are a bridge to the future as they can supply an almost unlimited supply of electricity.”

“Fast 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,” said the Director General of IAEA Yukiya Amano.

The US, Japan, and France have tried to develop their own fast breeder technologies, but they haven't been successful because of technical and safety reasons.

India's economic growth requires mega quantities of electricity and has been working on the FBR technology for 27 years. It has partnered with Russia's state atomic energy corporation Rosatom to develop next-generation nuclear reactors and to participate in its fast breeder research project.

At the moment, the world's only commercially operating fast breeder reactor is in the Ural Mountains of Russia at the Beloyarsk nuclear power plant.

Russia has been operating a fast breeder reactor called BN 600 since 1980. In 2016, Rosatom commercially commissioned the BN 800 fast breeder reactor. The reactor produces about 800 MW of electricity supplying the Ural region.

Russian fast breeder reactors utilize elemental uranium while India’s will use thorium rods.

India has more reserves of thorium than any other country with 25 percent of the global reserves. Estimated at 360,000 tons, it far outweighs natural uranium deposits of 70,000 tons. Fast breeder reactors are India’s long-term goal of establishing a fuel cycle to exploit the abundant resources.

Traditionally, nuclear reactors use a rare isotope of uranium called U-235 while a majority of U-238 isotopes are left unused. But in FBRs, highly-accelerated neurons can use U-238, considered atomic waste, and turn it into usable fuel.

Moreover, FBRs also generate less waste compared to traditional nuclear power plants and are much safer than conventional atomic power plants. Nuclear waste is in itself hazardous, and it’s a costly to safeguard.