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"Hall of Nuclear Power" New Delhi, Musical Walk-through

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5. What Is India’s Three-Stage Nuclear Power Programme?

The three-stage Indian nuclear power programme, formulated by Dr. Homi J. Bhabha in the 1950s, is a long-term programme spanning over several decades and consists of 3 sequential stages. The programme is designed to initially use natural uranium as nuclear fuel and eventually utilize the vast reserves of thorium available in the country, with an aim to provide long-term energy security for the nation for centuries. The three stages are explained as follows.
Stage 1:

Natural uranium-fuelled reactors
Uranium-235 present in the natural uranium fuel undergoes fission in the first-stage reactors (Pressurised Heavy Water Reactors – PHWRs) to generate electricity. Some plutonium-239 is also produced, to be used in the second-stage reactors.With 18 PHWRs in the country, the first stage of the programme has reached maturity.

LEU-fuelled LWRs
To speed up power generation in the country further, Pressurised Water Reactors belonging to Light Water Reactor category, using low-enriched uranium (LEU), are also being set up with international cooperation to serve as additional component to the first stage of the programme.
Stage 2:

Plutonium-fuelled reactors
The second stage employs Fast Breeder Reactors (FBRs) to use mixed-oxide fuel consisting of plutonium-239 obtained from the spent fuel of the first-stage reactors (PHWRs) and depleted uranium. Plutonium-239 undergoes fission to produce energy, whereas the uranium-238 present in depleted uranium undergoes transmutation to yield more plutonium-239, thus breeding more fuel than is consumed.Thorium is introduced in the blanket surrounding the reactor core at a later phase and is transmuted into uranium-233, to be used in the third-stage reactors. Based on the experience gained from the Fast Breeder Test Reactor, a 500-MW prototype FBR is currently being implemented, which is at an advanced stage of completion.
Stage 3:

Thorium reactors
In this stage, thorium reactors will use uranium-233–thorium-232 fuel cycle. Uranium-233 initiates the reactor and sustains it while thorium transmutes to produce more uranium-233. Uranium-233 undergoes fission to generate electricity on sustainable basis.

6. Is Nuclear Power Safe For People And Environment? What About India’s Safety Performance?

Nuclear power is clean, pollution-free and safe to humans and environment. India has an exemplary track record of safe operation of nuclear reactors spanning over the entire history of nearly five decades of nuclear power generation in the country.

7. How Are Indian Nuclear Power Plants Safe From Such Events As Tsunamis, Flooding, Earthquakes As Well As Man-Induced Events?

Nuclear reactors emit no carbon dioxide,  NOx, SO2, or other greenhouse gasses during operation. Over their full lifetimes, they result in comparable emissions to renewable forms of energy such as wind and solar . Nuclear energy requires less land use than almost any other form of energy.

NPPs are located in zones of low seismicity, based on detailed geo-technical studies and historical seismicity data Plant buildings and important systems are located at safe higher levels from the design basis flood levels, considering possibility of tsuanmis, floods etc.High-integrity thick concrete double-wall containment enclosing the reactor acts as radiation shield in the form of a leak-tight safety barrier as well as provides robust protection against man-induced events like impact by an aircraft.

8. How Is Safe Reactor Operation Ensured In Nuclear Power Plants?

Highest safety consideration forms the basis of every aspect of nuclear power plant, right from conceptualization, site selection, design, construction, equipment erection, operation, maintenance, renovation and maintenance and plant life extension.
For safe operation, nuclear power plants are designed with a philosophy of defence-in-depth. This safety philosophy entails availability of engineered safety systems that are diverse, multiple, independent and fail-safe. Apart from active safety systems, safety is further reinforced by passive safety systems that can actuate and function completely without needing any human action or electricity at all and, as they depend on the never-failing natural principles such as gravity, inertia/conservation of momentum, pressure differential, convection, etc. Some Examples of passive safety systems are Passve Heat Removal System, Hydrogen Recombiners, Core Catcher and Hydro Accumulators.
In addition to this, multiple overlapping physical barriers exist to prevent the release of radioactivity into the public domain.
Nuclear power plants are designed for utmost safety and operated by qualified and licenced operators.

9. How Is Nuclear Sector Regulated In India? Atomic Energy Regulatory Board (AERB) Is The Independent Regulatory Body To Regulate The Nuclear Sector In India.

AERB develops safety standards, codes, guides and manuals for both nuclear and radiation facilities, covering all aspects such as siting, design, construction, operation, quality assurance, decommissioning and regulation. It also grants consents and ensures compliance in this respect through a detailed review process, for the protection of site personnel, the public and the environment from unacceptable radiological hazards.

10. What Measures Have Been Taken After The Japan’s Fukushima Events To Enhance Nuclear Safety?

Post-Fukushima safety review of the existing Indian nuclear power plants in operation and construction by the task forces of NPCIL and an independent committee of Atomic Energy Regulatory Board (AERB) have found that ample safety margins and provisions exist in the designs of Indian nuclear power plants for their safe operation even during stressful events. The Indian nuclear power plants are found safe against extreme natural events like severe earthquake and tsunami, and to make them safer, the significant recommendations arising out of the post-Fukushima review have already been implemented and safety is reviewed continually.

11. Do Nuclear Power Plants Cause Cancer?

No. This is a misconception based on inadequate and inaccurate information. Decades of independent international scientific studies have found no linkage between the operation of NPPs and cancer. Cancer is caused by several factors, including genetic as well as behavioral factors. It is noteworthy here that the incidence of cancer is the highest in India in the northeast region even though there is no nuclear plant there.

In addition, a comprehensive study has been conducted for all employees of nuclear power plants of the country for 15 years from 1995 to 2010, by the premier cancer research institution Tata Memorial Centre, TMC. The study found that the health issues among the employees of nuclear power plants were less there than those among the general public, especially less in respect of cancer. The number of cancer cases in natural environment is 98.50 per lakh, whereas it is only 54.05 per lakh in the case of nuclear plant employees. Deaths due to cancer in the general population in India are 68 per lakh, whereas only 29.05 per lakh among NPCIL employees.

12. How Is Nuclear Power Effective In Fighting Global Warming And Climate Change?

Man-made greenhouse gases are major contributors to global warming. A nuclear power plant operates without emitting greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide and nitrous oxide. This emissions-free electricity helps mankind in its fight against global warming and climate change. Some greenhouse emissions do occur during mining and processing of nuclear fuel and also during the setting up of nuclear power plant, but nuclear power generation itself does not involve any greenhouse-gas emissions. Thus, the carbon footprint of nuclear power generation, even on life-cycle basis, is among the lowest in the mainstream power generation technologies.

13. What Is The Role Of International Cooperation In Nuclear Energy?

After decades of forced isolation, India is now re-integrated with the global nuclear community. Our country is now pursuing active partnerships with several countries like the USA, the Russian Federation, Canada, France, South Korea and Australia. Indeed, we are now setting up a series of Pressurized Water Reactors in India with technical international cooperation. This will be an additional component of nuclear power generation apart from our own indigenous Pressurized Heavy Water Reactors, Fast Breeder Reactors and thorium reactors.

Other aspect of cooperation is our engagement with international bodies, especially International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and World Association of Nuclear Operators (WANO) – for international peer reviews and for implementing industry best practices for taking the safety paradigm to the next level.

After decades of forced isolation, India is now re-integrated with the global nuclear community. Our country is now pursuing active partnerships with several countries like the USA, the Russian Federation, Canada, France, South Korea and Australia. Indeed, we are now setting up a series of Pressurized Water Reactors in India with technical international cooperation. This will be an additional component of nuclear power generation apart from our own indigenous Pressurized Heavy Water Reactors, Fast Breeder Reactors and thorium reactors.

Other aspect of cooperation is our engagement with international bodies, especially International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and World Association of Nuclear Operators (WANO) – for international peer reviews and for implementing industry best practices for taking the safety paradigm to the next level.

14. What Is Natural Background Radiation? Does It Come Out Of A Nuclear Power Plant?

Natural background radiation is the radiation found in nature that is present everywhere and at all the time. The main sources of natural background are the sun, cosmic rays and the radioactive elements present everywhere in the earth’s crust. In comparison to the natural background radiation, the doses from the operation of a nuclear power plant are extremely small, indeed negligible and well below the prescribed statutory limits.

15. What Effect Does A Nuclear Power Plant Have On Rivers, Lakes And Oceans?

Nuclear power plant uses water from natural sources like rivers, lakes and oceans for cooling. When released back into the original source, the water is only slightly warmer (only 5 degree Centigrade warmer than the intake temperature), conforming to the Pollution Control Board norms. This slightly warm water upon returning is quickly absorbed by the large body of water. Thermal-ecological studies have found no impact of cooling water on fisheries, aquatic and marine life or humans whatsoever. In fact, fish and other forms of life thrive in plenty and the environment in the vicinity of a nuclear power plant is monitored by an Environmental Survey Laboratories – an independent body that is a part of the Health Physics division of Bhabha Atomic Research Centre.

16. Are There Any Limits For Safe Radiation Doses For Plant Workers And General Public? Who Decides Them?

In India, Atomic Energy Regulatory Board prescribes guidelines as well as stringent safe exposure dose limits. For occupational workers employed in nuclear power plants, operators at radiation facilities like X-ray CT-scan diagnostic centers, medical research institutions, industrial units, etc., the exposure limit is set at an average of 20 mSv per year over five years, whereas for members of the public the exposure dose limit is 1 mSv per year. This is in conformity with the limits prescribed by International Commission on Radiological Protection, ICRP.

17. It Is Said That Nuclear Waste Is Very Useful. Is It True?

Nuclear waste is rather a misnomer. It is actually partially used nuclear fuel. India follows a closed-fuel cycle, for which nuclear waste is not waste but a rich resource of fuel for further use in the subsequent stages of India’s three-stage nuclear power programme.
This comprehensive approach involving fast breeder reactors drastically improves fuel utilization and indeed multiplies fuel, thereby yielding much more electricity generation per given amount of fuel used.

18. How Is Nuclear Waste Managed?

Nuclear power generation requires extremely small quantities of fuel and the waste produced in a nuclear power plant is extremely small in volume. Other power-producing technologies simply throw their waste directly into the environment, whereas nuclear industry deals with it responsibly and in a professional manner.

At nuclear power plants, only low- and intermediate-level nuclear waste containing radioactive substances with short half-life is generated. The waste produced in a nuclear power plant is stored safely at specially constructed storage facilities within the plant premises, without affecting the environment. The waste is fixed in cement, glass and polymer. It is immobilized and placed in high-integrity containers inside a pit. This ensures that the radioactive waste is completely insulated from the environment.

The radioactivity level of the stored waste reduces with time and by the end of the plant life, falls to normal levels.

All Indian nuclear power plants have fully developed technology to manage spent fuel effectively and store it safely.

19. What Are The Advantages Of Thorium As A Nuclear Fuel?

Uranium is a nuclear fuel of fissile variety, whereas thorium is not fissile but rather a fertile nuclear fuel. By neutron irradiation, thorium can be transmuted into a fissile nuclear fuel, namely, uranium-233.

India has large reserves of thorium – about one-third of the world.
Dr. Homi J. Bhabha, known as the father of India’s nuclear power programme, foresaw the vast potential of thorium as a nuclear fuel. Accordingly, Dr. Bhabha formulated and initiated the Indian three-stage nuclear power programme, in which the third stage would make large-scale thorium utilization in the coming years.

There are several other advantages of thorium. Some of them are:

Thorium has the potential to provide long-term energy security for India for several centuries
Thorium is 3 to 4 times more abundant than uranium and is fairly widely distributed on the earth
Thorium cycle produces very little plutonium or long-lived actinides
Thorium can be utilized far more efficiently
Thorium reactors can be potentially less expensive because of their simpler designs
Thorium fuel is virtually impossible to be used for clandestine purposes, as uranium-232 produced in the thorium fuel cycle can be very easily detected during transportation and storage

20. Apart From Power Generation, What Are The Other Uses Of Nuclear Energy?

Electric power generation is the largest and most visible use of nuclear energy. But apart from electricity generation there are many other ways in which nuclear energy contributes significantly. Indeed, our everyday life is touched by one or more of such applications. For example, radioisotopes are used in medicine, research, industry, agriculture etc. for a wide range of applications. Cancer diagnosis and treatment is one of the most beneficial non-power uses of nuclear technology in the form of radiation therapy. Likewise, radiopharmaceuticals are used for various diagnostic procedures and treatment. Technetium-99m is widely used as a radioactive tracer in medical diagnosis. Irradiation of food stops the growth of microorganisms, thereby extending the shelf life of agricultural produce. Radiation is also used for developing draught-resistant, disease-resistant, early-maturing and high-yielding crop varieties. Smoke detector alarms use the radioisotope americium-241. Several other radioisotopes have in industrial applications. As you must have guessed by now, the list of non-power applications of nuclear technology is indeed very long.


21. Can A Nuclear Power Plant Explode Like An Atomic Bomb?

No. A nuclear power plant cannot explode like an atomic bomb even in worst possible circumstances. This is because, umlike an atomic bomb, nuclear power plants either use natural uranium or low-enriched uranium, in which fissile uranium (U-235) is present in very low concentrations. Also, the geometry of the fuel configuration is such that a nuclear power plant simply cannot explode like an atomic bomb.

It is noteworthy to mention that the explosions at Japan’s Fukushima reactors in 2011 were not nuclear explosions bur chemical explosions of accumulated hydrogen. In fact, metal-water reaction at high temperatures generated the hydrogen that caused the chemical explosions.

22. How Is The Health Of The Environment In The Vicinity Of A Nuclear Power Plant Assessed?

Prior to the setting up of nuclear power plants of NPCIL, an independent Environment Survey Laboratory (ESL) is established under the control of Bhabha Atomic Research Centre (BARC) at each nuclear power plant site. ESL conducts detailed studies round the year to monitor various health-related parameters and the data collected is analyzed. These studies cover various environmental matrices like air, water, soil, grass, crops, cereals, fruits, eggs, fish, goat thyroid, etc. Their reports over the years have shown that the radiation dose to population at the fence resulting from the existing nuclear power plants in the country is only about 1.5% of the authorized dose limit prescribed by Atomic Energy Regulatory Board (AERB) and is a small fraction of the natural background radiation. The doses at further distances are still lower.

23. Can A Chernobyl Type Accident Take Place In Indian Nuclear Power Plants?

Chernobyl reactor was of 1950s vintage in a communist Soviet era, with graphite core and with practically no containment structure around the reactor. A Chernobyl-type accident is not possible today, as no reactor in the world today has such a vulnerable design.
All modern nuclear reactors, including Indian reactors, have double containment, among several other layers of multiple safety systems, and they do not have graphite cores. In essence, a Chernobyl-type accident, under similar conditions, simply cannot happen in Indian nuclear reactors.

24. Is Nuclear Power Renewable?

Not in the true sense of the word ‘renewable’, but if we operate nuclear power plants with breeding, or using uranium extracted from the ocean (nearly unlimited, but also expensive), or using alternative nuclear fuels like thorium, then nuclear power can easily be considered sustainable.

25. Is Nuclear Energy 'Green'?

Nuclear power generated from the state-of-the-art plant eliminates airborne waste products. In addition, it creates relatively small volumes of radioactive wastes. When compared with the fossil fuel generated wastes, nuclear waste is much lesser in volume and can be controlled easily.

26. How Long Does Nuclear Fuel Stay In A Reactor?

Typically, a reactor cycle is that of 12-24 months. Later one-third of the fuel is replaced with newly generated fuel. This fact establishes that nuclear fuel stays in the reactor for between 3 and 5 years before it can be discharged.

27. What's A Meltdown?

A melt down occurs when a reactor heats up out so much that the fuel melts. It can prove dangerous but far less dangerous than a nuclear bomb or an explosion. It is not an explosion of a chain reaction that will lead to a huge amount of radiation.

28. Who Is Responsible For The Safety of Nuclear Power Plants?

The Government of each nation who uses nuclear technology is responsible for the safety of their respective plants. It sets certain protocols in terms of reducing radiation risks, regulating the safe decommissioning of facilities and safe disposal of radioactive waste and monitoring releases of radioactive substances to the environment. IAEA (International Atomic Energy Agency) has laid down a framework for global nuclear safety and security for the protection of people, society and environment.

29. What Is India's 3-Stage Nuclear Power Programme?

In view of the limited fossil fuel availability with the country, the relevance of Nuclear Power in meeting the short and long-term needs of our energy was recognised right at the initial stage. From the very beginning, as a long-term strategy, the Nuclear Power Programme formulated by Dr Homi Bhabha embarked on the three-stage nuclear power programme, linking the fuel cycle of Pressurised Heavy Water Reactor (PHWR) and Fast Breeder Reactor (FBR) for judicious utilisation of our limited reserves of Uranium and vast Thorium reserves. The emphasis of the programme was self-reliance and thorium utilisation as a long term objective. The PHWR was chosen due to extensive research and development facilities covering diverse areas for supporting technology absorption.
The 3 stages of our Nuclear Power Programme are:

Stage-I: Uses Natural Uranium based, Heavy Water Moderated and Cooled Pressurised Heavy Water Reactors (PHWRs). Spent fuel from these reactors is reprocessed to obtain Plutonium.

Stage-II: Envisages construction of Fast Breeder Reactors (FBRs) fuelled by Plutonium produced in stage-I. These reactors would also breed U-233 from Thorium.

Stage-III: would comprise power reactors using Uranium-233 / Thorium as fuel.

30. How Is The Environment Surrounding A Nuclear Plant Monitored?

This is done by the Environmental Survey Laboratory (ESL) set up well before starting the operation of the plant. The ESL collects data on the forest, flora and fauna, marine products, food and air etc., to set up base level data on their quality prior to the commencement of the operation of the plant. Samples are drawn and regularly analysed to ascertain the status on a continuous basis. The ESL functions are independent of plant authorities and the data collected is checked by the regulatory authorities for control purposes.

31. What Are India's Available Energy Resources?

India's available energy resources are shown in the following table:
Identified Energy Reserves
Coal - 186 billion tonnes
Lignite - 5,060 million tonnes
Crude Oil - 728 million tonnes
Natural Gas - 686 billion Cu m
Uranium - 78,000 tonnes
Thorium - 3,63,000 tonnes
Hydro - 84,000 MW at 60% Plant Load Factor
Biomass - 6000 MWe
Wind, Solar, etc. - 20,000 MWe