Page 61 - IACC Newsletter October November 2013 Issue 13

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In exchange for this, India had to agree to separate its civilian facilities from its military facilities and allow regular
inspection of its civilian establishment by the IAEA. India can enrich and reprocess its own fuel in its own reactors, but
foreign-sourced fuel and technology may not be used.
India is the only non-signatory of the Nuclear Proliferation Treaty (NPT) that has been granted these privileges, making it,
some say, a de facto member of the N-5 (five recognized nuclear powers). However, the US has stressed that India is not a
de jure member and that is all that matters. In addition, the N-5 has certain benefits that India does not have: they have
no compulsion to allow IAEA inspections, and they can change the designation of their nuclear facilities as military and
civilian at any time.
I have heard something about nuclear civil liability...?
Any venture requires insurance. India’s Civil Liability for Nuclear Damages Act creates the framework within which nuclear
power plants may be operated. India’s rule on this deviate from the international norm in that India allows the liability for
damages to go all the way back to the supplier whereas the operator is usually the final stop. This has caused much
concern among international reactor suppliers such as Toshiba-Westinghouse, GE-Hitachi, Areva, and Atomstroyexport.
As a result, the fruits expected from the opening of the civilian nuclear market to India have not been as forthcoming.
There are other issues with the CLNDA, one of which is the high insurance liability limit upon the operator. Given the
minuscule size of the nuclear industry in India, there is an insufficient asset base to pool risk. As a result, the present Rs.
500 crore limit, though on the lower side, is too high for a fledgling industry.
People keep mentioning Homi Bhabha’s three-stage nuclear programme...?
India’s first nuclear footsteps were taken even before independence in 1944 when Homi Bhabha wrote to JRD Tata for
funds to set up what would become the Tata Institute of Fundamental Research. Seeing that India did not have an
abundant supply of uranium, Bhabha theorized that thorium could be used as nuclear fuel instead of uranium. India had
plenty of thorium and would thus be independent of the vagaries of international nuclear politics.
In the first stage, natural uranium (U-238) would be burned with heavy water as a moderator. One of the by-products of
this process would be plutonium, which would be used in the second stage in a mixed oxide fuel (MOX) mixture with more
natural uranium. In this stage, the plutonium is burned to induce transmutation in the natural uranium to make more
plutonium than is burned. Once a sufficient stock of plutonium is created, thorium can be introduced into the reactor as a
blanket to undergo transmutation into U-233, another fissile isotope of uranium. In the third stage, the reactor would be
fuelled by a mix of thorium and U-233. After the initial fuel loading, the reactor can then continue on only thorium.
There are some scientific disputes over how long it will take for India to build up a sufficient plutonium inventory. While
the Department of Atomic Energy (DAE) is confident that it can be achieved in about ten years, critics say it is more likely
to take 70. US scientists agree with the DAE’s estimates if certain fuel choices are made and technologies used, but given
India’s inefficient nuclear infrastructure, a decade might be on the optimistic side.
Thorium reactors are significantly safer than present reactors. They burn fuel more efficiently and generate less waste, are
useless as sources of fissile materials for a weapons programme, and the waste generated is far less radioactive and for
less time.
10. What happened at Chernobyl, Fukushima, and Three Mile Island?
The Three Mile Island incident happened in 1979. In essence, a mechanical failure of a valve allowed large amounts of
coolant to escape from the reactor. As a result, the reactor overheated and a partial meltdown occurred. No cancer has
been detected in the surrounding population as a result of the accident, and 98% of the people in the area were confident
enough to return to their homes within three weeks of the accident. One of the reactors at the two-reactor complex is still