2014 could be the year of the fast neutron nuclear reactor with the Russia 800 MWe Beloyarsk 4 and the Indian 470 MWe Kalpakkam set to start

Commissioning is about to start at Russia’s forthcoming fast reactor, Beloyarsk 4. After a lengthy construction period, engineers are preparing for criticality in April 2014.

The unit will be a 789 MWe fast-neutron reactor of the BN-800 design, fuelled by a mix of uranium and plutonium oxides arranged to produce new fuel material as it burns. The electricity will go to the central Sverdlovsk region of Russia, where regional governor Yevgeny Kuyzashev said it would support industrial investment.

The ‘physical launch’ of the new reactor was permitted by safety regulator Rostekhnadzor on 26 December. This entitled project leader AtomEnergoProekt (Saint Petersburg branch) to firstly load nuclear fuel and begin tests of safety systems. Test operation at the minimum power level is also permitted as a second step, to confirm the proper operation of control systems and instrumentation.

Sodium coolant is already in place and nuclear fuel has been delivered to the site. The steps outlined above should be complete by April 2014, said Rosatom, with commerical operation coming by the end of the year.

Beloyarsk 4 will be the most powerful fast reactor unit in the world at 789 MWe. This exceeds Beloyarsk 3’s 560 MWe as well as the 246 MWe of Monju in Japan. France’s Super-Phenix was more powerful at 1200 MWe, but this was closed in 1997. Another fast reactor is under construction in India at Kalpakkam which will produce 470 MWe when it starts up, also in 2014.

Russia is planning to construct a larger BN-1200 fast reactor power unit at Beloyarsk to start up by 2020, while cooperating with China to build two BN-800 units there.

India’s Prototype Fast Breeder Reactor (PFBR) is expected to go critical in September 2014, around the very time India’s Mars Orbiter reaches orbit around the Red Planet.

When the PFBR goes critical, India will have entered the second phase of a three-stage nuclear programme, the visionary plan for which was laid as far back as 1958 by Homi Jehangir Bhabha, the ‘Father of the Indian nuclear programme.

India has a third of the world’s thorium reserves. Bhabha decided that in the long run, India’s N-programme should run on thorium. India has a three-stage nuclear plan to get to Thorium power

Stage 1. India would build a series of heavy water reactors and fuel them with natural uranium. From the spent fuel, India would derive plutonium, a highly concentrated fuel which could be used for both weapons and future fast breeder reactors (FBR).

Stage 2. When there was enough plutonium available to fuel FBRs, which produce (‘breed’) more plutonium than they consume as fuel. Thorium, after irradiation in FBRs would be converted to U-233, which can be used in the third stage reactors along with more thorium. Theoretically, once India begins to run many breeders, they are assured of a ‘perpetual’ supply of fuel for those reactors.

Stage 3. The Advanced Heavy Water Reactor (AHWR) has been designed and will be taken up for construction in the near future. The Prototype FBR at Kalpakkam thus represents the beginning of the stage 2 of the nuclear programme. The plan may look simple, but it has been a big challenge these past decades to get to where we are.

Japan has 16 nuclear reactors that have begun procedures and applications for restarting operation

In Japan, sixteen nuclear reactors have begun procedures for restarting operation.

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