India Build’s Its First High Purity Sodium Plant

India’s Department of Atomic Energy (DAE) is setting up India’s first nuclear grade sodium plant. It will produce 600 tons per year of sodium.

High purity sodium is used in fast breeder reactors and in the manufacture of insecticides, synthetic detergent, dyes, vitamins and drugs.

16 thoughts on “India Build’s Its First High Purity Sodium Plant”

  1. PS when I did the calculation, my setup had used about 8 kWh to make the kilogram of Na. Way more than the theoretical 2.3 kWh/kg, but hey… it was just a lab experiment.  

    I had dreamed, even back then, of using enough power to be able to turn off the Meeker burner, wrap the thing in refractory wool, and from internal heat stay indefinitely molten.  With a little motor-and-pusher to add more NaCl every so often to keep ‘er topped up. I figured it could have been done had I a 1 kW power supply at 20 volts. Getting rid of the chlorine tho’, that was a problem. Man that stuff gets into everything.  

    (Hood? What is a hood? … ah, youth. Boundless enthusiasm unblemished by health concerns…)

    (double PS: I also learned that at molten-salt temperatures, sodium metal is a really good electrical and thermal conductor. Again “accidentally”, within a couple days, I found it convenient to use the sodium pool as an electrode and heat-transfer pool. The problem then became “how to keep the other electrode” from touching. Constant adjustment.)

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    ⋅-=≡ GoatGuy ✓ ≡=-⋅

  2. 4 PWR and one FBR sounds good.

    So, does this work out if a 1.2GWe PWR reload needs 1.8T of fissile?

    I kind of think you might be shutting down the FBR every 100 days for (de)fueling with a breeding ratio as low as 1.05 at BN800 heat rates. IIRC, that Rx is configured to burn at this time…

    Interesting little spreadsheet arithmetic problem… how big must the FBR be and what breeding ratio with what fat (margin) in the balance….? obviously done over countless times by hundreds of engineers over the last 70 years……. 🙂

  3. Pb also eats steel and requires a slag removal system with crud traps. Lead sucks…. AFAIK no breeders been made with PbBi.

  4. The main problem with lead is mostly corrosion. Reactor has to last for 60+ years, and be structurally safe. Lead is a tricky coolant because of oxygen impurity: too much, and it oxidises, oxides build up on immersed surfaces, which is very bad for heat exchangers and other immersed machinery; too little, and it corrodes structural alloys, which is even worse. Good material pairs were developed for sodium, but that is not quite done yet for lead. This description may not be accurate, but the general sense is such. So they are building a smaller prototype (300MW), probably to be followed by a medium one (600MW or so), or they may go directly to full-size 1200MW industrial design (BR-1200), simply because a decision finally has to be made on sodium-lead dilemma.

    As for NaK, well, it is known good reactor coolant, and plenty of NaK is now floating in orbit inside (or near) dead nuclear-powered satellites. But in wet oxygen atmosphere one has to keep in mind that while sodium burns, potassium explodes. And that is traditionally considered a disadvantage in nuclear design. 🙂

  5. No, prbably not (difficulty).

    I — as a youth of only 14 years — created a terribly unauthorized chem-lab project to make sodium from molten table salt. It was hardly hard at all!

    Just a big old Meeker burner (kind of a bunsen on steroids), a large quartz test tube (I mean … large! 3 cm diameter, 25 cm long!), a bunch of refractory wool and some nichrome wires. And a 12 volt, 20 amp DC power supply.

    With much (sigh… much!) fiddling, finally got both leads into the thing, got the salt molten, got it all set up with clamps and such to make it reasonably safe … and turned on the power supply.

    Within an hour, half of the salt as gone, and there was a large blob of liquid sodium on the bottom of the test tube. And the lab smelt of pungent chlorine gas.

    Opened the windows, turned everything off, and let it cool.

    Way fun!

    By the end of summer, I had just over a kilogram of homemade sodium.
    The hard part was conjuring up an argon-gas supply.

    Having a big jug of mineral oil, half full, with the top full-up with argon, made it relatively easy to pour the liquid sodium-and-salt to the oil.

    And long tweezers to retrieve the salt chunks, to make more.
    Every day, more sodium.

    I was rather amazed that the nichrome didn’t “wear out” for either the positive or negative electrode.

    ⋅-=≡ GoatGuy ✓ ≡=-⋅

  6. Unlike sodium, which tends to catch fire in air, should there be a leak, … or … if it touches water … or well … and so on, lead is functionally inert, even up to red-heat temperatures.  

    Its only real “problem” is that some of its isotopes are fairly efficient neutron absorbers. Which leads to at least the “inner loop” becoming radioactive over time. 

    The other “problem” is that it has a much higher melting temperature, leading a cold reactor to an extended (time) slow-turn-on. Its not a very good heat conductor, so … preheating is an issue. 

    By comparison, potassium-sodium eutectic is liquid all the way down to about 10° BELOW freezing (of water). It is often used as the “secondary loop” due to that alone. Even in lead reactors. Makes it so much easier to get the reactor started when the secondary loop is always a liquid, from ice-cold start up to full operating temperature. 

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    ⋅-=≡ GoatGuy ✓ ≡=-⋅

    PS: but hey… I’m pretty certain that if this Na metal plant gets going full-scale, it wouldn’t take much (at all!) to duplicate it, at a scaled plus-up. That, and when there are 4 or more plants going, any one of them can be slipped over to making potassium, without even changing the equipment. KCl electrolyzes just as readily as NaCl.

  7. Well, considering the construction time, even that tiny capacity would be enough for several mid-size reactors, or a full-size commercial one like BN-1200 (no numbers for that yet).
    Doubtful that any country will go into serious breeding in our lifetime. Russians considered it, ans still are considering it, but it looks like they will go with 4+1 hybrid nuclear fuel cycle: 4 VVER + 1 fast reactor of yet to be selected variety. As these things go, that means a decision to live with until year 2100 at the very least. China will probably do the same. Others are way behind on fast reactors, thus ever farther out on any decision, or not even involved. So the need for pure sodium is not huge for the next few decades. And then, if Russians do their lead design well, sodium may not be needed at any scale, as lead is supposed to be an economically better choice, once it works. The only advantage of sodium at this time is that is already works.

  8. Yah… which is why I wrote the comment. 600 t/year is … kind of tiny. (The SALT reduction would be 4 to 4½ t/day, but the sodium, less than 1.7 t/day)

    If they had an extra zero… well, that’d be big. 17 t/day would definitely fill up a 1,500 ton or 2,000 ton Russian BN design in 80 to 120 days. That’s the way to get hi-breeding ratio nuclear power going. 

    ⋅-⋅-⋅ Just saying, ⋅-⋅-⋅
    ⋅-=≡ GoatGuy ✓ ≡=-⋅

  9. Russian BN-600 is filled with 1500 tons of sodium (0.9995 pure), meaning that capacity (4.2tpd) would take a year to fill one such reactor. BN-800 needs 2000 tons.

  10. I have been negative about some of their space stuff because of the obvious basic needs going unfulfilled.

    That would put you on the skeptical side of Wang’s thesis in his recent post “Technology Progresses While Problems Remain Unsolved“.

    There are basic needs issue in America as well, not in the same numbers as India but still not trivial. A large existing cultural norm is it’s not the govt’s job to take care of people who are less successful at taking care of themselves. Redistributing money from those who are successful at acquiring money to those who are less successful at that task is frowned upon in the extreme. Even if the govt in India and America stops spending on space or the military etc, they will not spend money to uplift the floor. The result will be the same basic needs issues except you will not have a space program nor military etc.

  11. Got to heat it up too, it takes some additional energy to melt the salt then raise it up to probably about 850 C. Then some more cost for scrubbing the chlorine off-gas.

  12. Throw in the effort for sodium isotope separation required for a fast spectrum molten salt reactor application.

  13. I have been negative about some of their space stuff because of the obvious basic needs going unfulfilled. So I want to say, this investment is a good one. This has the prospect of making things better…contributing more than is invested. Congrats!

  14. Am I underestimating the difficulty here?

    This news seems to imply that they will be able to fill their pool type fast reactor when they finish it.

  15. Basically, sodium chloride is heated until it becomes molten. Sub-red temperature. Then it is electrolysed. Just like aluminum. In a ‘suitable box’ of both ceramic and iron-based bottom.  


    Doing the Gibbs Free Energy math, and an electroytic conversion efficiency of 80% (about the same as aluminum), –385 kJ/mol nominal enthalpy of formation, liquid. 

    So, let’s see. 

    MW = 22.99 Na + 35.45 Cl
    MW = 58.44 NaCl

    17.11 mol/kg ← 1000 g/kg ÷ 58.44 g

    Energy of production
    = 8.25 MJ/kg ← 17.11 mol × 0.385 MJ/mol ÷ 0.800 η efficiency
    = 2.29 kWh/kg

    2.29 kWh × 14 ¢/kWh (California) = 32 ¢/kg of salt.  

    600 t = 600,000 kg Na

    Na is (23 ⁄ 58.44) = 39.4% of the mass of NaCl.

    600,000 kg ÷ 0.394 = 1,500,000 kg NaCl electrolyzed per year
    1,500,000 kg ÷ 365 = 4,200 kg/day 

    There you are. 

    Could be driven by a 400 kW power source. About the same as a large 16 cylinder diesel heavy-hauler truck engine. Doesn’t sound so big, converted back to that, does it?

    ⋅-⋅-⋅ Just saying, ⋅-⋅-⋅
    ⋅-=≡ GoatGuy ✓ ≡=-⋅

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