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India: Experimental thorium reactor critical

Nuclear Monitor Issue: 
(November 13, 1996) India's 30-kW non-power reactor Kamini went critical on October 29. The reactor is situated at the Indian Ghandi Center for Atomic Research (IGCAR) at Kalpakkam, near the southern city of Madras. The small research reactor is fuelled by uranium-233 and is a demonstration project for the proposed thorium use in India's nuclear fuel cycle.

(461.4577) WISE-Amsterdam - India's uranium resources are smaller (about 50,000-65,000 metric tons) than the amount of thorium which is about 330,000 metric tons. When natural thorium-232 in a reactor is bred with neutron uranium-233, it can be used as fuel. India has a so-called "three-stage nuclear program". In the first stage, plutonium is created in its pressurized heavy water reactors (PHWRs) and extracted by reprocessing. In the second stage, fast breeder reactors (FBRs) use this plutonium in 70-percent MOX-fuel to breed uranium-233 in a thorium blanket around the core. In the final stage, the FBR's use thorium-232 and produce uranium-233 for other reactors. (see also WISE NC 446.4426)

The first stage has been realized with India's 10 nuclear power plants. The second stage is only realized by a small experimental fast breeder reactor (13 MWe), at Kalpakkam. This reactor has a history with a lot of problems (as has been the case with the 10 nuclear reactors). The program of construction was delayed due to inadequate industrial support and lack of fuel. For instance France reneged on its commitment to provide support and fuel after India's 1974 nuclear bomb test. The reactor was opened in 1985 but it had a lot of troubles like pump failures, shutdowns due to faulty instrument signals, and turbine problems. In 1987 an accident occurred with refueling after which 23 fuel assemblies were knocked out of place in the core. The reactor was shut down for two years. This reactor is on top of a list of dangerous reactors in the country, according to a safety assessment of India's Atomic Energy Regulatory Board (AERB). The reactor has a lack of safety measures and cooling systems. (see also WISE NC 456.4526).

The new Kamini reactor would be the forerunner of future reactors that use uranium-233 produced by FBRs. According to officials, this reactor would help the development of FBRs that use weapons-grade plutonium from bombs. A drawing board concept of this fast breeder reactor is said to be available.


  • UPI, 29 October 1996
  • India Today, 30 November 1994
  • Nature, 31 October 1985
  • World Uranium Hearing - a Global Survey, September 1992.

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