Chennai: India's first fast reactor fuel cycle facility (FRFCF) involving an outlay of around Rs.9,600 crore got the centre's nod recently, said a top atomic energy sector official.
"The union cabinet recently gave its green signal for the FRFCF (or fuel reprocessing facility) project to be set up in Kalpakkam," R.K. Sinha, secretary, department of atomic energy (DAE) and chairman of atomic energy commission (AEC), told IANS over phone from Mumbai.
Work on the project is expected to start later this year.
"We have to issue tenders for high value items. This will be followed by placing orders. Construction is expected to start at the end of this year," P.R. Vasudeva Rao, director, Indira Gandhi Centre for Atomic Research (IGCAR), told IANS.
The facility will cater to the upcoming Rs.5,677 crore 500 MW prototype fast breeder reactor (PFBR) at Kalpakkam, around 70 km from here.
"The earliest the project starts is better for us as we need not go to the government for fresh fuel supplies. We are happy with the government's decision," Prabhat Kumar, chairman and managing director, Bharatiya Nabhikiya Vidyut Nigam Ltd (BHAVINI), told IANS.
He said the capacity of the proposed facility should be that it could process around two-third of the 181 fuel bundles loaded in PFBR.
A fast-breeder reactor is one which breeds more material for a nuclear fission reaction than it consumes. It is the key to India's three-stage nuclear power programme.
According to Kumar, a fuel cycle facility near the PFBR eliminates the transport risk of fuel bundles.
For the fuel reprocessing facility to be functional the PFBR should first go on stream which is expected to happen next year.
According to Rao, the fuel reprocessing facility - with little augmentation - can also cater to the needs of two more fast breeder reactors of similar nature that are being planned at Kalpakkam.
He said the PFBR uses plutonium-based fuel, which is an important resource for India, and cannot be wasted. It is a high-value project and has to be done on time so that PFBR is not constrained for fuel.
Officials said the fuel cycle facility may come under a separate board as many units of DAE like the Nuclear Fuel Complex and the Bhabha Atomic Research Centre (BARC) will be involved in the proposed project.
"Fuel is owned by the government and is leased to the power plant. The waste is also the responsibility of the government," an official told IANS.
Tasked with the mandate of developing fast breeder reactors, IGCAR will be steering the project.
The fuel cycle facility might employ around 1,500 people and may take four or five years to come into play. Till then, PFBR will be storing the fuel at its complex, Kumar said.
(Venkatachari Jagannathan can be contacted at email@example.com)