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India’s first indigenously designed fast breeder reactor, which is expected to start functioning at Kalpakkam in Tamil Nadu by 2010 and generate 500 MW of electricity, is headed for another milestone. The prototype fast breeder reactor (PFBR) will see a major achievement when its main vessel is lowered into the safety vessel. This is expected shortly.

The breeder reactor breeds more material for a nuclear fission reaction than it consumes. Now, that’s interesting – how can anything give out more than it consumes? No, don’t worry, there no is basic law being violated here.

The reactors will be fuelled by a blend of plutonium and uranium oxide, not just plutonium. It generates more plutonium than what it started with, so obviously that extra comes from the uranium part of the feedstock.

This rather interesting fact results in surplus plutonium from each fast reactor, which can be used to set up more such reactors and grow the nuclear capacity in tune with India’s needs. Not a bad idea!

The project to build the fast breeder reactors is called Bhavini. Bhavini is awaiting clearance from the Atomic Energy Regulatory Board (AERB). Around 46 percent of the PFBR project work is complete and by the end of the year it will be 60 percent.