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Nuclear Cycle

Nuclear Fuel Cycle

The Nuclear Power Programme has a number of ancillary operations which form the Nuclear Fuel Cycle. The Front-End of this Cycle includes mineral exploration, mining and processing of ore, and fuel fabrication. Reprocessing of spent uranium fuel and management of nuclear waste form part of the Back-End of the Cycle.

India has acquired comprehensive capability in PHWR design, construction and operation of associated plants/facilities covering the entire nuclear fuel cycle of the nuclear power programme based on pressurized heavy water reactors. This includes production of heavy water that is used as moderator and coolant in PHWR.

The DAE organizations contributing to the Front-End of the Nuclear Fuel Cycle Programme are the Atomic Minerals Directorate for Research and Exploration (AMD), Hyderabad; Uranium Corporation of India Ltd. (UCIL), Jaduguda (Jharkhand); Nuclear Fuel Complex (NFC), Hyderabad; and Heavy Water Board (HWB), Mumbai. BARC and IGCAR administer the Back End of the Cycle.

Front End Fuel Cycle

The operations under the Front-End Fuel Cycle range from mining, milling and processing of ore, and fabrication of fuel. In addition, heavy water production is also an ancillary programme to the DAE's PHWR programme.

Survey and Exploration

The Atomic Minerals Directorate for Exploration and Research (AMD) is engaged in survey, exploration and evaluation of resources of uranium, thorium, niobium, tantalum, beryllium, zirconium, lithium, yttrium and rare earth elements required for the indigenous atomic energy programme of the country. The geological studies related to the selection of nuclear power plant sites and repositories for the disposal of nuclear wastes are carried out by AMD in collaboration with the Nuclear Power Corporation of India Ltd. (NPCIL) Survey and exploration for atomic minerals had commenced in 1949. Over the years, uranium deposits have been located at Jaduguda, Bhatin, Narwapahar, Turamdih (East and South), Banduhuran (Turamdih West), Central Keruadungri, Bagjata, Kanyaluka, Mohuldih and Nandup in Jharkhand; Domiasiat and Wahkyn in Meghalaya; Lambapur - Peddagattu, Koppunuru and Tummalapalle in Andhra Pradesh; Gogi in Karnataka and Rohil in Rajasthan. So far, AMD has established 61,000 tonnes of uranium metal.

Certain Proterozoic basins, which are the prime targets for unconformity related high-grade uranium deposits are Andhra Pradesh; Delhi basin (fold belt) in Rajasthan; Bhima and Kaladgi-Badami basins in Karnataka, Chhattisgarh; Indravati and Abujhmar basins in Chhattisgarh; and Gwalior basin in Madhya Pradesh.

The Mesozoic and Tertiary basins, which are the targets for large tonnage sandstone type of uranium deposits under exploration, are the Mesozoic Mahadek basin in Meghalaya and Gondwana basin in Madhya Pradesh as well as the Upper Tertiary Siwalik basin in Himachal Pradesh. AMD has also stockpiled adequate resources of columbine-tantalite (niobium & tantalum mineral).

A number of beach sand deposits, containing limonite, retile and leucoxene (titanium), zircon (zirconium), monazite (thorium and LREE), sillimanite and garnet have also been established in the East and West coasts in parts of Odisha, Andhra Pradesh, Tamil Nadu, Kerala, and Maharashtra, as well as in the inland Teri sand of Tamil Nadu and riverine places of Bihar and West Bengal. At Brahmagiri, Puri district, Odisha, a deposit containing 120 million tonnes of heavy mineral resources has been established. This is the largest single deposit of heavy mineral resources in the country. Besides, heavy mineral resources have also been identified at Narsapur, West Godavari district, Amlapuram, East Godavari district, Andhra Pradesh; Vayakallur-Tutto, Kanyakumari district;Tamil Nadu; and Thotatapalli - Alappuzha, Kollam and Alappuzha districts, Kerala.

So far, AMD has identified about 700 million tonnes of beach sand heavy mineral resources.

Mining and Ore Processing

The exploratory efforts of AMD, made earlier, had led to the opening of four underground uranium mines at Jaduguda, Bhatin, Narwapahar and Turamdih all in Singbhum (East), Jharkhand state. A new open cast mine was also commissioned at Banduhurang in Singbhum in 2007. These mines, being operated by the Uranium Corporation of India Ltd. (UCIL), a public sector undertaking of DAE, have been meeting the needs of the Indian Nuclear Power Programme.

To meet the projected demand of the nuclear power programme, UCIL has taken up the work to develop mines at Bagjata (in Jharkhand), Lambapur (Andhra Pradesh) and Domiasiat (Meghalaya). Efforts are being made for exploiting other secondary resources.

UCIL also operates a uranium mill for processing of the uranium ores to produce yellow cake which is further sent to NFC for fuel fabrication. In addition, magnetite present in the uranium ore is recovered as a by-product in the uranium process plant.

The research and development in the field of ore processing and uranium metal production is done at Trombay. An uranium metal production facility for production of uranium ingot operates at Trombay.

Nuclear Fuel Fabrication

Nuclear fuel fabrication for power reactors and research reactors is done respectively at the Nuclear Fuel Complex, Hyderabad, and BARC. In the development of new fuels, BARC and IGCAR are engaged. The Indian PHWR uses natural uranium-based fuel. A major milestone was achieved with the fabrication of the first fuel element at Trombay in 1959.

For industrial scale manufacture of nuclear fuel assemblies and zircaloy structural components for power reactors, the Nuclear Fuel Complex (NFC) was set up in Hyderabad in 1971. NFC, now an ISO 9001 organisation, manufactures zircaloy-4 clad natural and depleted uranium oxide and thoria bundles for pressurised heavy water reactors, zircaloy-2 clad enriched uranium oxide fuels for boiling water reactors and stainless steel clad thoria and depleted uranium oxide blanket sub-assemblies for liquid metal-cooled fast breeder reactor. NFC also manufactures zirconium alloy structural components for the above reactors. In addition, NFC produces seamless stainless tubes, hexcans and other structural for fast reactor core assemblies and special alloy tubes. It also caters to the demand of high quality stainless steel tubes and pipes for critical and strategic applications in nuclear power plants and re-processing plants in atomic energy.

The plants of NFC have been performing very well meeting their annual production targets consecutively for the last six years and some of the plants have even crossed their plant capacities.

At BARC a wide variety of fuels have been developed and fabricated on industrial scale for fabrication of indigenous mixed oxide (MOX) fuel assemblies for boiling water reactors at TAPS.

BARC has set-up the Advanced Fuel Fabrication Facility (AFFF) at Tarapur. The MOX fuel produced here has given satisfactory performance. Construction of a Zirconim Oxide Plant for enhancing the production capacity of zirconium oxide powder is underway.

Titanium half alloy hydraulic tubes are critical components in Light Combat Aircraft. The first batch of these tubes has been produced by NFC for the Aeronautical Development Authority. This development is considered to have a huge economic potential.

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Source: National Portal Content Management Team, Reviewed on: 09-02-2011