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Kakrapar Atomic Power Project

  • 22 Dec 2023
  • 7 min read

For Prelims: Kakrapar Atomic Power Project, Regulated Fission Reaction, Atomic Energy Regulatory Board (AERB).

For Mains: Kakrapar Atomic Power Project, Ways to Enhance India’s Nuclear Power Capacity.

Source: TH

Why in News?

Recently, the fourth unit of Kakrapar Atomic Power Station (KAPS), Gujarat has achieved its first Criticality — the beginning of the regulated fission reaction — paving the way for its eventual transition to generating power for commercial use.

What is Criticality?

  • Criticality is the first step towards power production. A nuclear reactor is said to be critical when the nuclear fuel inside a reactor sustains a fission chain reaction.
  • Each fission reaction releases a sufficient number of neutrons to sustain a series of reactions. Heat is produced in the event, which is used to generate steam that spins a turbine to create electricity.
    • Fission is a process in which the nucleus of an atom splits into two or more smaller nuclei, and some byproducts.
    • When the nucleus splits, the kinetic energy of the fission fragments (primary nuclei) is transferred to other atoms in the fuel as heat energy, which is eventually used to produce steam to drive the turbines.

What is the Significance of Achieving First Criticality?

  • Milestone for Power Generation:
    • This stage demonstrates that the reactor can produce a controlled and continuous chain reaction, essential for sustained power generation. It's a precursor to full operation and power generation for commercial use.
  • Technology Advancements:
    • The Kakrapar reactors, particularly Units 3 and 4, boast advanced safety features inspired by lessons from past nuclear incidents like the Fukushima Daiichi disaster.
    • These include steel-lined containment systems and passive decay heat removal systems, enhancing safety and reliability.
  • Energy Sustainability and Climate Goals:
    • Nuclear energy, as a low-carbon source, aligns with India's climate goals to increase its renewable energy share.
    • India aims to generate 50% of its electricity from non-fossil fuel sources by 2030, as pledged at international forums like the United Nations Convention of Parties (COP26).

What are the Key Points about the Kakrapar Reactor?

  • Existing KAPS reactors Unit-1 and Unit-2 have a capacity of 220 MW each. But the new 700MW projects, Unit-3 and Unit-4, are among the safest reactors in the world.
  • The Unit-3 and 4 reactors have steel-lined inner containment systems that prevent any radioactive material from escaping in case of an accident.
  • They also have passive decay heat removal systems, which safely cool down the reactor even when it is shut down.

How has India's Nuclear Journey Been?

  • Early Development:
    • India's nuclear program started in the 1940s and gained momentum with the establishment of the Atomic Energy Commission (AEC) in 1948.
    • Homi Bhabha, known as the father of India's nuclear program, played a pivotal role in its early stages.
  • Peaceful Nuclear Explosions:
    • India conducted its first peaceful nuclear explosion as operation Smiling Buddha 1974, in Pokhran, marking its entry into nuclear technology.
    • In May 1998 Pokhran-II was conducted as a series of five nuclear tests including one thermonuclear test aimed at demonstrating nuclear weapon capability
  • Civil Nuclear Cooperation:
  • Indigenous Nuclear Capabilities:
    • India developed indigenous nuclear technology, including Pressurised Heavy Water Reactors (PHWRs) and Fast Breeder Reactors (FBRs), showcasing self-reliance and scientific prowess.
      • India's nuclear power generation capacity grew steadily, with the Nuclear Power Corporation of India Limited (NPCIL) leading the construction and operation of nuclear reactors across the country.
  • Safety and Regulations:
    • India focused on stringent safety standards and regulatory measures overseen by the Atomic Energy Regulatory Board (AERB) to ensure the safe operation of nuclear facilities.
      • Nuclear energy played a role in diversifying India's energy mix, contributing to energy security and reducing dependence on fossil fuels.
  • Current Status and Future Plans:
    • Currently, India has 23 nuclear power reactors in operation under NPCIL (Nuclear Power Corporation of India), with a total capacity of 7,480 MW.
    • NPCIL is constructing nine more reactors, including KAPS Unit-4, with a total capacity of 7,500 MW.
    • As of 2023, India has a total generation capacity of 417 GW, out of which 43 percent is from renewable sources.However, nuclear energy still has a small role in India’s total energy generation, despite its rapid growth.
      • In 2022-23, nuclear energy formed around 2.8 percent of India’s total energy production, according to government data.
    • India has set ambitious targets to significantly increase its nuclear energy production, aiming to triple its capacity by 2031.
    • However, challenges such as public concerns over safety, land acquisition, and regulatory hurdles remain.

UPSC Civil Services Examination, Previous Year Questions (PYQs)


Q. The function of heavy water in a nuclear reactor is to (2011)

(a) Slow down the speed of neutrons
(b) Increase the speed of neutrons
(c) Cool down the reactor
b Stop the nuclear reaction

Ans: (a)


Q. With growing energy needs should India keep on expanding its nuclear energy programme? Discuss the facts and fears associated with nuclear energy. (2018)

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