Fast breeder: generating power at 40 paise/unit less

Published in The Hindu on May 8, 2008

Research currently underway to increase the burn-up (cumulative amount of energy extracted from a unit mass of fuel) of the oxide fuel that will be used in fast breeder reactors will help in reducing the cost of electricity generated.

The oxide fuel to be used in the Prototype Fast Breeder Reactor (PFBR) coming up at Kalpakkam will have a burn-up of 1,00,000 MW days/tonne.

Scientists at the Indira Gandhi Centre for Atomic Research (IGCAR) are working to increase the burn-up of the oxide fuel to 1,50,000 MW days/tonne by 2011 and ultimately to 2,00,000 MW days/tonne.

Advanced oxide

“We will have 40 paise saving per unit of electricity generated when the burn-up is 2,00,000 MW days/tonne,” said Dr. Baldev Raj, Director of IGCAR. “It will be 20 paise when we use 1,50,000 MW days/tonne burn-up fuel [advanced oxide].”

This reduction in the cost will be for the two reactors to come up at Kalpakkam and the two reactors coming up elsewhere in the country. These four reactors (coming up after the PFBR goes critical) are expected to become critical by 2020. So the cost reduction per unit of electricity generated will come into effect from 2020. The construction of the four reactors would begin by 2014.

But will there be any cost reduction by using the advanced oxide fuel in the PFBR? “We would definitely get some reduction,” he said. “But we have not worked out the details. It would be 10-15 paise per unit of electricity.”

Though there would be some reduction in the cost per unit of electricity generated, it will not be the same compared with the four reactors to come up later. “That is because the cost of the fast breeder fuel facility of the PFBR has been worked out for a 1,00,000 MW days/tonne burn-up,” he clarified.

There are other ways of reducing the cost of electricity generated. For instance, if orders are placed for four reactors simultaneously, there would be a 10-15 per cent reduction in the cost of electricity generated.

Similarly, there can be 4-5 per cent reduction in cost if the time to construct the reactors is reduced from seven to six years. The construction time for the PFBR is seven years.

Design factor

According to Dr. Raj, design modification and simplification can bring about significant reduction in cost and make it very competitive with other types of power plants.

Fast breeder reactors to come up after 2020 will have metallic fuel and not oxide fuel.

According to Dr. Raj, one can look at a cost reduction only when the metallic fuel gets into a demonstration stage. “It is now too early,” he said.