Sunday, June 10, 2007

Spent fuel reprocessing & Indo US 123 Agreement

A lot is already been said about Indo US Nuclear agreement also called as 123 agreement. India has been adamant about two clauses in the agreement on which both the countries not relenting.

The two clauses are 1) fuel supply guarantees and; 2) Reprocessing of spent fuel.

Today we will discuss reprocessing spent fuel and why is it necessary for India?

To understand that, we first need to understand what is spent fuel reprocessing?

(I will try to keep this in non-technical language. even I am an non-technical guy)

Spent Fuel Reprocessing: Almost all the reactors use Uranium or Plutonium as fuel for processing. After processing, the waste product of this processing is highly radioactive Uranium, which is very toxic to handle and dispose off. In pursuant to use even that processed fuel, Fast breeder reactors(or so called) are developed, which use this waste product generated by PHWRs(Pressurised Heavy water Reactors) i.e. uranium and Plutonium together as fuel. Fast Breeder Reactor produces Uranium as endproduct and the quantum of Uranium so produced is more than that used as input in the reactor. This gives the reactor its name as Breeder reactor.
As India has very less reserves of Uranium as compared to other nations, this technology of breeder reactors is very crucial to India. The Indo US nuclear agreement deals with supply of uranium to Indian reactors. Hence once India has received the fuel, it also needs to Reprocess the spent fuel so as to increase its potential of generating electricity. Breeder technology can vastly improve India potential of nuclear power generation. So the issue of Spent Fuel Reprocessing is very critical to India and canot compromise on the same.
Another aspect of reprocessing of spent fuel is that the output of breeder reactor is Uranium and not Uranium dioxide or any other compound, which makes it idal candidate for its use in making nuclear weapons also. US is concerned with reprocessed fuel being used for military purposes and probable proliferation.
My Recommendations:
India should not relent itself from its current stand for allowing reprocessing of spent fuel. But instead of just relying on US and other NSG (Nuclear Materials Supplier Group) for supply of fissile material for its power generattion and Nuclear weapons, India should also progress vociferously towards utilisation of thorium as alternate fuel.
India has been developing AHWR (Advanced Heavy Water Reactor) Technology which uses throrium as its fuel and some plutonim as its seed fuel. AHWR gives uranium as waste product which can later be used as feedstock for breeder reactors. India's progress and programme for development of thorium cycle can be viewed in document issued by Department of Atomic energy. AHWR is also said to be one of the safest reactor designs in the world as they use thorium as fuel which is less toxic as compared to Uranium 233 or 238 used by conventional reactors.
India has already designing a prototype AHWR reactor and should spend more money for its development. The AHWR more information can be found here.
India should also acout for more Uranium deposits in the country itself(Meghalay has maximum deposits of Uranium but its mining is mirred by local protests there).
India should try to assure US that the reprocessed fuel will be used only generation of power and will not be diverted for other uses.
India on the other hand should also push for similar agreements with other nations which can be bullied upon. Similar agreements with other nations will put some pressure on US to conclude this agreement at the earliest.

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