First criticality for Rajasthan reactor

24 November 2009

The new fifth nuclear reactor at India's Rajasthan Atomic Power Project (RAPP) has reached first criticality, bringing the total number operating in the country to 18.

The self-sustaining nuclear fission chain reaction in the core of the 202 MWe, indigenously designed, pressurised heavy water reactor (PHWR) was reached at 12.51 pm today. The unit is one of two currently being built at the site, sometimes referred to as RAPS or Rawatbhata, which is already home to four reactors. According to Nuclear Power Corporation of India Ltd (NPCIL), unit 6 is expected to follow suit shortly - earlier reports have suggested unit 6 is likely to start up about a month later than unit 5. Two further PHWR units are also planned for the site.

The next step for the new unit will be grid connection, at which stage the unit will be regarded as fully operational.

The progress of India's ambitious plans for nuclear energy were for many years hampered by the country's long term isolation from international nuclear trade because of its status outside the full-scope safeguards under the international nuclear non-proliferation treaty (NPT), and its lack of indigenous uranium resources. However, the two new Rasjathan units are allowed to use imported fuel as they were placed under International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) safeguards in October through a new agreement between India and the IAEA, and NPCIL notes that the new unit is indeed fuelled with imported uranium.

Including the two Rajasthan units, construction is currently in progress on six Indian nuclear units, with the Kaiga 4 PHWR also listed for a 2009 startup and two Russian-designed pressurised water reactor (PWR) units at Kudankulam due for 2010 starts. A fast breeder reactor at Kalpakkam is scheduled for a 2011 startup. However, with a national energy policy targeting a total gross nuclear capacity of 21,180 MWe by 2020 up from today's 3779 MWe (not including Rajasthan 5), Indian plans currently foresee a further 23 units likely to begin construction in the next few years, with another 15 proposed.