The main function of the Atomic Energy Commission of India is to plan and implement the programme for the development and utilisation of atomic energy for peaceful purposes. The Atomic Energy Commission of India was set up in 1948 to discharge the following functions : (i) to organize research on the release of atomic energy for peaceful purpose; (ii) to train atomic scientists in the country; (iii) to promote nuclear research in laboratories set up by the Commission as also in universities and research institutions in India; (iv) to undertake prospecting for atomic minerals in the country, and (v) to develop extraction of such minerals so that they can be used on the industrial scale.
Use of Atomic Energy in India: India is regarded as one of the countries which have acquired the capability of manufacturing nuclear weapons but she stands committed to using atomic energy for peaceful purposes only and has made considerable progress in that direction. The Bhabha Atomic Research Centre is the main research Centre in India for the development of atomic energy. It has built a number of research facilities which include a gamma-garden at Trombay, for carrying out research in the evolution of improved seeds for boosting agricultural production in the country. It has also put up a Seismic Research Station at Gaurividanur near Bangalore to detect underground nuclear explosions. Its biomedical centre is evolving new methods for the diagnosis and treatment of diseases with the help of radioisotopes. The isotopes laboratory is producing and processing a large number of radio-isotopes which are used in medicine and industry and for several other purposes.
India’s first underground nuclear Test: India exploded her first underground nuclear device on May 18, 1974 at Pokhran in the Thar desert of Rajasthan. It is in the Jaisalmer district. The atomic site is hardly 20 km from Jaisalmer and about 150 km from the Indo-Pak border.
The explosion was of the same force as the atomic bomb dropped by the USA on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in World War II. There was almost no fall-out, which made it a clean experiment that indicated the technological advances which India had made during the short period since the country launched the nuclear programme.
India thus emerged as the sixth nuclear power in the world, after USA, Russia, UK, France and China.
Peaceful Uses of Atomic Energy: Atomic explosions can be used for underground engineering which means utilising the effect of cratering contained in these explosions. These can be used for oil and gas stimulation. Cavities created by atomic explosions can be used for storing gas and oil, and also for storing radio-active wastes from nuclear power-stations and chemical plants.
Atomic explosions can also be used for excavations which would otherwise be costly. The ground containing geo-thermal energy sources can be fractured with nuclear blasts. Then water can be introduced into the fractures and super-heated steam recovered for the generation of electricity.
Nuclear explosions can also be used for the construction of sea-level canals, dams, reservoirs, harbours, construction of highways and railways through difficult terrain, removal of navigation hazards etc.
ATOMIC RESEARCH CENTRES IN INDIA
Tata Institute of Fundamental Research: was established in June 1945, largely as a result of initiative taken by the late Dr H.J. Bhabha. It has produced a generation of young Indian nuclear scientists. It is recognised as the National Centre of Advanced Study and Fundamental Research in Nuclear Science and Mathematics.
Bhabha Atomic Research Centre (BARC): at Trombay near Mumbai, is the main centre in India for research in peaceful uses of atomic energy, i.e., production of radio isotopes and their application in agriculture, biology, industry and medicine, and production of electric power.
ATOMIC RESEARCH REACTORS
Besides a number of supporting facilities, BARC (Bhabha Atomic Research Centre) has five research reactors functioning, viz.,
- APSARA: Commissioned on August 4, 1956, at Trombay, near Mumbai it was a one megawatt swimming pool type reactor. It used to produce radio isotopes, to irradiate biological samples, to test instruments used in irradiation etc. It has been decided to decommission this reactor.
- CIRUS: Built in 1960, the 40 megawatt CIRUS (Canada-India Reactor) too produces a wide range of radio isotopes. It is also used for researches in Nuclear Physics, Chemistry, Biology and Medicine.
- ZERLINA (Zero Energy Reactor for Lattice Investigation and New Assemblies): India’s third Research Reactor became critical on January 14, 1961. It is used for studies of Uranium Heavy Water Lattices.
- PURNIMA (Plutonium Reactor for Neutronic Investigation in Multiplying Assemblies): became critical on May 22, 1972. It is a zero energy fast nuclear reactor resembling the proposed pulsed fast reactor to be built at Kalpakkam.
- DHRUVA: was commissioned on August 15, 1984. The main function of this atomic reactor is production of isotopes for industry. The reactor was completely designed and fabricated in India.
- KAMINI: India’s first neutron reactor is being built at the Indira Gandhi Centre for Atomic Research at Kalpakkam, near Chennai. The reactor has been completely designed indigenously and is first of its kind in the world. It will be using uranium 233-aluminium alloy as fuel. Besides providing power the reactor will be used for neutron radiography which is a non-destructive testing tool and has application in defence and space too.
Besides these reactors at Trombay, there are various types of supporting plants and facilities viz., a uranium metal plant, a fuel element fabrication plant (for producing fuel elements for the reactors ‘Cirus’ and ‘Zerlina’), a heavy water reconcentration plant, an operational plutonium plant (India is among the few countries in the world to have this plant), a 5.5 meV Van-deGraaff accelerator, an electronics type engineering laboratory and a reliability evaluation laboratory.
Other Research Institutions: Other institutions engaged in nuclear research in India are: (i) Saha Institute of Nuclear Physics, Calcutta (ii) High Altitude Research Laboratory, Gulmarg (iii) Indian Cancer Research Centre, Mumbai (iv) Seismic Research Centre at Gaurividanur near Bangalore in Karnataka to detect underground nuclear explosions (v) Indira Gandhi Atomic Research Centre at Kalpakkam (Chennai) (vi) Nuclear Research Centre, JNU, Delhi for studies in fast reactor concepts at Kalpakkam near Chennai (vii) Centre for Advance Technology, Indore.
Facilities Outside Trombay
- Electronics Corporation of India Ltd., Hyderabad: manufactures electronic instruments and equipment for nuclear research.
- Nuclear Fuel Complex:
- Heavy Water Plants: (a) Kota in Rajasthan, (b) Baroda in Gujarat, (c) Tuticorin in Tamil Nadu, and (d) Talchar in Orissa.
- Power Reactor Fuel Reprocessing Plant:
- Indira Gandhi Centre for Atomic Research: Kalpakkam near Chennai.
ATOMIC MINERALS IN INDIA
- Uranium: Bihar (Jaduguda mines), Himachal Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh.
- Thorium: Coastal tracts of Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, Kerala, Tamil Nadu and in Ranchi district of Jharkhand.
- Beryllium: Bihar, Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Maharashtra.
ATOMIC POWER STATIONS
India’s Nuclear Power Projects are: (1) Rajasthan Atomic Power Station, Rawatbhata, near Chittorgarh (Rajasthan), (2) Tarapur Near Mumbai (Maharashtra), (3) Madras Atomic Power Station, Kalpakkam (Tamil Nadu), (4) Narora Atomic Power Station near Bulandshahr, (Uttar Pradesh), (5) Kakrapar Atomic Power Station near Surat (Gujarat), (6) Kudankulam nuclear Power Plant near Tirunelveli (Tamil Nadu) and (7) Kaiga Nuclear Power Plant near Uttara Kannada (Karnataka).