Institutional structure for development of nuclear technology in India
The huge potential of the atom had been envisioned in India in the ancient times and references to the same can be found in some of the ancient scriptures. Such references provide us a tantalizing glimpse into the ancient Indian history and, indeed, into the level of advanced thinking that these civilizations had reached in those times. In the modern times, it was Dr. Homi Bhabha, who foresaw, as early as in 1944, the potential of harnessing nuclear power in improving the quality of life of the millions of people stated:
“Any substantial rise in the standard of living in this region – that can be sustained in the long term – will only be possible on the basis of very large imports of fuel or on the basis of atomic energy.”
The issues of energy sustainability and inevitability of nuclear power, which are only now receiving global attention, was foreseen by him over half a century ago. When the rest of the world was working on the military applications of atomic energy, he focused on harnessing atomic energy for the improving the quality of life. In the 1950s, nuclear power in the world was still in its infancy and India had just gained independence. The nascent nation was essential a rural economy, with practically no technology or industrial base. Therefore, realizing such a technology-intensive vision, which involved complex reactor and fuel cycle technologies must have seemed like a fantasy. However, with his clear vision, Dr Bhabha went ahead, building institutions – R&D facilities, research reactors, industrial units – to develop technologies and to deploy them.
Building Institutions to Ensure Linkages Just before India attained independence, Dr. Bhabha, in 1944, approached the Sir Dorabji Tata charitable trust for funding to set up an institute for atomic research in India. The Tata Institute of Fundamental Research (TIFR) was thus established in 1945. After India’s independence in 1947, the framework for the programme was put in place. The Atomic Energy Act was enacted and the Atomic Energy Commission (AEC), the policy-making body, was set up in 1948. The Department of Atomic Energy, under the Prime Minister, was set up in 1954 to administer the programmes of atomic energy.
R&D Facilities Considering the need to develop an R&D base for the programme, the Atomic Energy Establishment was set up in the 1950s at Trombay, Mumbai (later renamed Bhabha Atomic Research Centre – BARC). The Centre housed laboratories and facilities for carrying out multi-disciplinary R&D in basic nuclear sciences and for various applications of nuclear energy, like energy/power and several other societal applications health & medicine, industry, agriculture, etc. Research reactors – examples of which are APSARA (1956), CIRUS (1960) – were set up for production of isotopes and experiments for perfecting the technologies. Facilities at the Centre were also set up for production of uranium ingots, fabrication of fuel and a reprocessing plant for production of plutonium. R&D carried out at the Centre helped develop key materials, technology, tools and equipment, for the nuclear power programme.
Facilities for Production of Nuclear Materials and Backend Facilities for production of fuel, heavy water and other materials for the nuclear power programme were set up under the aegis of the Department of Atomic Energy (DAE). Indian Rare Earth Limited was incorporated for mining and processing of rare earths like zircon and thorium for the programme. Uranium Corporation of India Limited (UCIL) was set up to mine and process uranium ore. The company now has mines in Jharkhand and Andhra Pradesh and an entire PHWR reactor fleet till recently was fuelled by the fuel mined by UCIL in the country. Nuclear Fuel Complex (NFC) was set up for fabrication of fuel bundles/ assemblies. Given the special requirements of instrumentation for nuclear plants, Electronics Corporation of India Limited (ECIL) was set up to develop and manufacture the special instrumentation. Heavy Water Plants were set up for production of heavy water for the PHWRs at various locations in the country.
Bhabha Atomic Research Centre (BARC), Trombay
A series of ‘research’ reactors and critical facilities was built here. Reprocessing of used fuel was first undertaken at Trombay in 1964. BARC is also responsible for the transition to thorium-based systems. BARC is responsible for India’s uranium enrichment projects, the pilot Rare Materials Plant (RMP) at Ratnahalli near Mysore.
Indira Gandhi Centre for Atomic Research (IGCAR)
IGCAR at Kalpakkam was set up in 1971. Two civil research reactors here are preparing for stage two of the thorium cycle. BHAVINI is located here and draws upon the centre’s expertise and that of NPCIL in establishing the fast reactor program, including the Fast Reactor Fuel Cycle Facility.
The Raja Ramanna Centre for Advanced Technology (RRCAT)
Multi-purpose research reactor (MPRR) for radioisotope production, testing nuclear fuel and reactor materials, and basic research.
Atomic Minerals Directorate
The DAE’s Atomic Minerals Directorate for Exploration and Research (AMD) is focused on mineral exploration for uranium and thorium. It was set up in 1949, and is based in Hyderabad, with over 2700 staff.
Variable Energy Cyclotron Centre
Variable Energy Cyclotron Centre is a premier R & D unit of the Department of Atomic Energy. This Centre is dedicated to carry out frontier research and development in the fields of Accelerator Science & Technology, Nuclear Science (Theoretical and Experimental), Material Science, Computer Science & Technology and in other relevant areas.
Global Centre for Nuclear Energy Partnership
It will be the DAE’s sixth R & D facility. It is being built near Bahadurgarh in Haryana state and designed to strengthen India’s collaboration internationally. It will house five schools to conduct research into advanced nuclear energy systems, nuclear security, radiological safety, as well as applications for radioisotopes and radiation technologies. Russia is to help set up four of the GCNEP schools.
Saha Institute of Nuclear Physics
The Saha Institute of Nuclear Physics is an institution of basic research and training in physical and biophysical sciences located in Bidhannagar, Kolkata, India. The institute is named after the famous Indian physicist Meghnad Saha.
Institute of Physics
Institute of Physics, Bhubaneswar is an autonomous research institution of the (DAE), Government of India.
Institute for Plasma Research
Research and development in fusion technology continued at the Institute for Plasma Research.
Harish Chandra Research Institute
The Harish-Chandra Research Institute is an institution dedicated to research in Mathematics and Theoretical Physics, located in Allahabad, Uttar Pradesh in India.