A pair of interesting stories appeared over the past week relating to negotiations about which facilities India will declare “military” (and hence, exempt from safeguards) under the US-India Nuclear Cooperation Agreement.
Varadarajan claims the new deal breaker is that India will not place its Fast Breeder Reactor (FBR) program, including the FBR at Kalpakkam (at right), under safeguards. The Indian Express carried a scathing op-ed (and, according to one reader, water for the PM’s office) lambasting India’s Department of Atomic Energy (DAE) for intransigence on the FBR:
The failure of the latest round of consultations between Foreign Secretary Shyam Saran and US Under Secretary of State Nicholas Burns last week has been blamed on DAE’s reluctance to put its fast breeder programme on the civilian list.
Forget the Americans for a moment. Indian public has a right to know the nature of the breeder programme — is it civilian or military? The DAE apparently wants it both ways: a peaceful facility with future military options. It is this twisted logic, backed by decades of political self-deception, that has landed India in a nuclear mess. It neither has a successful civilian nuclear power programme nor a purposeful weapons programme. Sanctimonious rhetoric over the decades from the Indian political leadership that the nation’s nuclear programme was entirely for peaceful purposes resulted in a mixed mandate for the DAE and the loss of operational clarity. Separating civilian and military programmes and making them both efficient has been a long-neglected national need. After claiming the lion’s share of the nation’s R&D money for nearly six decades, the DAE today produces barely 3000 MW of power. On the strategic front, instead of building the necessary plutonium production reactors, the DAE has got into the bad habit of using its civilian programme for military needs.
Safeguarding A Breeder Reactor
DAE, according to Varadarajan, argues that safeguards are infeasible for an FBR program:
Allowing IAEA inspections will seriously compromise the quality and scope of ongoing research, nuclear scientists who have worked closely on and led the breeder programme told The Hindu.
“Moving fuel from one section to another would then require informing the IAEA in advance, waiting for their inspector to arrive and approve, and then executing the task concerned,” said one former DAE scientist. Asked at what stage he would be willing to offer the breeder technology for inspections, another senior retired nuclear official said there was no reason to ever subject breeder reactors to safeguards.
I have my doubts about this technical description of safeguards—because the Japanese FBRs do have safeguards (and I don’t think they work remotely like that). As I understand the problem—and this goes way beyond my current knowledge of safeguards systems—FBRs have some technical quirks that require innovation but … Oh hell, why don’t you just read the same thing I did from the Japanese themselves:
In fast breeder reactors and advanced thermal reactors, there exist difficult-to-access areas where direct verification of the inventory of fuel in the reactor core is impossible. In such cases, it was agreed that dual containment and surveillance (c/s) measures to monitor the movement of fuel to and from the reactor core were to be applied in order to meet inspection goals.
The surveillance systems for the experimental fast breeder reactor JOYO and the prototype fast breeder reactor MONJU of PNC consist of Modular Integrated Video Surveillance (MIVS) systems and the radiation monitoring systems.
At JOYO, 4 radiation monitors have been installed in the fresh fuel storage, on the cask car, on the ex-vessel transfer machine and in the spent fuel storage pool as shown Figure 1 (Y. Hashimoto, 1994).
The entrance gate monitor (ENGM), for example, is a passive neutron coincidence collar, a type of neutron coincidence counter which can distinguish the spontaneous fission neutrons of Pu isotopes from the background. A total of 24 helium-3 detectors are housed in the detector area, and the detector can identify the direction of the fresh fuel passing through the entrance gate.
MONJU is the prototype fast breeder reactor in Japan designed to have the electricity output of 280 MWe. PNC started its construction in the autumn of 1985 in Tsuruga site and the MONJU reached initial criticality in April 1994 (S. Usami, 1995).
The verification of the flows is designed to be made with fuel flow monitors measuring radiations, which can abridge the inspector attendance during the fuel handling. The monitors consist of the ex-vessel radiation monitors (EVRM) and the exit gate monitor (EXGM). EVRMs are equipped to the ex-vessel transfer machine which charges and discharges fuel assemblies into and out of the core and the external vessel storage tank, EVST (a sodium tank located in an adjacent area to the reactor containment building and stores temporarily new and irradiated fuel assemblies). Flows of fuel assemblies into and out of the core and EVST can be monitored by EVRMs, and the flows of irradiated fuel assemblies into the spent fuel pond (water pool) can be monitored by EXGM, including the flow direction. These monitors have been developed through JASPAS and the joint R&D by PNC and US-DOE involving Los Alamos National Laboratory, Sandia National Laboratory and Oak Ridge National Laboratory.
Beyond the above monitors, IAEA installed the entrance gate monitor (ENGM) using neutron coincidence counter and several optical surveillance cameras. By using this equipment the transfer of fuel assemblies inside the facility can be monitored in an un-attended mode and routine inspections are made monthly.
For the advanced thermal reactor Fugen, the development of a fuel gate monitoring system is now under way.
In principle, I’d be willing to accept the same concession to India—assuming this is really about hunting bears, that is.
In the meantime, let’s actually find out how difficult it is to safeguard a breeder:
I’ve already ordered from ILL:
- Hashimoto et al, “Development of Plutonium Fuel Monitors for the Experimental Fast Reactor JOYO,” Proceeding of a Symposium on International Safeguards, IAEA-SM-333/51, P427-438, Vienna, 14-18 March 1994 and
- Usami et al, “Safeguards in Prototype Fast Breeder Reactor Monju,” 5th International conference on Facility Operation-Safeguards Interface, Jackson Hole, 24-29 September 1995.
Additional technical commentary about the challenges of safeguarding a breeder reactor is requested, particularly the PNC/DOE joint venture involving Los Alamos, Sandia, and Oak Ridge.