When India’s first imported Cirus reactor turns 50 on Saturday, it will also usher in the end of the machine that made possible the 1974 Pokhran tests that placed India under nuclear isolation.
This month end, Cirus, the 40 megawatt nuclear reactor that produced some of India’s initial weapon plutonium stockpile
for the Pokhran tests will be decommissioned as part of the India-US civil nuclear deal.
But while it was in operation, scientists say working in the research facility situated at the Bhabha Atomic Research Centre (BARC) at Mankhurd, provided a training ground for engineers and scientist in nuclear physics and chemistry as well as isotope production in healthcare, agriculture and industry.
Cirus – Canada India Research US – is a copy of a state-of-the-art heavy water research reactor in Canada.
“Cirus is the first work house that trained our engineers and scientists to meet world standards,” said PK Iyenger, former chairperson, Atomic Energy Commission. “Without this reactor and the first reprocessing plant in 1965, we wouldn’t have got plutonium. In 1967, we got the first plutonium stockpile, made the bomb and conducted the peaceful test in 1974.”
Iyenger, 79, was a scientist at BARC when Cirus started operations in 1960. He was among the first batch of engineers and scientists sent for an 18-month-training to Canada in 1957. “It was the first time that such a large bunch from India was accepted by any foreign country in their laboratory,” he recalled.
Almost 20 years later, the training at the Canadian laboratory on heavy water reactor technology and safety mechanisms, provided the ground for building 100 megawatt Dhruva reactor, also the country’s largest indigenous research reactor and other heavy water reactors in Kaiga and Kalpakkam.
Dhruva, which became operational in 1985, completes 25 years of its existence at the BARC complex on Saturday.
Built at a time when India was isolated internationally after the 1974 Pokhran tests, Dhruva was high powered with modern facilities and inbuilt safety features for emergency.
Referring to Dhruva, director of the research group at BARC, VK Raina said, “It is an outstanding example of what Indian science, engineering and industry can achieve when compelled to rise to the occasion.”
The decommissioning of Cirus will not impact the Centre’s research work and other activities. “During last couple of years, the production of radioisotopes and activities related to neutron beam research, fuel and material testing and other research and development activities carried out in Cirus have been progressively shifted to the Dhruva Reactor,” said Raina.