Cirus, the nuclear reactor that put India on the global map of nuclear power, commemorated 50 years of its existence on Saturday. The first reactor made in collaboration with a foreign country and commissioned in 1960, is scheduled to be decommissioned this year-end.
But it's just temporary retirement for Cirus on December 31, when the heavy water level in the 40 Mega Watt reactor is brought to nil, and the reactors is shut down in 15 minutes.
Cirus, the Bhabha Atomic Research Centre (BARC) has planned, would serve as an academic platform for students and public at large. The reactor was instrumental in providing the first plutonium stockpiles, which helped India conduct its first nuclear test at Pokhran in 1974. Now this reactor could transform into a gallery complete with audio-visual facilities and exhibits, which could help future generations to get a glimpse of how a nuclear reactor functions.
"This structure gives memories of the past and our self-reliance saga," said R K Sinha, director, BARC, referring to the nuclear isolation that resulted in developing indigenous nuclear programme. "We cannot decommission it in totality because it symbolises something greater." Sinha also added that Cirus could also be used for neutron beam production. However, a final decision is yet to be taken.
Cirus has been shut as per the Indo-US civil nuclear deal, but Sinha said that there was also some degradation in the internal aluminium structure and hence it is apt to discontinue its services.
Even though, it will be shut down on December 31, it will take close to one-and-a-half years to remove the fuel from the core of the reactor and decontaminating it before any future plans are realised.
"The spent fuel rods will be completely cooled down before it is transported to the reprocessing plant in this complex," said Sinha. "The area will undergo continuous decontamination to ensure the area is free of even the slightest of radioactivity before it could be converted into a public space."
On Saturday, another of India's research reactors Dhruva comm emorated its silver jubilee. Cirus and Dhruva have been involved in material testing, production of radioisotopes for health, agriculture and industry as well as other experiments, said BARC officials. Also, the 100 megawatt indigenous reactor Dhruva that complemented Cirus will have another companion with the proposed 30 megawatt High Flux Reactor at Vizag, Andhra Pradesh.
"Both Cirus and Dhruva have been a bonding agent for scientists and engineers working in this centre and also brought in safety culture," said Srikumar Banerjee, chairman, Atomic Energy Commission. "The high flux reactor will be comparable to Cirus in its absence."