Maintaining science and security among his top priorities, Prime Minister Narendra Modi paid his first visit to the Department of Atomic Energy (DAE) in Mumbai today. He was briefed by DAE secretary RK Sinha and other top officials and scientists at the Bhabha Atomic Research Centre (BARC) on India’s atomic energy programme, the DAE’s extensive research and development and education programmes, and the department’s contributions in other areas such as healthcare, especially cancer treatment, food security, solid waste management and water purification.
Referring to the completion of 60 years of service by the DAE, which falls on 3 August, the prime minister asked the DAE to draw up a programme of year-long celebrations, with special focus on the various human and developmental dimensions of atomic science, with special outreach to the youth in schools and colleges throughout the country. The prime minister exhorted the DAE to present the human face of India’s capabilities in nuclear science throughout the world.
The prime minister was apprised of the safety and security measures adopted by the DAE and India’s excellent record in this regard. During the visit, which lasted four hours, the prime minister was also shown some of the most advanced facilities of the DAE at BARC, including the Dhruva Research Reactor.
The Dhruva reactor is India’s largest nuclear research reactor, which is pool-type, and primary generator of weapons-grade plutonium-bearing spent fuel for the country’s nuclear weapons programme. Designed as a larger version of the CIRUS reactor, Dhruva was an indigenous project built to provide an independent source of weapons-grade plutonium free from safeguards. The reactor uses heavy water (deuterium) as a moderator and coolant. Aluminum-clad fuel rods containing natural uranium are used to obtain a maximum power output of 100MW. According to conservative estimates, the reactor produces an average of 16–26 kg of weapons-grade plutonium per year in its spent fuel, while former Indian Atomic Energy Commission (AEC) Chairman PK Iyengar had said the unit could produce up to 30 kg of weapons-grade plutonium each year.
The prime minister expressed his strong appreciation for the extraordinary achievements of Indian scientific community in one of the most complex and challenging fields of science and technology. He said their success was especially creditable because it took place in the face of decades of international technology denial regime; India’s self-reliance in the nuclear fuel cycle and the commercial success of the indigenous reactors demonstrated that with vision, resolve and hard work, India could be a front ranking country in the most challenging fields.
The prime minister reiterated his belief that energy security, which was increasingly based on clean and reliable sources of energy, was the critical driver of India’s rapid and sustained long term development. He saw an essential role for nuclear energy in India’s energy strategy, given the scale of demand in India.
The prime minister assured the DAE of his full support in the implementation of the department’s ambitious expansion programme and expressed hope that it would meet the target of increasing the capacity by 3 times from the present level of 5780 MW by 2023-24 within the projected cost. He underlined the importance of ensuring that nuclear energy remained commercially viable and competitive with other sources of clean energy in the long run. He also asked the DAE to continually upgrade technology, both with regard to our long term plans and international trends. The DAE, he said, must also plan for ensuring adequate availability of skilled human resources in the country.
The prime minister told the DAE that nuclear safety and security were of the highest priority for him and asked DAE to ensure that India’s standards and practices were the most advanced in the world. He also asked the DAE to pay special attention to the local communities in planning and implementing nuclear power projects. He hoped that role of industry in providing equipment and systems for the nuclear programme would continue to grow and recognized that adequate incentive structure should be exist to facilitate that. He noted that the country would need to tap additional sources of investments for our ambitious expansion programme. He welcomed India’s growing international partnership in the nuclear energy and hoped for timely implementation of the ongoing projects in a manner that they met the requirements of techno-economic viability and safety standards. Technology transfer to India, he observed, was a vital element of his vision for international partnership in India.
The prime minister lauded the contribution of DAE scientists in the critical area of cancer research and treatment through the Tata Memorial Hospital. He hoped that DAE would soon implement the planned projects in Chandigarh and Vishakhapatnam and would take one of the most advanced standards of cancer treatment in Asia to other parts of India. He also directed the DAE to make special efforts to expand its research and extension on a national scale applications of atomic science in areas like healthcare, waste management, water treatment, agriculture and food preservation.
The prime minister was briefed on the development of the Indian Pressurised Water Reactor, large scale accelerators, Indian Neutrino Observatory and large size nuclear recycle plants during his visit.
The prime minister congratulated the DAE on the important milestone of completing 60 years in service and wished the DAE community continued success in the future.
National Security Advisor Ajit Doval, the director of BARC and the secretary of AERC, joint secretary in the PMO Javed Ashraf and private secretaries to the PM Vikram Misri and Sanjiv Singla accompanied the prime minister.