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Nuclear reactor at Kalpakkam: World’s envy, India’s pride

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Kalpakkam Nuclear Plant

Yekateringburg (Russia), Jul 2 : Hidden from public, on the shores of the Bay of Bengal at Kalpakkam near Chennai, Indian nuclear scientists are in the final throes of starting a high-tech giant stove more than 15 years in the making.

This novel nuclear reactor is a kind of an ‘akshaya patra’, the mythical goblet with a never-ending supply of food.

The Department of Atomic Energy is getting ready to commission its ultra-modern indigenously designed and locally mastered fast breeder reactor.

Experts say to make nuclear energy sustainable, one sure shot way is to make fast breeder reactors mainstream.

Yukiya Amano, Director General of International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), Vienna, says “fast reactors can help extract up to 70 per cent more energy than traditional reactors and are safer than traditional reactors while reducing long lived radioactive waste by several fold.”

Easier said than done, since these reactors are also notoriously unstable and hence difficult to run reliably over long periods.

Called a ‘Fast Breeder Reactor’, these are a special kind of nuclear reactors that generate more atomic fuel than they consume as they work.

India has been running an experimental facility called a Fast Breeder Test Reactor (FBTR) now for 27 years.

This is a small nuclear reactor a forerunner for the monster that India has constructed at Kalpakkam called the Prototype Fast Breeder Reactor (PFBR). This will generate electricity commercially using the fast breeder route.

The world’s only commercially operating fast breeder reactor is situated in the Ural Mountains of Russia at the Beloyarsk Nuclear Power Plant, not far from Russia’s fourth largest city Yekateringburg.

The Russians today are the global leaders in fast breeder reactors having operated a fast breeder reactor called BN 600 since 1980.

In 2016, the Russian nuclear agency Rosatom commercially commissioned its big brother — the BN 800 fast breeder reactor.

This reactor produces about 800 MW of electricity and supplies it to the Ural region including the city of Yekateringburg.

While electricity that is produced is no different than any other electricity but the global community of atomic boffins is suitably chuffed about this unique achievement.

M Chudakov, now with the IAEA and well-known Russian fast breeder expert, calls “these reactors a bridge to the future as they can supply an almost unlimited supply of electricity”.

All eyes are now on southern India where another global nuclear milestone is likely to be crossed this year.

Arun Kumar Bhaduri, Director of the Indira Gandhi Centre for Atomic Research (IGCAR), Kalpakkam says, “fast breeder reactors are far safer than the current generation of nuclear plants and that all efforts are being made to kickstart within this year India’s first commercial fast breeder reactor at Kalpakkam.”

Such is the interest in fast breeder reactors that more than 700 of the best atomic scientists from over 30 countries gathered at Yekateringburg in IAEA’s conference on the ‘next generation nuclear systems for sustainable development’. The scientists deliberated on how to make nuclear energy last for several centuries.

Given India’s expertise, the co-chair of the conference was Suresh Chetal, one of the early pioneers of fast breeder reactors who helped tame fast breeder reactors for New Delhi when he was at the IGCAR.

Many countries have dabbled with fast breeder reactors and have given up, first off the block was the US but it gave up since inherently American governments have an allergic response with re-processing of nuclear waste in addition since USA has enough supplies of fissile material there is no hunger to maximally extract energy from uranium.

Japan and France both had robust programs with fast breeder technology but repeated failure to safely handle liquid sodium forced them to more or less give up on fast reactors.

China is more than a decade behind India in trying to master this complex beast.

Russia invested heavily in developing the fast breeder technology but since it commissioned its first fast breeder reactor BN 600 in 1980 it suffered an economic meltdown as the former Soviet Union broke up and only recently Russia could gather enough resources to complete its upgraded fast breeder reactor BN 800.

Today the BN 800 is a flagship reactor that uses both uranium and plutonium as fuel and generates electricity that is supplied to the grid. A visit to the facility reveals a squeaky clean reactor where seasoned operators like Ivan Sidrow are also experimenters as they go about trying to design a bigger 1200 MW fast breeder reactor.

India’s own PFBR is unique and rather different from the Russian fast breeder reactor though both use the same basic principle of physics.

Fast breeder reactors are called such not because they run faster but because the neutrons that sustain the atomic chain reaction travel at a much higher velocity than neutrons that help run the traditional atomic plants.

These are called breeders as they generate more fuel than they consume a fact hard to fathom since they seem to defy the laws of conservation of energy.

But a very unique quirk of elemental uranium makes this possible.

Nuclear reactors use a flavour of uranium called U-235 which unfortunately constitutes a minuscule quantity even in super purified uranium.

The larger component is what is called U-238 this flavour is the bulk but is essentially a waste product as the atomic reaction cannot be sustained by this elemental flavour.

In a fast breeder reactor the very special fast neutrons interact with the so called wasted uranium U-238 and converts it into a valuable resource. This is why fast breeders are akin to an ‘akshaya patra’.

India’s fast breeder reactor is even more unique as within it the country also deploys special rods of thorium which when they get exposed to or irradiated by fast neutrons they generate U-233 and a normally benign thorium turns into a valuable atomic material.

It is well known that India is very energy hungry and as economic growth takes place mega quantities of electricity will be required.

Unfortunately, nature has not been bountiful on India as the Indian land mass is not endowed with enough uranium but on the other hand the country has the world’s second largest store of thorium.

Today the country in a well thought out strategy is mastering fast breeder reactors that can be an effective via media for utilising the vast thorium reserves.

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Refugees found frozen in Lebanon near Syria border

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Refugees found frozen

The bodies of nine Syrian refugees who crossed into Lebanon have been found frozen in a mountainous area near the border with Syria, according to the Lebanese army.

The military said in a statement that the bodies were found on a people-smuggling route in the early hours of Friday after a snowstorm hit the Masnaa area, where Lebanon’s largest official border crossing with Syria is located.

“The army saved six other displaced Syrians, one of whom died later in a hospital from frostbite,” the statement added, raising the death toll to 10.

“The bodies were taken to the hospitals in the area, and the army continues to search for other displaced people trapped in the snow, in order to evacuate them and provide medical treatment for them.”

The identities of the Syrian refugees were not immediately known. According to some reports, at least one child was among the bodies found.

Two other Syrian nationals were arrested and charged with people-smuggling, the army added.

‘We are deprived of everything’

Temperatures dropped on Friday as winter storms battered the Lebanon-Syria border, making the lives of the more than 357,000 Syrian refugees living in makeshift tents in the Bekaa Valley, some 60km north of Masnaa, even more difficult.

Reporting from the region, Al Jazeera’s correspondent Zeina Khodr said that Syrian refugees “face many challenges during the winter months”.

“They live in tents that are made out of plastic sheeting, which does little to protect them from the cold and the rain,” she said.

Hammadi Chelbi, a Syrian refugee who has been living in Bekaa Valley after he fled the Syrian conflict in its first year, told Al Jazeera that he and his family are living in misery.

“We have nothing but pain, sickness and suffering,” he said. “We are deprived of everything.”

There are one million registered Syrian refugees in Lebanon, although government officials estimate that the number is closer to 1.5 million.

The UN’s refugee agency (UNHCR) says it is not getting the money it needs to help Syrian refugees in Lebanon through another harsh winter.

Last year, it requested $228m but received less than 60 percent of that, prompting it to warn that life in the camps was getting worse.

SOURCE: AL JAZEERA NEWS

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One vote can’t change dynamics of our relations: Netanyahu on India

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Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu

New Delhi, Jan 14 : Just one negative vote at UN cannot change the dynamics of Indian-Israeli relations between India and Israel, visiting Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said here on Sunday, terming relations with India as “marriage made in heaven”.

“I don’t think one vote affects a general trend you can see in many other votes and everything and these visits,” Netanyahu said when asked to comment on India’s vote at UN against US decision to recognise Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, in an interview on India Today TV channel.

“Yes, naturally we were disappointed, but this visit is a testimony that our relationship is moving on so many fronts, be it political, technological, tourism, security and so many other areas. Ultimately you see it reflected in all UN votes, not just now but soon,” he added.

In December last year, India voted in favour of a resolution brought by Turkey and Yemen in the UN opposing the United States’ decision recognising Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. The resolution was approved with 127-9 at the UN General Assembly.

“First of all there is a special relationship between the two countries, between their people and then between the leaders. The partnership between India and Israel is a marriage made in heaven but consecrated on earth,” Netanyahu said, adding he respects his Indian counterpart Narendra Modi “as a great leader” because he is “impatient to bring future to his people”.

On cooperation in counter-terrorism, he said that intelligence is the key.

“And Israel has on the whole superb intelligence. I would say none is better. And we share with you our intelligence and have stopped over the last few years some 30 major terror attacks, which we shared vis-a-vis not India alone but with dozens of countries.

“Israel protects lives of so many people. When you board a plane you want to know that plane won’t be blown up mid air. It will take off and land safely. When that happens, usually Israel has something to do with it, not on every flight but on many flights,” he said.

Asked if he approves India’s terror strikes launched across the border with Pakistan, he said that India makes its own choices and “you fight terrorism by fighting it”.

As the interviewer persisted, a smiling Netanyahu said: “Well, I am trying to be a foreign minister. I am trying to be a diplomat, because I hold two portfolios — the Prime Minister and the Foreign Minister at the same time.”

Asked if Israel can use his good offices with China to persuade it to not veto a resolution against Lashkar-e-Taiba chief Hafiz Saeed, Netanyahu said: “I think these things are best discussed not on television, especially if you want to make progress.”

However, he also said: “But our defence relationship is quite significant and comprises many things. I think the key word here is defence. We want to defend ourselves, we are not aggressive nations. We are very committed to making sure that none can commit an aggression against the either one of us.”

On the bilateral trade relations, the Israeli Prime Minister said that “there is a whole world that is erupting, exploding”.

Advocating a Free Trade Agreement (FTA) with India to boost and deepen bilateral economic relations, he said: “Israel is changing so rapidly. We are creating industries. We have just created a car industry in just last five years. We have 500 start-ups dealing with automation of car.

“And there are other areas like water, agriculture, energy, health, transportsation. There is a whole world that is erupting, exploding. Future belongs to those who innovate… Israel is an innovation nation. India has innovations. In Silicon Valley there are two dialects you hear — Hindi and Hebrew and only a little English.”

He said that when he visited the iconic Teen Murti war memorial at Haifa circle, he felt “an expression of gratitude” because it was Indian soldiers who fell down while defending the city of Haifa (now in Israel) during WW-I.

“It’s closing of a circle 100 years later,” he said.

In a sign of growing importance to the ties with Israel, the government on Sunday renamed Delhi’s Teen Murti Chowk as Teen Murti-Haifa Chowk after the Israeli city.

Netanyahu is on a six-day visit to India, the first Israeli Premier to visit India after 2003 when Ariel Sharon came. Setting aside protocol, Modi went to personally receive Netanyahu.

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Full Court expected to resolve Supreme Court crisis

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dipak-misra

All 25 Supreme Court judges are expected to meet soon to resolve the crisis in the country’s apex court after four senior-most judges complained against Chief Justice Dipak Misra over allocation of cases.

Informed sources told IANS that a Full Court meeting of the Supreme Court judges will take place at the earliest to take a call on the issue and deliberate over the complaints highlighted in public by the four judges — Justices J. Chelameswar, Ranjan Gogoi, Madan B. Lokur and Kurian Joseph — who are the senior-most after Justice Misra in that order.

The rebel judges criticised the Chief Justice over allocation of cases, saying the administration of the top court was “not in order”.

As there was no solution in sight, Supreme Court Bar Association President Vikas Singh met Justice Misra and gave him a copy of the resolution the Bar passed on Saturday. The resolution also suggested a Full Court meeting to resolve the matter.

Two days after the crisis began, a seven-member delegation of the Bar Council of India (BCI) on Sunday also met the Chief Justice to convey its concern over the issue. The BCI also met three of the four rebel judges.

“We hope that the issue will be sorted out amicably and no one from outside should interfere,” BCI President Manan Kumar Mishra told reporters.

“During the meetings with Justice Misra, Justice Chelameswar, Justice Lokur, Justice Joseph and other judges, each one of them assured us that the issues will be resolved. The meetings with the judges took place in a very cordial atmosphere.”

Justices Sharad Arvind Bobde and L. Nageswara Rao also met Justice Chelameswar at his residence.

As the crisis lingered, four retired judges wrote to Justice Misra on Sunday, throwing their weight behind the four rebel judges who “have brought to light a serious issue regarding the manner of allocation of cases, particularly sensitive cases, to various benches of the Supreme Court”.

The retired judges are Justice P.B. Sawant, a former Supreme Court judge, Justice A.P. Shah, former Chief Justice of the Delhi High Court, Justice K. Chandru, a former judge of the Madras High Court, and Justice H. Suresh, a former judge of the Bombay High Court.

They appreciated the “grave concern” raised by the four Supreme Court judges that cases were not being allocated in a proper manner and “arbitrarily” allocated to “particular designated benches, often headed by junior judges”.

“This is having a very deleterious effect on the administration of justice and the rule of law,” read the letter by the four former judges.

They said they agreed with the view of the rebel judges that the Chief Justice despite being the master of roster cannot assign cases “in an arbitrary manner such that, sensitive and important cases are sent to hand-picked benches of junior judges by the Chief Justice”.

“This issue needs to be resolved… for allocation of benches and distribution of cases, which are rational, fair and transparent. Only such measures would assure the people that the Supreme Court is functioning in a fair and transparent manner and that the power of the Chief Justice as master of roster is not being misused to achieve a particular result in important and sensitive cases. We, therefore, urge you to take immediate steps in this regard.”

Meanwhile, the Co-ordination Committee of All District Bar Associations of Delhi on Sunday condemned the four senior Supreme Court judges for going public over their differences with Justice Misra.

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