Sixty-two years after it first began operating, the Apsara reactor has been reborn in a new, revamped avatar. The swimming pool type reactor, officially known as “Apsara-upgraded”, became active at the Bhabha Atomic Research Centre (BARC), Mumbai on Tuesday evening. It is double the original capacity and will substantially enhance the production of radio-isotopes used in medicine, agriculture, and industry. It will also provide additional facilities for research. The original, that was Asia’s first research reactor, used Highly Enriched Uranium sourced from the United Kingdom and France. “Apsara-upgraded” will use Indian-made fuel.
In 10 Points, History Of The Apsara Reactor
- Conceptualised by Dr Homi Jehangir Bhabha, the founder of India’s atomic energy programme, the reactor became operational on 4 August 1956. It was located in Trombay, Mumbai. This later came to be known as the Bhabha Atomic Research Centre.
- The decision to build the first nuclear research reactor in India had been taken in March 1955; it was dedicated to the nation less than two years later, in January 1957.
- The civil works, the shielded pool in which the reactor was placed, and the control system were all designed and built in India. Only the fuel that was used was sourced from the United Kingdom (UK).
- The name Apsara was given by then Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru. He was inspired by the bluish-white radiation that could be seen in the pool shielding the reactor.
- It was used extensively for the production of radioisotopes (needed for medical purposes), neutron activation analysis, neutron beam research, biological irradiations, and shielding experiments. Young scientists and engineers trained at this facility.
- The experience gained here enabled the setting up of a full-fledged isotope production laboratory at Trombay. These were earlier imported, mostly from the UK and the United States.
- Since it was crucial for research and isotope production, the Apsara reactor was operated round-the-clock till 1988, when two other research reactors Cirus and Dhruva came into existence. It was thereafter operated on a single-shift basis on weekdays.
- It was shut down in 2009, after over five decades of successful operation. When it was shut down, the highly-versatile reactor functioned on enriched fuel made by France.
- The new reactor, like its predecessor, is indigenously made. It uses plate type dispersion fuel elements made of Low Enriched Uranium (LEU) which is produced in India.
- According to BAARC, the reactor has a higher neutron flux. This means that it will increase the indigenous production of radio-isotopes for medical application by about 50%. It will also be extensively used for research in nuclear physics, material science, and radiation shielding.