India's Prototype Fast Breeder Reactor delayed again

M.V. Ramana

In December 2022, India's Minister of State for Parliamentary Affairs, Personnel, Public Grievances & Pensions & Prime Minister's Office--and the parliamentary spokesperson for the Department of Atomic Energy (DAE)--informed the upper house of the parliament that the Prototype Fast Breeder Reactor (PFBR), of 500 MWe (megawatt-electrical) capacity, is now expected to be completed in 2024. Just nine months prior, on 31 March, the same spokesperson had offered 2022 as the year for completion.

As previously documented on this blog, completion of the PFBR has been repeatedly delayed. As a result, the construction period is now more than thrice the early projections. The DAE started building the PFBR in 2004. In 2005, less than a year after construction started, the director of the agency that designed the PFBR announced at a public meeting that he was "confident" that they would construct the reactor "in five years and a half", and that "four more FBRs, of 500-MWe capacity each, would be built... by 2020". With this latest delay, PFBR's project will be at least twenty years old.

The initial project cost estimate for the PFBR was 34.92 billion Rupees. That too has gone up in steps, and the last official update was in November 2019, when the same spokesperson informed the lower house of the parliament that the PFBR's projected cost was "being revised" to 68.40 Rupees. (As of 28 January 2023, the conversion rate for Indian Rupees is 81.5 per U.S. dollar but this has not been constant. However, the PFBR cost estimates are in mixed-year Rupees and so directly converting it into other currencies using one conversion rate would be misleading.)

The other breeder reactor operating in India, the Fast Breeder Test Reactor (FBTR), managed to reach its "design power capacity of 40 MWt (megawatt-thermal)" only in 2022, thirty seven years after it started operating.