Bhabha Atomic Research Center

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Last Updated: September 1, 2003
Other Name: BARC
Location: Mumbai, Trombay
Subordinate To: Bhabha Atomic Research Center
Size: 8 research reactors
Facility Status: Operational

Nuclear research in India began in 1945 with the founding of the Tata Institute of Fundamental Research (TIFR) under the leadership of Homi Jehangir Bhabha. With the creation in 1954 of the Atomic Energy Establishment at Trombay and the Department of Atomic Energy (DAE), Bhabha and all scientists working on programs of direct relevance to applications of nuclear power were transferred from TIFR to Trombay. After the death of Homi Bhabha in an air crash in 1966, the Atomic Energy Establishment, Trombay was renamed the Bhabha Atomic Research Center (BARC). Today, BARC is India's primary research and development institution focused on indigenous nuclear power and other applications of nuclear technology. The staff of BARC conducts research in almost every aspect of nuclear technology. Although many of these research projects have civilian applications, BARC also plays a leading role in India's nuclear weapon program. As stated in the DAE's 2000-2001 Annual Report, "BARC has contributed immensely towards national security by demonstrating a nuclear deterrent capability."

BARC has been tasked with developing the technological independence needed to fulfill India's strategy for nuclear energy. This strategy envisions a closed fuel cycle involving the reprocessing of spent fuel from India's Pressurized Heavy Water Reactors (PHWRs) to provide plutonium for India's Fast Breeder Reactor (FBRs). BARC is also attempting to develop Advanced Heavy Water Reactors (AHWRs) utilizing thorium based fuel with a small feed of plutonium. The final stage of India's nuclear strategy, calls for the development of "dedicated breeder reactors based on uranium-233 and thorium" in order to take advantage of India's vast thorium deposits. Much of the technology involved in the proposed fuel cycle raises proliferation concerns as its continual source of unsafeguarded fissile material for nuclear weapons.

BARC maintains eight research reactors (Apsara, Cirus, Dhruva, Zerlina, Purnima-I, Purnima-II, Purnima-III, and Kamini) and is engaged in reactor design and development (including thorium and MOX-fueled Advanced Heavy Water Reactors and Fast Breeder Reactors), radioisotope production; plants for the manufacture of uranium metal and nuclear fuels; fuel reprocessing; waste immobilization; seismic stations; basic research in materials, physical, chemical and biological sciences; radiochemistry and isotope laboratories; pilot plants for the production of heavy water, zirconium and titanium production; and a thorium plant. BARC has also been active in the following weapons related projects:

  • A detritium process that extracts tritium from the heavy water used as a moderator in India's PHWRs. The extracted tritium can then be used to build a thermonuclear weapon.
  • The Cirus reactor provided the plutonium for the 1974 nuclear test. The Dhruva Reactor is the primary generator of weapons-grade plutonium-bearing spent fuel. It is estimated that the reactor produces an average of 16-24kg of weapons-grade plutonium per year in its spent fuel.
  • A pilot plant at Trombay was established for the enrichment of Boron-10 to 80 percent purity. The many nuclear applications of Boron-10 include controlling criticality in nuclear weapons storage sites, reactors, plutonium reprocessing plants and nuclear storage facilities.
  • The Uranium Metal Plant, an unsafeguarded plant operated by BARC that fabricates fuel for India's research reactors, converts yellowcake (U3O8) feedstock to uranium tetrafluoride (UF4) and then reduces it to a metallic form using high-purity calcium or magnesium. "This facility can also convert yellowcake into uranium hexafluoride (UF6) for use in a uranium enrichment plant, and could be used to convert weapons-grade uranium or plutonium into metal for machining into nuclear weapons cores."
  • In the area of uranium enrichment BARC operates two facilities. The first is a pilot-scale uranium enrichment plant at Trombay that was established in 1985. The plant uses around 100 gas centrifuges to produce up to 2kg of highly enriched uranium per year. A larger pilot-scale plant at Rattehalli near Mysore also uses centrifuge production to produce 28kg of highly enriched uranium per year. BARC has also pursued development of laser technologies for use in uranium enrichment, studying inertial confinement fusion, reprocessing plutonium and purifying heavy water.
  • Plutonium extraction technologies have been utilized in the Power Reactor Fuel Reprocessing Plant (PREFRE), which can reprocess up to 50Mt of spent fuel each year. Administered by the head of BARC's Fuel Reprocessing Division, this facility reprocessed spent fuel from the Dhruva and Cirus research reactors. This facility supplies India with its primary stockpile of weapons-grade plutonium.
  • The design and development of a nuclear-powered propulsion system for future Indian nuclear-powered submarines. Nuclear specialists from BARC are developing a pressurized water reactor that will burn plate-type 20 percent enriched uranium fuel to power the Indian Navy's Advanced Technology Vessel (ATV).
  • As one of India's premier nuclear weapons laboratories, BARC is instrumental in designing and developing future thermonuclear weapons and nuclear warheads that can be carried on the Prithvi, Agni, or other future missile delivery systems.

Sources:
[1] Andrew Koch, "Selected Indian Nuclear Facilities," Center for Nonproliferation Studies (CNS), 1999, www.nonproliferation.org.
[2] Andrew Koch, "Nuclear-powered submarines: India's strategic trump card," Jane's Intelligence Review, June 1998, pp. 29-31.
[3] Bhabha Atomic Research Center (BARC), www.barc.ernet.in.
[4] DAE (Government of India), "Annual Report: 2000-2001," Executive Summary, www.dae.gov.in.
[5] T.S. Gopi Rethinaraj, "ATV: all at sea before it hits the water," Jane's Intelligence Review June, 1998, pp. 31-35.
[6] "Tritium breakthrough brings India closer to an H-Bomb Arsenal," Jane's Intelligence Review, January 1998.

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