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Wednesday, August 07, 2013

Did India Export Nuclear Reactors To Bahrain [Or Negotiating To Do So]?!

Something could be brewing, if the country's Ministry of External Affairs [MEA] were to be believed.

While skimming through these releases that the MEA periodically issues, for possibly all countries, yesterday, this bit of info caught attention. Listed amongst India's top-5 exports to Bahrain is/are Nuclear Reactor[s]!

"India’s top five non-oil exports included (i) Inorganic chemicals, organic or inorganic compounds of precious metals, or rare earth ,metals, or radi. Elem  or  of  isotopes,  (ii)  Nuclear  Reactors,  boilers,  machinery  and  mechanical appliances...."

- India-Bahrain Relation [PDF]

Well, to be fair, these releases are meant to inform in the most generic manner, and are not something one would cite while authoring a paper. This is evident from the manner 'rare earth metals' has been written as "rare earth, metals" or "radi. Elem  or  of  isotopes" instead of the correct 'radioactive isotopes of elements'. Still, given the sensitive nature of the topic, any claim of exporting Nuclear Reactors is something that probably wouldn't have escaped attention of even the most disinterested Babu, if there weren't even a grain of truth in it.

As in the case of almost every Arab kingdom, the inevitable prospect of exhausting the reserves of its Hydrocarbon has caused them to diversify its energy portfolio, looking to add Nuclear energy to the bouquet. Bahrain, too, has made known its intent to follow suite. Having earlier announced intentions to begin generation by 2017, it has since pushed the dates further ahead, with experts expressing discouragement. No known entity is believed to have signed any agreements to supply the Reactor. Additionally, 5 years back it signed an agreement with the United States of America, whereby it would assist the kingdom harness the power of the atom for peaceful ends.


Some Indian export of Nuclear-related materials & technology include equipping Vietnam & Sri Lanka with the 'Bhabhatron' telecobalt therapy machine used for treating Cancer. A Cobalt-60-based irradiator, known as the 'Gamma Chamber GC-5000', was exported to Romania's 'Horia Hulubei National Institute of Physics and Nuclear Engineering'. The Heavy Water Board [HWB] periodically exports Heavy Water for both Nuclear & Non-Nuclear applications to countries like South Korea, the U.S.A. & France, with South Korea placing repeat orders, & to China too, under IAEA safeguards. The country's Heavy Water Board [HWB] reported of exports orders worth $7.5 million USD for the 2011-2012. Turkey's Türkiye Atom Enerjisi Kurumu [TAEK] had contracted the Nuclear Fuel Complex [NFC] for commissioning its fuel element end-cap welding unit, used for preparing nuclear fuel rods, possibly in preparation for its proposed Nuclear Reactors. In recent years, it has also begun pushing for the export  of the indigenously developed 220 MWe & 540 MWe Pressurised Heavy Water Reactor [PHWR] [illustration above]. Despite expressions of optimism every now & then, based on possibly promising leads, they're yet to convert a lead into a sales contract. Also offered are steels with Metallurgy specific to Nuclear applications, forging capabilities, large-scale fabrication of components, indigenous instrumentations, control software, among others. Having demonstrated self-sufficiency in implementing end-to-end solutions over the entire Nuclear Fuel Cycle, including reprocessing of spent fuel rods, the country's nuclear energy industry would be favourably positioned to offer a lot more, upon India becoming a member of the various nuclear export control regimes, with the inherent associative cost advantage.

If indeed one is talking about India exporting Nuclear Reactors to Bahrain, one can be completely certain that it hasn't already happened, notwithstanding the post title. The nature of such a transaction simply doesn't warrant the kind of secrecy that would entail if it had indeed already happened. Also such a Reactor would most certainly be under IAEA safeguards. However, the IAEA website makes no mention of any notification for any future Indian-origin Bahraini reactor. Bahrain has even gone to the extent of committing to not engage in the reprocessing of spent fuel to extract Plutonium. Therefore, it defies logic for Bahrain to demand & India to accede to any such demand for secrecy of this nature, and one would definitely not have read about it in a MEA release as this. Moreover, given the modest quantum of trade between the two entities, a sale of Nuclear Reactor[s] would have marked a noticeable spike in the trade graph for that fiscal - the numbers lends itself to some funny interpretations, though.



A more grounded explanation could be that the two are currently engaged in a preliminary stage of negotiation, exploring the possibility of, perhaps, installing a Research Reactor in Bahrain. One of the reasons cited by detractors of Bahrain's Nuclear plans is that the country does not have the required pool of in-house talent to pursue such goals. As in the case of India itself, that joined the group of Reactor operators in the 1950s with its indigenous Apsara Research Reactor [went critical on the 4th of August, 1956], the first operational Nuclear Reactor in Asia, using it to build-up the pre-requisite for bigger plans, so can Bahrain. Currently operational indigenous designs of Research Rectors, not related to the Thorium fuel cycle, include the KAMINI located in Tamil Nadu, whereas the Apsara, Dhruva, Purnima I, II & III are situated in the state of Maharashtra. Two additional facilities, a 30 MWth High Flux Research Reactor [HFRR] & 125 MWth Dhruva-2 Reactor2 has also been proposed for construction. One has also been hearing plans of exporting an electricity generating nuclear power plant to Kazakhstan, dating back to 2009. However, that country has yet to take any purchase decision on that front, though its has been reported it would start small, in the 300 MWe range. An earlier IAEA-compliant plan to install a 10 MWe system in Iran, & possibly the 220 MWe reactor subsequently, had to be withdrawn owing to Iran's testy relation with the West & Arab kingdoms. Any proposed sale to a west-friendly Bahrain is unlikely to meet the same fate.

Bahrain, being a small geographical entity with relatively modest electricity consumption, would be optimally served with small-medium sized reactor.  Connecting a single large power-plant to serve limited load centres have potentials to cause a total failure of the electricity grid in case of breakdown of the plant. A better approach would be to balance the load among multiple small-medium reactors. AFAIK, India, presently is the only country with a operational, contemporary design for small [220] medium [540] sized electricity generation-capable Nuclear Reactor. It has achieved more than 379 Reactor years of safe operation of the plants it runs, an impressive number by all standards, and is currently in the process of executing the bigger, 700 MWe PHWR successor design [IPHWR-700]. Given these factors, it could indeed be possible & desirous that a Indo-Bahraini deal of this nature be in the offing with the proposed deal under negotiation, erroneously reported as finalised. Needless to say, one wants the country to have a sizable presence in the global Nuclear commerce domain, serving both to promote further advancements in indigenous technology as well as providing a strong & sustainable way to consolidate international relations.


1 =

"The safety performance of Indian nuclear power reactors continued to be impeccable over 379 reactor-years of operation."

- Nuclear Power Corporation of India Ltd. CHAIRMAN’S STATEMENT 26th ANNUAL GENERAL BODY MEETING-2013 July 2013

2 = possibly to replace the Canadian CIRUS Reactor, also a medium flux system, whose operation had to be ceased in compliance with the U.S.-India Civil Nuclear Agreement. Spent fuel rods from both, the CIRUS & Dhruva-1 have been the primary source for harvesting Plutonium, required for the country's 3-stage Nuclear Programme & deterrence capabilities.


Also Read: Indian Listening Station In Oman Monitoring Pakistan's Naval Communications [RUMINT]