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A record of achievements

Published : Mar 16, 2002 00:00 IST

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IT is not without reason that Dr. Chaitanyamoy Ganguly, Chairman, Nuclear Fuel Complex (NFC) Board, brims with confidence about its future. This is boom time for the NFC which, as he calls it, "is the central workshop" of the Department of Atomic Energy. Production is galloping in its plants, targets are being met and revenues are exceeding expenditure. It has seen a sound financial performance in the last five financial years.

From April 2001, in the first nine months of this financial year, revenue has outstripped expenditure (expenditure Rs.438 crores and revenue Rs.670 crores). In 1999-2000, the surplus was Rs.226 crores.

Most of the plants had exceeded their targets. While the target for the production of Pressurised Heavy Water Reactor (PHWR) fuel assemblies in 2000-01 was 23,025, the actual production was 27,009. For a similar target for 1999-2000, actual production was 26,883 assemblies. Production exceeded the target by 2,070 assemblies for 1998-99. The natural uranium oxide powder production was going up - from about 280 tonnes in 1995-96, 650 tonnes in 1999-2000 to 666 tonnes in 2000-01. The zirconium oxide production was consistently showing an upward trend from 204 tonnes in 1995-96 to 242 tonnes in 2000-01.

Ganguly did his graduation and doctorate in metallurgical engineering from the University of Calcutta. He was head of the Radiometallurgy Division, Bhabha Atomic Research Centre, Trombay, from 1986 to 1995. He is a Fellow of the Alexander Von Humboldt Foundation, Germany. Ganguly is an expert of international repute in nuclear fuels and is mainly responsible for the development and production of uranium, plutonium and thorium fuels for research and power reactors. He is often called "carbide Ganguly" because he invented the mixed plutonium-uranium carbide fuel which powers the Fast Breeder Test Reactor at Kalpakkam in Tamil Nadu. The FBTR is the only reactor in the world to run on carbide fuel.

Ganguly said that when the NFC was set up in 1971 an important aim was indigenisation. In the second phase, the focus was on quality. In the third phase, the aim was to make the products economically. The most important target was to combine all these with paramount stress on safety. The Safety Engineering Division ensures that all activities are performed under safe conditions as per the Factories (Atomic Energy) Rules and Regulations. It can restrict any unsafe operation. Besides, safety was being independently monitored by committees appointed by the Atomic Energy Regulatory Board (AERB), which keeps a tab on safety aspects of nuclear installations in the country. The NFC has won safety awards from the AERB.

Ganguly said that importance was given to maintaining a clean environment. The NFC had effluent treatment plants spread over 45 acres (about 18 hectares). The various products in process generated large quantities of gaseous, aqueous and solid wastes. Rigorous control of effluents was being ensured by means of the construction of leak-tight solar evaporation ponds lined with high density polyethylene sheets. A well-like contraption nearby will reveal whether there is any seepage into the ground. There are two separate ponds for liquid and solid effluents.

When the NFC began production in 1971, the area was rocky, covered by scrub jungle. Today, there are several lakh trees on the campus.

The NFC will make all the components in the core for the Prototype Fast Breeder Reactor (PFBR of 500 MWe capacity) to come up at Kalpakkam. Totally, it will manufacture 1,785 assemblies. The plutonium-uranium oxide fuel pellets will be made at the Advanced Fuel Fabrication Facility at Tarapur.

Industrial activities at the NFC had led to several spin-offs. Ganguly said the NFC supplies of monel (an alloy) had a big market in the refrigeration industry. It also made copper-brass alloys for the same industry. For thermal power stations, it made titanium condenser tubes. It produced oxide powder used in cutting tool industry. The NFC also produced niobium-titanium alloys used in making super-conducting wires for the super-conducting cyclotron coming up in Kolkata.

The NFC has established "Gurukul", a training centre for engineers. M. Surya Prakash, officer-in-charge, Gurukul, said that the first batch of 25 students, chosen from among 11,000 applicants, were being trained.

(This story was published in the print edition of Frontline magazine dated Mar 16, 2002.)

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