Arihant’s advantages

Print edition : September 06, 2013

An important advantage of a nuclear-powered submarine is that it can lurk underwater for months on end unlike its conventional diesel-electric counterparts, which have to come to the surface periodically to recharge their batteries. The limiting factor is the crew’s endurance and psychology.

Another advantage is that it is fast and can accelerate quickly and attain full speed from cruising speed within a short time.

The third advantage is that for a country like India, which has a declared policy of “no first use” of nuclear weapons, a nuclear-powered submarine armed with missiles carrying nuclear warheads is the most survivable platform in case of a war.

India is the latest member of the club of countries that have nuclear-powered boats. The others are Russia, the United States, the United Kingdom, France and China. Brazil is working on nuclear propulsion.

An informed source said Russia had more nuclear-powered submarines than the U.S. Russia possibly has a few scores of nuclear-powered boats. Although the Chinese had built a few nuclear-propelled boats, the Chinese programme was not a successful one, the source said.

India is building three nuclear-powered submarines in addition to Arihant. It had leased Chakra, a nuclear-propelled boat from Russia, from 1988 to 1991 for training its (India’s) Navy personnel to operate these boats. After the lease ended, Chakra was returned to Russia. India has now leased another one from Russia for 10 years from 2012.

With the experience gained from building a shore-based Pressurised Water Reactor (PWR) at Kalpakkam, Tamil Nadu, and installing an identical twin on board Arihant, India has almost completed the design of 900 MWe civilian, commercial PWRs. They can generate 80 MWt each.

“The upscaling of the present design will take about four years,” said S. Basu, Director, Bhabha Atomic Research Centre (BARC), who is one of the architects of the Kalpakkam PWR.

“At present, our aim is to make a detailed design and get safety clearance from the regulatory authorities for the 900 MWe Indian PWRs,” Basu said.

The construction of the Indian PWRs can begin in six years from now, but the sites have not been selected yet. The enriched uranium fuel will come from a huge uranium enrichment facility that BARC will build in Chitradurga district, Karnataka.

T.S. Subramanian