India’s nuclear weapons program to get a boost as uranium output to increase 10x by 2031-32

India has plans to increase the output of uranium — the key fuel used in its nuclear weapons program — by ten times by 2031-32 and achieve self-sufficiency, the Department of Atomic Energy said.

India is estimated to have 232,315 tons of uranium contained in deposits of 273,956 tons of tiiuranium octoxide.

Even though the amount of uranium deposits is known, the actual quantity of uranium produced by India from indigenous sources at present is a state secret, as it can be used to calculate the quantity of nuclear weapons that the country makes.

India cannot use imported uranium to make weapons due to restrictions placed by the exporters of the nuclear fuel, and has to depend on indigenous production to fuel its weapons program.

It also uses part of the domestically mined uranium to produce power. Out of about 7,000 MW of nuclear power produced in India, 2400 MW is fuelled by domestic uranium.

India aims to increase the output of uranium soon, the government said.

“Uranium Corporation of India has made a detailed plan in line with DAE’s vision to achieve self sufficiency in Uranium production achieving nearly ten-fold rise in next 15 years (by 2031-32),” the DAE said.

“UCIL has outlined a plan for massive expansion which includes plan to maintain sustained supply from existing facilities, capacity expansion of some existing units and construction of new production centres (mines and plants) in different parts of the country.”

Due to a historical difficulties getting hold of uranium and the relative abundance of thorium deposits in the country, India plans to switch its power generation to thorium by 2050 under its ‘Phase 3’ nuclear program.

India has invested much into developing nuclear reactors based on thorium, of which it has nearly 1 mln tons. It is considered a world leader in Thorium-based technology.

To move to thorium, India has a three-stage nuclear program.

First, it will use normal uranium in Pressurised Heavy Water Reactors.

Then it will use plutonium obtained from these in Fast Breeder Reactors. These Fast Breeder Reactors will create Uranium-233.

In the third stage, Uranium-233 will be combined with Thorium in advanced reactors that are expected to provide the country with enough electricity for 10,000 years.

As of now, India is on the cusp of moving from stage 1 to stage 2. The first fast-breeder reactor (PFBR) — which has been in the making for 30 years — is scheduled to go live in January.

The total production of thorium ores in India has been on the rise in the last three years.

The country produced 80 tons in the year ended March 2015, 330 tons each in the subsequent two years.

Thorium is being produced by Indian Rare Earths Limited (IREL), a PSU under DAE, at Chavara, Kerala; Manavalakurichi, Tamil Nadu and Orissa Sand Complex, Odisha.