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India’s first home-made nuclear submarine reactor activated
Publication Date : 12-08-2013
After a quarter century of local efforts in a technologically challenging area that only a handful of nations have mastered so far, the reactor on board India’s first home-made nuclear-powered submarine Arihant went into operation at 1:20 am on Saturday.
This is another step towards completing India’s nuclear triad with the commissioning of a submarine capable of launching nuclear missiles. The submarine project is behind schedule by three years. Arihant—-meaning "Destroyer of the Enemy"—-is likely to be commissioned as early as next year into the Indian Navy.
Only five countries presently possess nuclear-powered submarines: the US, Russia, the UK, France and China. Apart from India, Brazil is also working on naval nuclear propulsion.
India's Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh greeted the event as "a giant stride in the progress of our indigenous technological capabilities."
Arihant’s reactor achieved "criticality" — the term used to describe the self-sustaining nuclear reaction which is the first step towards the stable production of power — when the boat was "already in the sea."
The submarine is about 111 metres long, 11 metres broad and about 15 metres tall. It is designed to be propelled by a pressurised water reactor (PWR) that uses enriched uranium as fuel, and light water as both coolant and moderator. The PWR will generate about 80 megawatts of power.
Scientists who worked on the project say the main challenge was to make the reactor compact enough to fit into a submarine. Besides, the reactor needs to be stable when the submarine is accelerating into the depths of the sea.
The submarine will eventually be fitted with K-15 underwater fired missiles, which can hit targets 700km away.
The K-15 missiles, which will carry nuclear warheads, are already being produced. India is building three more nuclear-powered submarines at Visakhapatnam, port city on the southeast coast of India, in Andhra Pradesh as part of its programme to shore up its second strike capability.
Arihant is a joint effort between the Department of Atomic Energy (DAE), the Defence Research and Development Organisation, and the Indian Navy. The Bhabha Atomic Research Centre (BARC), the DAE’s nerve centre based in Trombay near Mumbai, also played a pivotal role in designing and developing the PWR that powers the Arihant.
Arihant’s reactor and its twin which is currently operating on the shore of Kalpakkam in Tamil Nadu are forerunners to the DAE building 900-megawatt electric commercial PWRs in India. These massive locally-produced PWRs are already in an advanced stage of design.
A submarine capable of launching nuclear missiles is considered essential for nuclear weapon states such as India, with a declared "no first use" policy. An underwater asset is the most survivable form of deterrence that can launch a counter attack even after the state suffers a first hit.
As of now, India has the capability of launching nuclear missiles from land, with the Agni and Prithvi missiles, as well as from the air with the Mirage and Su 30 MKI fighter bombers.