Cirus : End of an era

On New Year’s Eve, when most Mumbaikars will be partying, a small group of scientists will be inside the control room of an atomic reactor at BARC in Trombay, focusing their attention instead on a historic event. There will be a different sort of countdown inside the control room of the reactor. At an appointed time, a shift-incharge will open the valves which will bring down the level of heavy water. This in turn will reduce the reactor’s power. What does this exercise signify? It will lead to the final and permanent shutting down of the reactor Cirus, acronym for Canada-India Research Reactor which attained criticality on July 10,1960. This 40 mw reactor, which had played a major part in the “Smiling Buddha” project—India’s first nuclear weapon test at Pokhran on May 18,1974—will be permanently shut down after 50 years of successful operation on December 31, 2010. Though this reactor still has a 20-year life span, its shutting down is a part of the Indo-US nuke deal. Scientists attribute the move to political factors. BARC director, R K Sinha, told mediapersons that postclosure, the fuel from Cirus will be transferred to a reprocessing plant at Trombay. “The process of defuelling and decontamination will take about a year,” he explained. Regarding the future plans for Cirus, the BARC chief said: “The options include making it a neutron production centre, using it for demonstrating decommissioning capability, converting it into an exhibition hall to highlight the achievements of India’s nuclear programme for students and having it as a facility with more than one role.”

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