India on Friday took a giant leap in the nuclear sector, rocketing from a 10-tonne fuel reprocessing facility to a massive hi-tech 100-tonne unit at Tarapur, which was inaugurated by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. Srikumar Banerjee, chairman of the Atomic Energy Commission, described it as a landmark event. It was the first unit under the recently-constituted Nuclear Recycle Board. Known as the Power Reactor Fuel Processing Plant, its role is to reprocess spent fuel from the Kakrapar, Rajasthan and Narora atomic power plants. Once the spent fuel reaches the plant at Tarapur, it goes through a process known as chopping and dissolution, before undergoing a chemical process and then it is stored. The first reprocessing facility was commissioned in 1975 at Tarapore. Bhabha Atomic Research Centre officials said the process is carried out in four heavily shielded special cells and involves the separation of plutonium and uranium. At present, there are four reprocessing plants in the country — one at BARC in Trombay, another at Kalpakkam near Chennai and two at Trombay. Another unit will be commissioned at Kalpakkam in 2013 and an integrated facility has been planned at Tarapur, though no timeframe has been laid down. Banerjee said the advantage of the integrated facility is that various activities relating to reprocessing can be carried out in a single area. It will also deal with the critical issue of waste management. He said at present, the spent fuel is stored in a vault at Tarapur, which is one-fourth the size of a football field, with a capacity to accommodate two 540 mw reactors. “We are looking for a geological repository where the waste can be permanently stored,’’ he said. According to the PM, the atomic energy programme of India represented an important and significant step towards energy self-reliance and energy security.