INS Arihant (S-73), the lead ship of India’s Arihant class of nuclear-powered submarines of 6,000-tonne vessels, was built under the Advanced Technology Vessel (ATV) project at the Ship Building Centre in Visakhapatnam at a cost of $2.9 billion.
The reactor-less hull of the Arihant was introduced to the public at a “launch” ceremony by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and his wife Gursharan Kaur on 26 July 2009 to mark the anniversary of Vijay Diwas (Kargil War Victory Day). India became the sixth country after Russia, America, France, the U.K. and China to have its very own nuclear submarine which was an essential requirement for India’s second-strike capability.
In an interview to NDTV, Chairman of the Atomic Energy Commission and Secretary to Department of Atomic Energy Anil Kakodkar tells how the reactor was put together. The reactor has been in the making for more than a decade. But due to the secrecy of the project, it was kept under wraps.
This nuclear submarine for which the reactor has been made by your team, how significant an achievement is that?
Well, we have a compact propulsion reactor which has been tested at Kalpakkam for the last three years and this is an exact prototype of what has been installed in INS Arihant which was launched soon. So it’s a major achievement of new reactor technology which incidentally will also be required for the larger power programme because this is based on pressurised water reactors (PWR). So this signifies both. We have a compact power plant for propulsion but we also have PWR technology which can be used for electricity production through indigenous route in future.
So why should Indians be proud of this?
Well, one has to be proud because it has been done here, it has been done by Indians and this is something which is not available for the asking, whatever money you want to pay. There is no way to acquire that unless you do it yourself and not many countries have such a capability. So it is certainly a matter to be proud of.
Was this completely made in India?
Designed, fabricated and executed in India?
Yes, that’s right, by Indian industries.
And by Indian scientists?
At Vizag, the Prime Minister went out of the way and thanked the Russians, and the Russian Ambassador was also present. What was the role of the Russians? India had leased a Russian nuclear submarine?
I would also like to thank our Russian colleagues. They have played a very important role as consultants, they have a lot of experience in this, so their consultancy has been of great help. I think we should acknowledge that.
Consultancy for what?
For various things, as you go along when you are doing things for the first time – with a consultant by your side, you can do it more confidently and these are difficult time-consuming challenges. So you have to do this without too much of iterative steps and consultancy helped in that.
So this is not a Russian design?
It is an Indian design.
Indian design, made in India, by Indians?
Yes, that’s right.
You have had the system running here in Kalpakkam for several years.
Has it functioned smoothly?
Yes, it is working extremely well.
No outages, no issues?
Well this is run in a campaign mode because this is run in the same way as one would expect in the real situation. So it is running in a campaign mode because I think the important thing is to be able to ramp up and come down and it is really doing extremely well.
It is believed that it will also carry some things which the Bhabha Atomic Research Centre has developed [the nuclear bombs]. So will it really give India the second strike capability because we have a no-first-use policy?
Yes that is the purpose of such a platform.
And this platform will ensure that?
Are you confident of that?
Of course, I am confident. It has been designed with a lot of care.
I am told it is about ten times smaller than a normal power reactor, is that correct?
Well if you want to construct a power reactor of a similar power capacity, it would happen that way, yes.
So would it be fair to call it a baby reactor?
It is a small reactor compared to, say, for example a commercial power station, 1000 MW (electric) would generate more than 3000 MW of heat, which is about 30 times what we produce here. Of course, such reactors are huge in size and dimensions and all. But it is a small compact reactor. And that’s the challenge about it.
So, when can one expect to have criticality on the sea-based reactor in the INS Arihant?
This will be essentially decided by the Navy, as I said they have a fairly elaborate sequence of activities through these trials and whenever they are ready for going through the criticality, I am sure our people will facilitate that to happen quickly.
Nuclear reactors for submarines are used normally for increasing the endurance. What is the kind of endurance you are being able to provide to INS Arihant?
Well it will be, in fact, in terms of the actual use for a nuclear submarine. The endurance is dictated more by human endurance rather than the energy of the power pack endurance. Power pack endurance is usually much larger. So it’s the human endurance — it can remain submerged depending upon the human endurance.
And will this submarine leave radioactive trace behind it because you have some kind of shadow shielding?
No, none at all. Because that has been factored into the design and there will be absolutely no trace left behind.
So, once the vessel dives it can remain hidden from Vizag to Mumbai all through?
Yes, as long as it is submerged it will remain hidden and it can remain submerged for a long time.