APSARA: Celebrating Asia's First Nuclear Research Reactor

Exploring the journey of APSARA, Asia's first research reactor that set India on a path of nuclear advancement, and its continuing impact on nuclear research and medical applications.

APSARA: Celebrating Asia's First Nuclear Research Reactor

Friday August 04, 2023,

3 min Read

Today, August 4, marks a significant milestone in the annals of nuclear history. It was on this day in 1956 that APSARA, Asia's first research reactor, achieved criticality in India, setting off a wave of nuclear advancement in the region that continues to shape our present and future.

Named after the celestial nymphs in Hindu mythology, APSARA became the cornerstone of nuclear research in India, epitomising the country's commitment to harnessing nuclear energy for peaceful purposes. The genesis of APSARA dates back to the early 1950s, under the pioneering leadership of Dr Homi J. Bhabha, often referred to as the father of the Indian Nuclear Programme.

APSARA: The Backbone of the Nuclear Programme

Housed in the Trombay campus of the Bhabha Atomic Research Centre (BARC), APSARA symbolised the fusion of advanced technology with Indian ingenuity. As a pool-type reactor of 1MW power, it used highly enriched uranium, weighing 4.5 kg, as fuel. The fuel took the form of plates, with light water serving the dual role of moderator and coolant. Boasting a maximum neutron flux of around 10^13 neutrons/cm^2/s, APSARA was instrumental in various fields, from isotope production and basic research to shielding experiments and neutron activation analysis.

A Legacy Continued: APSARA-upgraded

The reactor also played a critical role in neutron radiography and the testing of neutron detectors. Following over five decades of unwavering service to the nuclear research sector, APSARA was decommissioned in June 2009. However, its legacy was far from over.

Fast forward to September 10, 2018, and a new chapter in APSARA's story began to unfold. APSARA-upgraded, a higher-capacity swimming pool type research reactor, was inaugurated at Trombay. Constructed with indigenous resources and expertise, the modern reactor used plate type dispersion fuel elements made of Low Enriched Uranium (LEU).

The Future of Nuclear Research

With a higher neutron flux, APSARA-upgraded is poised to increase indigenous radio-isotope production for medical applications by about fifty percent. It's also expected to be a key player in research areas such as nuclear physics, material science, and radiation shielding.

APSARA's journey from its inception in 1956 to its upgrade in 2018 stands as a testament to the scientific prowess and determination of India. As we commemorate the day APSARA achieved criticality, let's celebrate the spirit of scientific inquiry, innovation, and progress that it embodied and continues to inspire. Here's to the past, present, and future of nuclear research, and to many more milestones in the journey of discovery and innovation.

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