The Government of India created the Atomic Energy Establishment, Trombay (AEET) on 3 January 1954. It was established to consolidate all the research and development activity for nuclear reactors and technology under the Atomic Energy Commission. All scientists and engineers engaged in the fields of reactor design and development, instrumentation, metallurgy and material science etc. were transferred with their respective programmes from the Tata Institute of Fundamental Research (TIFR) to AEET, with TIFR retaining its original focus for fundamental research in the sciences. The centre was renamed as the Bhabha Atomic Research Centre (BARC) on 22 January 1967.
India’s First Nuclear Reactor was Apsara. It was also the first nuclear reactor in Asia. Apsara went critical at BARC on August 4, 1956. The reactor was designed by the BARC and built with assistance from the United Kingdom (which also provided the initial fuel supply consisting of 80 percent enriched uranium). It heralded the arrival of India’s nuclear energy programme. Dr. Homi Bhabha himself conceptualised the design of the reactor and the reactor was built entirely by Indian engineers in a record time of about 15 months.
Reactor was named by the then Prime Minister of India, Jawaharlal Nehru when he likened the blue Cerenkov radiation to the beauty of the Apsaras (Indra’s court dancers).
Apsara is a swimming-pool-type reactor loaded with enriched uranium as fuel. The fuel core is suspended from a movable trolley in a pool filled with water. The pool water serves as coolant, moderator and reflector, besides providing the shielding. It was used for various purposes such as production of isotopes; basic research; shielding experiments; neutron activation analysis; neutron radiography and testing of neutron detectors. The Reactor was permanently shutdown in 2010.