NPTEL – Chemical Engineering – Nuclear Reactor TechnologyJoint Initiative of IITs and IISc – Funded by MHRD Page 3 of 7
In this lecture we shall discuss the role of breeder reactors as a source of harnessingnuclear energy for longer durations, making it virtually inexhaustible.At the end of this lecture, the learners will be able to(i)
realize the limited availability of uranium for use in a non-breeder reactor (ii)
understand the role of breeders in increasing the uranium availabilityAn inexhaustible energy source is the one from which energy can be harnessedindefinitely without any depletion or diminishment. Energy can be harnessed fromsolar energy through solar photovoltaic cells or solar thermal and hence solar energyis an excellent example for inexhaustible energy source.In light water reactors, only a small fraction of the total uranium supplied is utilizeddepending upon the level of fuel enrichment. Some method of supplying fresh fuelwhile removing the spent fuel is followed to sustain the energy production. Escalationin the price of uranium will increase the cost of power generation. Hence the cost of energy production from light water reactors is dependent on the cost of uranium. Thefact that light water reactors require enriched uranium means that low quality or low-enrichment fuel is unsuitable for use in them. Though heavy water reactors cangenerate power with natural uranium, the cost of energy production is still dependenton the cost of uranium to be supplied from time-to-time. Hence for the nuclear power generation to be sustainable economically for longer periods, the over dependence of cost of energy production on cost of fuel must be brought down.
1 Nuclear Fuel Cycle
We will look at the ‘Nuclear Fuel Cycle’ to understand the way the fuel is handledfrom its mining till its disposal. The fuel cycle comprises the processes carried out totransform ore to the fuel suitable for use in core (called front end of the cycle),transformations to the fuel while it is being used in the reactor (called service period)and the activities performed to deal with the spent fuel from the reactor (called back end of the cycle).There are two types of fuel cycles: Open fuel cycle and Closed fuel cycle.
1.1 Open fuel cycle
The cycle begins with the extraction of uranium ore from mine followed by processing the extracted uranium. Enrichment is carried out to increase the percentageof U-235 from 0.7 % (natural uranium) to 2-3.5 % required for light water reactors.