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Unit III Course material



Principles of nuclear energy – Fission reactions – Nuclear reactor – Nuclear power plants





Changes can occur in the structure of the nuclei of atoms. These changes are called nuclear reactions. Energy created in a nuclear reaction is called nuclear energy, or atomic energy. Nuclear energy is produced naturally and in man-made operations under human control.
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Naturally: Some nuclear energy is produced naturally. For example, the Sun and other stars make heat and light by nuclear reactions. Man-Made: Nuclear energy can be man-made too. Machines called nuclear reactors, parts of nuclear power plants, provide electricity for many cities. Man-made nuclear reactions also occur in the explosion of atomic and hydrogen bombs.

Nuclear energy is produced in two different ways, in one; large nuclei are split to release energy. In the other method, small nuclei are combined to release energy.

Nuclear Fission: In nuclear fission, the nuclei of atoms are split, causing energy to be
released. The atomic bomb and nuclear reactors work by fission. The element uranium is the main fuel used to undergo nuclear fission to produce energy since it has many favourable properties. Uranium nuclei can be easily split by shooting neutrons at them. Also, once a uranium nucleus is split, multiple neutrons are released which are used to split other uranium nuclei. This phenomenon is known as a chain reaction.

Nuclear Fusion: In nuclear fusion, the nuclei of atoms are joined together, or fused. This happens
only under very hot conditions. The Sun, like all other stars, creates heat and light through nuclear fusion. In the Sun, hydrogen nuclei fuse to make helium. The hydrogen bomb, humanity's most powerful and destructive weapon, also works by fusion. The heat required to start the fusion reaction is so great that an atomic bomb is used to provide it. Hydrogen nuclei fuse to form helium and in the produces release huge amounts of energy.

Radioactive decay
In observing elements which were radioactive, physicists had discovered three types of radioactive decay. • The alpha (α) particle is made up of two protons and two neutrons – identical to the nucleus of the second-lightest element, helium. An alpha emission leaves behind a nucleus with an atomic weight decreased by four and an atomic number decreased by two. Uranium-238, for example, emits an alpha particle to form Thorium-234. 5

• The beta particle (β) is a high-energy electron. Physicists later concluded that it is produced when a neutron splits, emitting an electron and leaving behind a positively charged proton and an atomic nucleus with an atomic number that has increased by one. Carbon-14 (with six protons and eight neutrons), for example, emits a beta particle to form nitrogen-14, with seven protons and seven neutrons. • Gamma radiation (γ ) is an electromagnetic wave that is often emitted along with an alpha or beta particle.

In nuclear fission the uranium nucleus first absorbs a neutron and then splits. As it does so it emits neutrons that can initiate the process in another nucleus. Fission process 1. The uranium fission process was slightly more complicated than it had first appeared. 2. First, it was already known that naturally occurring uranium is a mixture of at least three isotopes. 3. By far the largest proportion – around 99.27 per cent – is uranium- 238, which has 146 neutrons, along with its 92 protons. 4. Some 0.72 per cent of the naturally occurring mineral is 235U, which has just 143 neutrons. 5. There is an even smaller proportion (0.0055 per cent) of 234U, with one neutron fewer. 6. Both 235Uand 238Ucan undergo fission, but it is more likely in 235Uand the results of the split are somewhat different because the energy required to cause fission varies. 7. When a uranium nucleus absorbs a neutron and splits into barium and krypton, some of the neutrons are not captured by the new elements but instead are released as ‘free’ neutrons. 8. These free neutrons do not remain at large: instead they are in turn captured by the nuclei of nearby uranium atoms, where they can initiate another fission. 9. When 238U is subject to fission it may or may not produce a free neutron, so on average there is less than one free neutron for each fission, and the process gradually dies away. 6

10. In contrast, 235U releases several free neutrons when it undergoes fission – 2.5 on average. This means that if there is enough 235U in the uranium mix the fission reaction can be ‘self-sustaining’ so that at least one of the neutrons from each fission finds another 235U nucleus and is absorbed to initiate another fission in a ‘chain reaction’.

The chain reaction
How many of the neutrons initiate fission – and whether a chain reaction can be started – depends partly on the proportion of 235U in the mix and partly on the total volume of material. The amount of fissile material needed for a sustained nuclear chain reaction is called the critical mass. It varies depending upon the nuclear and physical properties of the material. The important physical properties include the density and shape of the mass, as well as its purity. The nuclear properties include the nucleus’s ability to capture a neutron (known as the nuclear fission cross section and generally fixed for each nucleus) and whether the process is aided by a neutron ‘reflector’ (which would send the neutron back into the mass) or ‘moderator’ (which would slow the neutron to a speed that makes it easily captured) or is interrupted by an ‘absorber’ (a material that removes neutrons from the process). An assembly in which a chain reaction is just possible is called critical, and when the reaction becomes self-sustaining it is said to have reached criticality. In such an assembly, without a new input of free neutrons, for example from spontaneous fissions, the reaction will on average be just sustained. At 2–3 per cent uranium-235 the reaction can be simply self-sustaining. This is believed to have happened in nature, where a high uranium concentration was combined with other conditions to allow a self-sustaining reaction to take place over many years. The reaction is now over, but evidence remains in the proportions of elements within the rock deposit. If an assembly is less than critical, the fission reaction will reach a steady state only with a steady input of new free neutrons, and the assembly is said to be subcritical. A more than critical assembly is said to be supercritical. An assembly that is capable of sustaining a chain reaction without needing the contribution of defined neutrons is called prompt critical (and is therefore also supercritical). Even larger masses are called super prompt critical. If 235U makes up most, or all, of the sample, the chain reaction may be explosive.

Making plutonium
Plutonium, one of the two fissile elements used to fuel nuclear explosives, is not found in significant quantities in nature. It has an atomic number of 94, meaning its nucleus contains two more protons than uranium and it must be produced from uranium-238. The importance of plutonium is that when it captures a neutron, plutonium-239 undergoes fission more readily than uranium, and in the process it produces more excess neutrons to continue the reaction. This means that a smaller mass can reach criticality, with a self-sustaining or explosive chain reaction. This can make chemical handling of plutonium difficult, as volumes – of the solid and its various compounds, in solution or liquid form – have to be kept small so that criticality does not occur. Radio logically, it is relatively safe to handle because it emits alpha particles (although 241Pu is principally a beta emitter) which can be blocked by simple shielding (see Panel 1.2), although they are hazardous at very short distances or inside the body.

Controlling the reaction
1. The proportion of 235U is not the only factor that determines whether and how fast the chain reaction takes place. 7

2. The high-energy neutrons emitted during fission can cause more conventional radioactive decay, knocking out a radioactive particle and leaving a heavy element but not initiating fission. 3. The speed of the neutron was an important factor in the fission process, the theory of a ‘moderator’ – a substance that could slow down high-energy neutrons in a series of collisions until they were moving slowly enough to be captured by another uranium nucleus. 4. Moderators could include water or graphite. It was clear that fission energy could potentially be used for power generation. 5. The techniques and technologies developed to fuel, manage and exploit the nuclear reaction are an important part of the story of nuclear power. Pile The pile consisted of uranium pellets as a neutron-producing ‘core’, separated from one another by graphite blocks to slow the neutrons. Fermi himself described the apparatus as ‘a crude pile of black bricks and wooden timbers’.

Controlling the reaction or control rod
A control rod is a rod made of chemical elements capable of absorbing many neutrons without fissioning themselves. They are used in nuclear reactors to control the rate of fission of uranium and plutonium. Because these elements have different capture cross sections for neutrons of varying energies, the compositions of the control rods must be designed for the neutron spectrum of the reactor it is supposed to control. Light water reactors (BWR, PWR) and heavy water reactors (HWR) operate with "thermal" neutrons, whereas breeder reactors operate with "fast" neutrons The key to controlling the speed of the reaction was including a material that would absorb neutrons in the pile but organising it in such a way that the ‘absorber’ could be inserted or withdrawn at will. When the absorber was gradually withdrawn, the number of free neutrons would rise to a level that would initiate and maintain fission and promote the reaction, and when reinserted it would reduce the reaction again. Fission When a large fissile atomic nucleus such as uranium-235 or plutonium-239 absorbs a neutron, it may undergo nuclear fission. The heavy nucleus splits into two or more lighter nuclei, releasing kinetic energy, gamma radiation and free neutrons; collectively known as fission.[1] A portion of these neutrons may later be absorbed by other fissile atoms and trigger further fission events, which release more neutrons, and so on. This is known as a nuclear. The reaction can be controlled by using neutron poisons, which absorb excess neutrons, and neutron, which reduce the velocity of fast neutrons, thereby turning them into thermal, which are more likely to be absorbed by other nuclei. Increasing or decreasing the rate of fission has a corresponding effect on the energy output of the reactor. Commonly used moderators include regular (light) water (75% of the world's reactors), solid graphite (20% of reactors) and heavy water (5% of reactors). Beryllium has also been used in some experimental types, and hydrocarbons have been suggested as another possibility.[2]

Heat generation
The reactor core generates heat in a number of ways:

The kinetic energy of fission products is converted to thermal energy when these nuclei collide with nearby atoms. 8

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Some of the gamma rays produced during fission are absorbed by the reactor, their energy being converted to heat. Heat produced by the radioactive decay of fission products and materials that have been activated by neutron absorption. This decay heat source will remain for some time even after the reactor is shut down.

A kilogram of uranium-235 (U-235) converted via nuclear processes releases approximately three million times more energy than a kilogram of coal burned conventionally (7.2 × 1013 joules per kilogram of uranium-235 versus 2.4 × 107 joules per kilogram of coal). Cooling A nuclear reactor coolant usually water but sometimes a gas or a liquid metal or molten salt is circulated past the reactor core to absorb the heat that it generates. The heat is carried away from the reactor and is then used to generate steam. Most reactor systems employ a cooling system that is physically separated from the water that will be boiled to produce pressurized steam for the turbines, like the pressurized. But in some reactors the water for the steam turbines is boiled directly by the reactor core, for example the boiling water reactor.

In nuclear engineering, a neutron moderator is a medium that reduces the speed of fast neutrons, thereby turning them into thermal neutrons capable of sustaining a nuclear chain reaction involving uranium-235. Commonly used moderators include regular (light) water (roughly 75% of the world's reactors), solid graphite (20% of reactors) and heavy water (5% of reactors).Beryllium has also been used in some experimental types, and hydrocarbons have been suggested as another possibility

Nuclear Fusion Nuclear energy can also be released by fusion of two light elements (elements with low atomic numbers). The power that fuels the sun and the stars is nuclear fusion. In a hydrogen bomb, two isotopes of hydrogen, deuterium and tritium are fused to form a nucleus of helium and a neutron. This fusion releases 17.6 MeV of energy. Unlike nuclear fission, there is no limit on the amount of the fusion that can occur.


The heat produced in these reactions maintains temperatures of the order of several million degrees in their cores and serves to trigger and sustain succeeding reactions. The 4-hydrogen reaction requires, on an average, billions of years for completion, whereas the deuterium-deuterium reaction requires a fraction of a second. To cause fusion, it is necessary to accelerate the positively charged nuclei to high kinetic energies, in order to overcome electrical repulsive forces, by raising their temperature to hundreds of millions of degrees resulting in plasma. The plasma must be prevented from contacting the walls of the container, and must be confined for a period of time (of the order of a second) at a minimum density. Fusion reactions are called thermonuclear because very high temperatures are required to trigger and sustain them. Table 10.2 lists the possible fusion reactions and the energies produced by them. Many problems have to be solved before an artificially made fusion reactor becomes a reality. The most important of these are the difficulty in generating and maintaining high temperatures and the instabilities in the medium (plasma), the conversion of fusion energy to electricity, and many other problems of an operational nature. Fusion power plants will not be covered in this text.

The nuclear reactors can be classified as follows: 1. Neutron Energy. Depending upon the energy of the neutrons at the time they are captured by the fuel to induce fissions, the reactors can be named as follows: (a) Fast Reactors. In such reactors fission is brought about by fast (non moderated) neutrons. (b) Thermal Reactors or Slow Reactors. In these reactors the fast moving neutrons are slowed down by passing them through the moderator. These slow moving neutrons are then captured by the fuel material to bring about the fission of fundamental research.

A nuclear reactor is an apparatus in which heat is produced due to nuclear fission chain reaction. Fig. shows the various parts of reactor, which are as follows: 1. 2. 3. 4. 5. 6. 7. Nuclear Fuel Moderator Control Rods Reflector Reactors Vessel Biological Shielding Coolant. 10


1. NUCLEAR FUEL Fuel of a nuclear reactor should be fissionable material which can be defined as an element or isotope whose nuclei can be caused to undergo nuclear fission by nuclear bombardment and to produce a fission chain reaction. It can be one or all of the following U233, U235 and Pu239. Natural uranium found in earth crust contains three isotopes namely U234, U235 and U238 and their average percentage is as follows : U238 — 99.3% U235 — 0.7% U234 — Trace Out of these U235 is most unstable and is capable of sustaining chain reaction and has been given the name as primary fuel. U233 arid Pu239 are artificially produced from Th232 and U238 respectively and are called secondary fuel. In order to prevent the contamination of the coolant by fission products, a protective coating or cladding must separate the fuel from the coolant stream. Fuel element cladding should possess the following properties: 1. It should be able to withstand high temperature within the reactor. 2. It should have high corrosion resistance. 3. It should have high thermal conductivity. 11

4. It should not have a tendency to absorb neutrons. 5. It should have sufficient strength to withstand the effect of radiations to which it is subjected. Uranium oxide (UO2) is another important fuel element.

Uranium oxide has the following advantages
Over natural uranium: 1. It is more stable than natural uranium. 2. There is no problem or phase change in case of uranium oxide and therefore it can be used for higher temperatures. 3. It does not corrode as easily as natural uranium. 4. It is more compatible with most of the coolants and is not attacked by H2, Nz. 5. There is greater dimensional stability during use.

Uranium oxide possesses following disadvantages:
1. It has low thermal conductivity. 2. It is more brittle than natural uranium and therefore it can break due to thermal stresses. 3. Its enrichment is essential. Uranium oxide is a brittle ceramic produced as a powder and then sintered to form fuel pellets. Another fuel used in the nuclear reactor is uranium carbide (UC). It is a black ceramic used in the form of pellets.

In the chain reaction the neutrons produced are fast moving neutrons. These fast moving neutrons are far less effective in causing the fission of U235 and try to escape from the reactor. To improve the utilization of these neutrons their speed is reduced. It is done by colliding them with the nuclei of other material which is lighter, does not capture the neutrons but scatters them. Each such collision causes loss of energy, and the speed of the fast moving neutrons is reduced. Such material is called Moderator. The slow neutrons (Thermal Neutrons) so produced are easily captured by the nuclear fuel and the chain reaction proceeds smoothly. Graphite, heavy water and beryllium are generally used as moderator. Reactors using enriched uranium do not require moderator. But enriched uranium is costly due to processing needed.

A moderator should process the following properties:
1. It should have high thermal conductivity. 2. It should be available in large quantities in pure form. 3. It should have high melting point in case of solid moderators and low melting point in case of liquid moderators. Solid moderators should also possess good strength and mach inability. 4. It should provide good resistance to corrosion. 5. It should be stable under heat and radiation. 6. It should be able to slow down neutrons.

3. Control rods
Control rods in the cylindrical or sheet form are made of boron or cadmium. These rods can be moved in and out of the holes in the reactor core assembly. Their insertion absorbs more neutrons and damps down the reaction and their withdrawal absorbs less neutrons. Thus power of reaction is controlled by shifting control rods which may be done manually or automatically. 12

Whereas a nuclear reactor contains as much fuel as is sufficient to operate a large power plant for some months. The consumption of this fuel and the power level of the reactor depend upon its neutron flux in the reactor core. The energy produced in the reactor due to fission of nuclear fuel during chain reaction is so much that if it is not controlled properly the entire core and surrounding structure may melt and radioactive fission products may come out of the reactor thus making it uninhabitable. This implies that we should have some means to control the power of reactor. This is done by means of control rods. Control rods should possess the following properties: 1. They should have adequate heat transfer properties. 2. They should be stable under heat and radiation. 3. They should be corrosion resistant. 4. They should be sufficient strong and should be able to shut down the reactor almost instantly under all conditions. 5. They should have sufficient cross-sectional area for the absorption.

The neutrons produced during the fission process will be partly absorbed by the fuel rods, moderator, coolant or structural material etc. Neutrons left unabsorbed will try to leave the reactor core never to return to it and will be lost. Such losses should be minimized. It is done by surrounding the reactor core by a material called reflector which will send the neutrons back into the core. The returned neutrons can then cause more fission and improve the neutrons economy of' the reactor. Generally the reflector is made up of graphite and beryllium.

It is a. strong walled container housing the cure of the power reactor. It contains moderator, reflector, and thermal shielding and control rods. In a nuclear power plant, the reactor vessel is a pressure vessel containing the coolant and reactor core. It is a device for containing and controlling a chemical reaction. The chemical process enables the conversion of raw material into a final product under given pressure and temperature. During the reaction it becomes necessary to remove excess heat in the process to order to keep the process under control. Vessels are built to withstand high pressure in the system.

Shielding the radioactive zones in the reactor roan (coat thickly) possible radiation hazard is essential to protect, the operating men from the harmful effects. During fission of nuclear fuel, alpha particles, beta particles, deadly gamma rays and neutrons are produced. Out oil these nc-1utroxrs and gamma rays are of main significance. A protection must be provided against them. Thick layers of lead or concrete are provided round the reactor for stopping the gamma rays. Thick layers of metals or plastics are sufficient to stop the alpha and beta particles.

Coolant flows through and around the reactor core. It is used to transfer the large amount of heat produced in the reactor due to fission of the nuclear fuel during chain reaction. The coolant either transfers its heat to another medium or if the coolant used is water it takes up the heat and gets converted into steam in the reactor which is directly sent to the turbine. Coolant used should be stable under thermal condition. It should have a low melting point and high boiling point. It should not corrode the material with which it comes in contact. The coolant should 13

have high heat transfer coefficient. The various fluids used as coolant are water (light water or heavy water), gas (Air, CO2, Hydrogen, Helium) and liquid metals such as sodium or mixture of sodium and potassium and inorganic and organic fluids. COOLANT CYCLES The coolant while circulating through the reactor passages take up heat produced due to chain reaction and transfer this heat to the feed water in three ways as follows : (a) Direct Cycle. In this system coolant which is water leaves the reactor in the form of steam. Boiling water reactor uses this system. (b) Single Circuit System. In this system the coolant transfers the heat to the feed water in the steam generator. This system is used in pressurized reactor. (c) Double Circuit System. In this system two coolants are used. Primary coolant after circulating through the reactor flows through the intermediate heat exchanger (IHX) and passes on its hest to the secondary coolant which transfers its heat in the feed water in the steam generator. This system is used in sodium graphite reactor and fast breeder reactor.
8. REACTOR CORE Reactor core consists of fuel rods, moderator and space through which the coolant flows.

Electrical Generator
In electricity generation, an electric generator is a device that converts mechanical energy to electrical energy. The reverse conversion of electrical energy into mechanical energy is done by a motor; motors and generators have many similarities. A generator forces electrons in the windings to flow through the external electrical. It is somewhat analogous to a water pump, which creates a flow of water but does not create the water inside. The source of mechanical energy may be a reciprocating or turbine steam engine, water falling through a turbine or waterwheel, an internal combustion engine, a wind turbine, a hand crank, compressed air or any other source of mechanical energy.

1. Availability of water. At the power plant site an ample quantity of water should be available for condenser cooling and made up water required for steam generation. Therefore the site should be nearer to a river, reservoir or sea. 2. Distance from load center. The plant should be located near the load center. This will minimise the power losses in transmission lines. 3. Distance from populated area. The power plant should be located far away from populated area to avoid the radioactive hazard. 4. Accessibility to site. The power plant should have rail and road transportation facilities. 5. Waste disposal. The wastes of a nuclear power plant are radioactive and there should be sufficient space near the plant site for the disposal of wastes. Safeguard against earthquakes. The site is classified into its respective seismic zone 1, 2, 3, 4, or 6. The zone 5 being the most seismic (earth vibration), which is unsuitable for nuclear power plants. About 300 km of radius area around the proposed site is studied for its past history of tremors, and earthquakes to assess the severest earthquake that could occur for which the foundation building and equipment supports are designed accordingly. This ensures that the plant will retain integrity of structure, piping and equipments should an earthquake occur. The site selected should also take into 14

account the external natural events such as floods, including those by up-stream dam failures and tropical cyclones.

The cost of electricity generation is nearly equal in both these power plants. The other advantages and disadvantages are as follows: (i) The number of workman required for the operation of nuclear power plant is much less than a steam power plant. This reduces the cost of operation. (ii) The capital cost of nuclear power plant falls sharply if the size of plant is increased. The capital cost as structural materials, piping, storage mechanism etc. much less in nuclear power plant than similar expenditure of steam power plant. However, the expenditure of nuclear reactor and building complex is much higher. (iii) The cost of power generation by nuclear power plant becomes competitive with cost of steam power plant above the unit size of about 500 mW.

In some cases the reaction does not take place with natural uranium containing only 0.71% of U235. In such cases it becomes essential to use uranium containing higher content of U335. This is called U235 concentration of uranium enrichment. The various methods of uranium enrichment are as 1. 2. 3. 4. The gaseous diffusion method. Thermal diffusion method. Electromagnetic Method. Centrifugation Method.

Nuclear power plants should be located far away from the populated area to avoid the radioactive hazard. A nuclear reactor produces α and (β particles, neutrons and γ-quanta which can disturb the normal functioning of living organisms. Nuclear power plants involve radiation leaks, health hazard to workers and community, and negative effect on surrounding forests. At nuclear power plants there are three main sources of radioactive contamination of air. 1. Fission of nuclei of nuclear fuels. 2. The second source is due to the effect of neutron fluxes on the heat carrier in the primary cooling system and on the ambient air. 3. Third source of air contamination is damage of shells of fuel elements. This calls for special safety measures for a nuclear power plant. Some of the safety measures are as follows. 1. Nuclear power plant should be located away from human habitation. 2. Quality of construction should be of required standards. 3. Waste water from nuclear power plant should be purified. The water purification plants must have a high efficiency of water purification and satisfy rigid requirements as regards the volume of radioactive wastes disposed to burial. 4. An atomic power plant should have an extensive ventilation system. The main purpose of this ventilation system is to maintain the concentration of all radioactive impurities in the air below the permissible concentrations. 15

5. An exclusion zone of 1.6 km radius around the plant should be provided where no public habitation is permitted. 6. The safety system of the plant should be such as to enable safe shut down of the reactor whenever required.

Chernobyl — is near Kiev, Ukraine, in the former Soviet Union. Destroyed by steam and hydrogen explosions followed by fire, it caused many deaths on site, increased cancer rates in the thousands of square miles it contaminated. Three Mile Island — Located 10 miles southeast of Harrisburg PA on the Susquehanna River. The accident, and radiation release, caused no immediate deaths. The cleanup cost more than $1.5 Billion.

Boiling Water Reactor (BWR)
Boiling Water Reactor(BWR) This design has many similarities to the PWR, except that there is only a single circuit in which the water is at lower pressure (about 75 times atmospheric pressure) so that it boils in the core at about 285°C. The reactor is designed to operate with 12-15% of the water in the top part of the core as steam, and hence with less moderating effect and thus efficiency there. BWR units can operate in load-following mode more readily then PWRs.


The steam passes through drier plates (steam separators) above the core and then directly to the turbines, which are thus part of the reactor circuit. Since the water around the core of a reactor is always contaminated with traces of radionuclides, it means that the turbine must be shielded and radiological protection provided during maintenance. The cost of this tends to balance the savings due to the simpler design. Most of the radioactivity in the water is very short-lived*, so the turbine hall can be entered soon after the reactor is shut down. A BWR fuel assembly comprises 90-100 fuel rods, and there are up to 750 assemblies in a reactor core, holding up to 140 tonnes of uranium. The secondary control system involves restricting water flow through the core so that more steam in the top part reduces moderation.

Pressurised Water Reactor (PWR)
This is the most common type, with over 230 in use for power generation and several hundred more employed for naval propulsion. The design of PWRs originated as a submarine power plant. PWRs use ordinary water as both coolant and moderator. The design is distinguished by having a primary cooling circuit which flows through the core of the reactor under very high pressure, and a secondary circuit in which steam is generated to drive the turbine. A PWR has fuel assemblies of 200-300 rods each, arranged vertically in the core, and a large reactor would have about 150-250 fuel assemblies with 80-100 tonnes of uranium. Water in the reactor core reaches about 325°C, hence it must be kept under about 150 times atmospheric pressure to prevent it boiling.

Pressure is maintained by steam in a pressuriser (see diagram). In the primary cooling circuit the water is also the moderator, and if any of it turned to steam the fission reaction would slow down. This negative feedback effect is one of the safety features of the type. The secondary shutdown system involves adding boron to the primary circuit. The secondary circuit is under less pressure and the water here boils in the heat exchangers which are thus steam generators. The steam drives the turbine to produce

electricity, and is then condensed and returned to the heat exchangers in contact with the primary circuit.

Pressurised Heavy Water Reactor (PHWR or CANDU)

The CANDU reactor functions in a manner similar to a pressurized water reactor (PWR). Pressurized coolant is passed through the fuel bundles to cool them. This hot, pressurized cooling water is carried to a steam generator where the heat energy is transferred to light water and converts it into steam. This steam is then used to turn the steam turbines which turn the generator, creating electricity. One of the unique features of a CANDU reactor is that it allows on-line fuelling. The fuel bundles are placed in horizontal tubes (called pressure tubes). These tubes can be loaded remotely from either end while the reactor is running (on-line). This avoids scheduled shutdowns to replace the fuel. The CANDU design requires significantly more “plumbing” than a PWR reactor, as each pressure tube has high pressure heavy water passing through it. The typical lifespan of a fuel bundle in the reactor is one to two years. As a fuel bundle is loaded in one end of the pressure tube, a spent fuel bundle is pushed out of the other end. The picture to the right taken during a shutdown shows the machine that loads the fuel bundles.


Advantages: Use of natural uranium as a fuel
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CANDU is the most efficient of all reactors in using uranium: it uses about 15% less uranium than a pressurized water reactor for each megawatt of electricity produced Use of natural uranium widens the source of supply and makes fuel fabrication easier. Most countries can manufacture the relatively inexpensive fuel There is no need for uranium enrichment facility Fuel reprocessing is not needed, so costs, facilities and waste disposal associated with reprocessing are avoided CANDU reactors can be fuelled with a number of other low-fissile content fuels, including spent fuel from light water reactors. This reduces dependency on uranium in the event of future supply shortages and price increases.

Advanced Gas-cooled Reactor (AGR)
These are the second generation of British gas-cooled reactors, using graphite moderator and carbon dioxide as coolant. The fuel is uranium oxide pellets, enriched to 2.5-3.5%, in stainless steel tubes. The carbon dioxide circulates through the core, reaching 650°C and then past steam generator tubes outside it, but still inside the concrete and steel pressure vessel.

Control rods penetrate the moderator and a secondary shutdown system involves injecting nitrogen to the coolant. The AGR was developed from the Magnox reactor, also

graphite moderated and CO2 cooled, and two of these are still operating in UK. They use natural uranium fuel in metal form. Secondary coolant is water.

Molten Salt Reactor (MSR)

Molten Salt Reactors (MSRs) are liquid-fueled reactors that can be used for production of electricity, actinide burning, production of hydrogen, and production of fissile fuels. Electricity production and waste burndown are envisioned as the primary missions for the MSR. Fissile, fertile, and fission isotopes are dissolved in a high temperature molten fluoride salt with a very high boiling point (1,400 C) that is both the reactor fuel and the coolant. The near-atmospheric-pressure molten fuel salt flows through the reactor core. The traditional MSR designs have a graphite core that results in a thermal to epithermal neutron spectrum. In the core, fission occurs within the flowing fuel salt that is heated to ~700 C, which then flows into a primary heat exchanger where the heat is transferred to a secondary molten salt coolant. The fuel salt then flows back to the reactor core. The clean salt in the secondary heat transport system transfers the heat from the primary heat exchanger to a high-temperature Brayton cycle that converts the heat to electricity. The Brayton cycle (with or without a steam bottoming cycle) may use either nitrogen or helium as a working gas.

Supercritical-Water-Cooled Reactor (SCWR)
The Supercritical-Water-Cooled Reactor (SCWR) system is a high-temperature, highpressure water cooled reactor that operates above the thermodynamic critical point of water (374°C, 22 MPa, or 705°F, 3208 psia) SCWRs are built upon two proven technologies: Light Water Reactors (LWRs), which are the most commonly deployed power-generating reactors in the world, and supercritical fossil-fired boilers, a large number of which are also in use around the world. 20

SCWRs are promising advanced nuclear systems because of their high thermal efficiency (i.e., about 45% versus about 33% efficiency for current LWRs) and considerable plant simplification. Operation above the critical pressure eliminates coolant boiling, so the coolant remains single-phase throughout the system. Thus, the need for recirculation and jet pumps, pressurizers, steam generators, and steam separators and dryers in current LWRs is eliminated. The SCWR system is primarily designed for efficient electricity production, with an option for actinide management based on two options in the core design: the first option is an SCWR with a thermal or fast-spectrum reactor; the second option is a closed cycle with a fast-spectrum reactor and full actinide recycle based on advanced aqueous processing at a central location.

Lifetime of nuclear reactors.
Most of today's nuclear plants which were originally designed for 30 or 40-year operating lives. However, with major investments in systems, structures and components lives can be extended, and in several countries there are active programs

to extend operating lives. In the USA most of the more than one hundred reactors are expected to be granted licence extensions from 40 to 60 years. This justifies significant capital expenditure in upgrading systems and components, including building in extra performance margins Some components simply wear out, corrode or degrade to a low level of efficiency. These need to be replaced. Steam generators are the most prominent and expensive of these, and many have been replaced after about 30 years where the reactor otherwise has the prospect of running for 60 years.

Load-following capacity
Nuclear power plants are essentially base-load generators, running continuously. This is because their power output cannot readily be ramped up and down on a daily and weekly basis, and in this respect they are similar to most coal-fired plants. (It is also uneconomic to run them at less than full capacity, since they are expensive to build but cheap to run.) However, in some situations it is necessary to vary the output according to daily and weekly load cycles on a regular basis, for instance in France, where there is a very high reliance on nuclear power