Advanced gas-cooled reactor
An advanced gas-cooled reactor (AGR) is a type of nuclear reactor. These are the second generation of British gas-cooled reactors, using graphite as the neutron moderator and carbon dioxide as coolant. The AGR was developed from the Magnox reactor, operating at a higher gas temperature for improved thermal efficiency, requiring stainless steel fuel cladding to withstand the higher temperature. Because the stainless steel fuel cladding has a higher neutron capture cross section than Magnox fuel cans, enriched uranium fuel is needed, with the benefit of higher "burn ups" of 18,000 MWt-days per tonne of fuel, requiring less frequent refuelling. The first prototype AGR became operational in 1962 but the first commercial AGR did not come on line until 1976. All AGR power stations are configured with two reactors in a single building. Each reactor has a design thermal power output of 1,500 MWt driving a 660 MWe turbine-alternator set. Because of operational restrictions, the various AGR stations produce outputs in the range 555 MWe to 625 MWe
The design of the AGR was such that the final steam conditions at the boiler stop valve were identical to that of conventional coal fired power stations, thus the same design of turbo-generator plant could be used. The mean temperature of the hot coolant leaving the reactor core was designed to be 648°C. In order to obtain these high temperatures, yet ensure useful graphite core life (graphite oxidises readily in CO2 at high temperature) a re-entrant flow of coolant at the lower boiler outlet temperature of 278°C is utilised to cool the graphite, ensuring that the graphite core temperatures do not vary too much from those seen in a Magnox station. The superheater outlet temperature and pressure were designed to be 2,485 psia (170bar) and 543°C. The fuel is uranium dioxide pellets, enriched to 2.5-3.5%, in stainless steel tubes. The original design concept of the AGR was to use a beryllium based cladding. When this proved unsuitable, the enrichment level of the fuel was raised to allow for the higher neutron capture losses of stainless steel cladding. This significantly increased the cost of the power produced by an AGR. The carbon dioxide coolant circulates through the core, reaching 640°C (1,184°F) and a pressure of around 40 bar (580 psi), and then passes through boiler (steam generator) assemblies outside the core but still within the steel lined, reinforced concrete pressure vessel. Control
This onload refuelling was an important part of the economic case for choosing the AGR over other reactor types. so in 1988 full power refuelling was suspended until the mid-1990s. CANDU and RBMK reactors.as well as the American light water pressurised and boiling water reactors (PWR and BWR) and Canadian CANDU designs. A tertiary shutdown system which operates by injecting boron balls into the reactor has been proposed 'as retrofit to satisfy the Nuclear Installations Inspectorate’s concerns about core integrity and core restraint integrity' . This is due to the higher coolant outlet temperature of about 640 °C (1. countering the thermal efficiency advantage . when further trials led to a fuel rod becoming stuck in a reactor core. and the fuel burnup ratio at discharge is lower so the fuel is used less efficiently. Hinkley Point B. There were great hopes for the AGR design. However fuel assembly vibration problems arose during on-load refuelling at full power. AGRs are designed to be refuelled without being shut down first. and in contrast to the light water reactors. It was promoted as a development of the operationally (if not economically) successful Magnox design. compared to about 325 °C (617°F) for PWRs. and was chosen from a plethora of competing British alternatives . The AGR was designed to have a high thermal efficiency (electricity generated/heat generated ratio) of about 41%. Hunterston B. However the reactor core has to be larger for the same power output. and in 1965 allowed the CEGB and the government to claim that the AGR would produce electricity cheaper than the best coal fired power stations. which is better than modern pressurized water reactors which have a typical thermal efficiency of 34%. An ambitious construction programme of five twin reactor stations. The CEGB conducted a detailed economic appraisal of the competing designs and concluded that the AGR proposed for Dungeness B would generate the cheapest electricity.rods penetrate the graphite moderator and a secondary system involves injecting nitrogen into the coolant to hold the reactor down. Hartlepool and Heysham was quickly rolled out.184°F) practical with gas cooling. However. cheaper than any of the rival designs and the best coal fired stations. and export orders were eagerly anticipated.  The AGR was intended to be a superior British alternative to American light water reactor designs. Only refuelling at part load or when shut down is now undertaken at AGRs.the helium cooled High Temperature Reactor (HTR). the AGR design proved to be over complex
. the Steam Generating Heavy Water Reactor (SGHWR) and the Fast Breeder Reactor (FBR) . Like the Magnox. Dungeness B.
. oil and nuclear power stations produce electricity in basically the same way – they use fuel to raise steam that turns a turbine to generate an electric current. The financing cost of the capital expended.
How an AGR power station works
Coal. This project is also a study of what is required to decommission a nuclear reactor safely.and difficult to construct on site. After problems with nearly every aspect of the reactor design it finally began generating electricity in 1983. The walls vary in thickness from 3. The lead station.
At the heart of the reactor is a graphite core called the moderator. 13 years late. were enormous. which links to the top surface of the pressure vessel. Notoriously bad labour relations at the time added to the problems. and the cost of providing replacement electricity during the delays. in turn. The follow on stations all experienced similar problems and delays. In an advanced gas-cooled (AGR) station a controlled chain reaction generates heat which turns water into steam. Each of the fuel channels in the graphite core continues upwards in a steel tube called a standpipe. Dungeness B was ordered in 1965 with a target completion date of 1970. The steam then powers turbines which.8 metres to 6 metres and are pre-stressed by heavy steel wires wound from top to bottom and around the reactor. drive the electrical generators. Running vertically through this core are tubes containing uranium called fuel channels. The moderator has a vital role to play as it slows down the neutrons released by the fuel so that they will interact with other uranium atoms and sustain the chain reaction. sealed at the top. known as the pile cap. totally invalidating the pre-construction economic case. The small-scale prototype AGR at the Sellafield (Windscale) site is in the process of being decommissioned.
The Pre-stressed Pressure Vessel
Each reactor is encased in a concrete pressure vessel which acts as a barrier against radiation from the reactor and as a container for the carbon dioxide coolant gas.
The Fuel The fuel elements of an AGR are comprised of 36 pins containing small pellets containing uranium built into a graphite sleeve. The moderator has a vital role to play as it slows down the neutrons released by the fuel so that they will interact with other uranium atoms and sustain the chain reaction. Seven or eight fuel elements are fixed together vertically by a tie bar which passes through the centre of the elements to form a fuel stringer. sealed at the top. Running vertically through this core are tubes containing uranium called fuel channels. The walls vary in thickness from 3. known as the pile cap.The Reactor At the heart of the reactor is a graphite core called the moderator. The Pre-stressed Pressure Vessel Each reactor is encased in a concrete pressure vessel which acts as a barrier against radiation from the reactor and as a container for the carbon dioxide coolant gas. A plug unit is attached to the top of the stringer to form a complete fuel assembly.
. Each of the fuel channels in the graphite core continues upwards in a steel tube called a standpipe. An assembly is placed into each of the standpipes. so that the fuel elements are positioned within the graphite core’s fuel channels and are then sealed in by the plug unit.8 metres to 6 metres and are pre-stressed by heavy steel wires wound from top to bottom and around the reactor. which links to the top surface of the pressure vessel.
gravity makes these rods drop fully into the core. As it passes through.The Control Rods The graphite core also contains channels for boron steel control rods. The gas – now very hot – is routed through the top of the boiler back down to the gas circulator. When the reaction becomes self-sustaining. it gives up its heat to the water in the boiler. The steam then returns to the boilers to be re-heated before passing to the intermediatepressure turbine and from there to its final energy-making destination. the lowpressure turbines. shutting down the reactor. When they are partially raised.
The Boilers Within the pressure vessel the boilers are connected to the inlet and outlet of the reactor by ducts. the neutrons become free to cause `fission’ in the uranium atoms and release more neutrons. where the gas picks up the heat generated by the nuclear reaction.
. At the bottom of each boiler are large gas circulators which pump high-pressure carbon dioxide coolant gas through the graphite core and up the fuel channels. forming superheated high-pressure steam which is piped away to drive the turbine. the reactor is said to be ‘critical’. The Turbine The superheated steam from the boilers is first piped to the high-pressure turbine where nozzles direct it onto the blades causing the turbine to rotate. In the event of a power failure or a need to shut the reactor down. which can be raised and lowered by electric motors to control the reactor power by absorbing neutrons and stopping them splitting atoms.
it is pumped into a large vessel called a de-aerator to remove any gases before the feed pump sends it back into the boilers.
The turbines drive a generator which consists of a large hydrogen cooled electro-magnet. First. which revolves at 3000 revolutions per minute inside the stator – a water-cooled electrical winding. the steam passes into a condenser where it turns back into water before being returned to the boiler. Next.
. The condenser works by directing the steam over the surface of thousands of tubes containing cold filtered water pumped through from the sea by circulating water pumps. the water travels through a chemical plant to remove impurities and then through heaters where it is mixed with warm steam from the turbine to increase its temperature. Electricity is produced in the windings of the stator. must be cleaned and heated before returning to the boilers. When the cooling is complete the water. is returned to the sea. its temperature raised by just a few degrees Celsius.The Condenser Having exhausted all its useful energy. The condensed water. called the rotor. at 23kV by the revolving magnetic field of the rotor.
This allows any short-lived radioactivity to decay before the elements are packed into special shielded flasks over 30cm thick. Cooling Ponds The used elements are then stored in cooling ponds of water for a minimum of 90 days. when a nuclear flask was placed in the path of an on-coming locomotive and three carriages travelling at 100mph. Most of the components are reused.Refuelling After approximately five years the fuel in the reactor can no longer maintain the chain reaction efficiently and must be replaced.
Current AGR reactors
The two power stations with four AGRs at Heysham
. The locomotive was not so fortunate – it was written off. The flask remained wholly intact and pressure tight. a refuelling machine removes and replaces fuel assemblies. sustaining nothing more than a little shallow denting and superficial damage to its cooling fins. but the fuel elements are sent to the cooling ponds. Fuel Transport There has never been a fuel flask accident involving the release of radioactivity. Their safety was demonstrated in July 1984 at Old Dalby testing track. These assemblies are then dismantled into individual parts. These flasks are carried by rail to Sellafield in Cumbria for reprocessing of the fuel. To do this.
that will see the station continue operating until 2018. This output restriction is likely to remain until closure. Also.
Hunterston B nuclear power station
. It was also claimed that British Energy did not know why the cracking had occurred and that they were unable to monitor the cores without first shutting down the reactors.Currently there are seven nuclear generating stations each with two operating AGRs in the United Kingdom. Life extensions at other AGRs will be considered at least three years before their scheduled closure dates. In 2006 AGRs made the news when documents were obtained under the Freedom of Information Act 2000 by The Guardian who claimed that British Energy were unaware of the extent of the cracking of graphite bricks in the cores of their reactors. they stated that the reactors were examined every three years as part of "statutory outages". British Energy later issued a statement confirming that cracking of graphite bricks is a known symptom of extensive neutron bombardment and that they were working on a solution to the monitoring problem. and in 2007 announced a 5year life extension of Hinkley Point B and Hunterston B until 2016. Since 2006 Hinkley Point B and Hunterston B have been restricted to about 70% of normal MWe output because of boiler-related problems requiring that they operate at reduced boiler temperatures. owned and operated by British Energy: Net AGR Power MWe Station Dungeness B 1110 Hartlepool 1210 Heysham 1 1150 Heysham 2 1250 Hinkley Point 1220 B Hunterston B 1190 Torness 1250 Construction started 1965 1968 1970 1980 1967 1967 1980 Connected to grid 1983 1983 1983 1988 1976 1976 1988 Commercial operation 1985 1989 1989 1989 1976 1976 1988 Accounting closure date 2018 2014 2014 2023 2016 2016 2023
In 2005 British Energy announced a 10-year life extension at Dungeness B.
The reactors were supplied by Nuclear Power Group and the turbines by C.A.215 MW. Hunterston B is capable of supplying the electricity needs of over 1 million homes. It is currently scheduled to be decommissioned in 2016.Hunterston B Power Station is a nuclear power station in North Ayrshire. Scotland.
. leaving deposits of salt in the reactor around the gas circuit. fluid flow laboratories to determine where the salt would have been deposited. Parsons & Company. Extensive modelling work was performed in the Nuclear Power Company's (NPC) Whetstone. and the salt was successfully removed by technicians using vacuum cleaners and the plant returned to operation. The secondary cooling system uses fresh water to cool various items including the bearings of the gas circulators. that the repairs could cost £14 million. Operating at its current (May 2008) reduced level of around 70% of full output. The graphite moderator core in each of the twin advanced gas-cooled reactors (AGR) at Hunterston B has recently developed structural problems in the form of cracking of the bricks. It is operated by British Energy. and a bypass pipe was installed to remove the water contaminated with CO2 to the seawater cooling ponds. Its net electrical output is 1. On 3 December 1977 The Times reported  that seawater had entered the reactor through a modification of the secondary cooling system. When maintenance work was carried out on the reactor and the pressure in the gas cooling system was reduced. It is located about 9 km south of Largs and about 4 km north-west of West Kilbride. The residual heat of the reactor was such that the seawater evaporated rapidly. which circulate the carbon dioxide (CO2) coolant through the reactor to the boilers. It was estimated at the time that the reactor could be out of operation for a year. Leicestershire.
Hunterston B started generating electricity on 6 February 1976. and that electricity tariffs would have to rise by between 1 and 2 per cent. A small leak of CO2 through a seal had developed. sea water was able to flow back up this bypass pipe and into the reactor.
The nearby Hunterston A twin Magnox reactor buildings are now being decommissioned.