Crash course in nuclear power generation Ruaridh Macdonald

Crash course in nuclear power generation Ruaridh Macdonald

Crash course in nuclear power generation Ruaridh Macdonald PhD Student, Nuclear Science and Engineering (NSE) Alumni Mentor Whos this guy Ruaridh (Rory) Macdonald

PhD student in NSE (Course 22) Undergrad at MIT (12); Mission 2012 student PhD: Nuclear weapons verification Masters: Toughened small, solid fuel, fluoride salt cooled reactors Undergrad: Fast reactor design; nuclear data; computational methods GRT at Simmons Plan for talk 1) Brief introduction to how a plant works (5 mins)

2) Nuclear fuel cycle (10 mins) 3) Thorium vs. Uranium (5 mins) Disclaimers: Wont present different reactor designs Wont say too much about safety / accidents I may say some inaccurate things Feel free to send me questions: [email protected] Whats Power All About?

All electricity is about making electrons move The easiest way to do that is to spin a magnet B

ee- (Almost) All industrial power is about creating rotary motion. Normally using hot gas for a turbine Nuclear Power Plant vs. Coal Plan Nuclear Heat Nuclear power generates heat from fission of heavy isotopes

Uranium 233, 235 (238) Plutonium 239 n0 U-235 ? U-236*

n0 ? x2-3 Nuclear Heat Nuclear power generates heat from fission of heavy isotopes Uranium 233, 235, (238) Plutonium 239

n0 U-235 ? U-236* n0 ?

x2-3 Plant Operation Water coolant removes heat from fuel assembly (~200 / core) Fuel assembly made of fuel rods (~0.5 ton fuel / assembly) Assemblies come in a variety of shapes (hex, circle, square)

Plant Operation Multiple options exist for the coolant: Light water, heavy water, CO2, helium, fluoride salts, lead, sodium, organic fluids, In a thermal reactor, the coolant also slows down neutrons. Thermal or fast reactors Reactors are designed to be stable systems If you increase the power / temperature, the reactor physics will try to reduce power In some designs the opposite happens if you try to decrease power Designs focus on passive safety. Makes it very difficult / expensive to change designs

Nuclear plants are designed for stable power (95%+ capacity factor) Modern plants can change output (50-100% @ 5%/min, depending on design) Fuel Cycle Options Once through Cycle Store all of the fuel assembly as waste Closed Cycle Recycle most of the fuel for reuse. Store the rest; Mixed / hybrid Cycle Recycle some of the fuel Choices driven by: 1) Technical abilities of different nations

Types of reactor available Reprocessing tech. available 2) Politics of nuclear material control Reprocessing isolates high purity Pu-239 for nuclear weapons Nuclear Fuel Natural uranium is only made of 0.71% U-235, our main fuel. The rest is U-238 Not all countries have uranium deposits

It can be extracted from seawater (3.3E8 litres / kg U) You have to enrich it after mining. 20% is legal limit. Most plants use 3-5%. Most US permits are for 5%. Some reactors use nat. U After being in the reactor the fuel will contain lots of new isotopes U-238, U-235, Pu-239, Pu-other - can be reused in new fuel Fission products - radioactive daughter particles Minor actinides - heavy particles created by non-fission absorption Most of these are radioactive but to different degrees and for different amounts of time Different strategies for storage

Waste Storage Immediately after use - Spent fuel pool After 1->2 years - Interim storage After 10+ years - Multiple options Geological Repository Deep borehole

On-site storage Once through Simplest fuel cycle Weapons material is never available Produces the most waste Least efficient use of fuel material Still a good choice compared to

other power sources Politically accepted Cheapest upfront cost Closed Cycle Weapons material is never isolated Produces very little waste Effectively unlimited fuel supply

Politically difficult Lots of R&D $$ needed Mixed / hybrid Cycle Full Cycle Thorium Thorium is mostly Th232

It is not fissile. It absorbs a neutron to become U233, which is fissile It needs another fissile material to maintain a chain reaction It is three times more abundant than uranium in the Earths crust Thorium reactors can be fast or thermal breeder reactors It produces the most neutrons per fission Has higher thermal conductivity and melting point Easier to run the reactor safely Fewer minor actinides are produced Remaining ones have shorter half life

Thorium vs. Uranium U-233 is more likely to fission when irradiated than U-235 or Pu-239 ~ Prob[not-fission if neutron hits U-233] ~ Prob[fission if neutron hits U-233] U-233 U-235 Pu239

Incoming neutron energy (MeV) U-233 U-235 Pu239 Incoming neutron energy (MeV)

Thorium While the waste is shorter lived, some of it posses a significant health risk High energy gamma radiation -> more difficult to shield Most of this is from U-232 daughters, originally created from Th-232 This makes it difficult to reprocess the fuel as different facilities are needed However, it also makes it more difficult to use Th in a weapon Once U-233 is made, it has superior performance However, neutrons are needed to get there This requires fuel to stay in reactor for longer -> difficult with some designs

This makes Th unappealing in a once through cycle

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