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GIF Reactor Technologies

Gas Cooled Fast Reactors

The GFR system is a high-temperature helium-cooled fast-spectrum reactor with a closed fuel cycle. It combines the advantages of fast-spectrum systems for long-term sustainability of uranium resources and waste minimisation (through fuel multiple reprocessing and fission of long-lived actinides), with those of high-temperature systems (high thermal cycle efficiency and industrial use of the generated heat, for hydrogen production for example).

The GFR uses the same fuel recycling processes as the SFR and the same reactor technology as the VHTR. Therefore, its development approach is to rely, in so far as feasible, on technologies developed for the VHTR for structures, materials, components and power conversion system. Nevertheless, it calls for specific R&D beyond the current and foreseen work on the VHTR system, mainly on core design and safety approach.

The reference design for GFR is based around a 2 400 MWth reactor core contained within a steel pressure vessel. The core consists of an assembly of hexagonal fuel elements, each consisting of ceramic-clad, mixed-carbide-fuelled pins contained within a ceramic hex-tube. The favoured material at the moment for the pin clad and hex-tubes is silicon carbide fibre reinforced silicon carbide. The figure below shows the reactor core located within its fabricated steel pressure vessel surrounded by main heat exchangers and decay heat removal loops. The whole of the primary circuit is contained within a secondary pressure boundary, the guard containment.

Liquid Cooled Fast Reactors

The Lead-cooled Fast Reactors (LFRs) feature a fast neutron spectrum, high temperature operation, and cooling by either molten lead or lead-bismuth eutectic (LBE), both of which support low-pressure operation, have very good thermodynamic properties, and are relatively inert with regard to interaction with air or water. They would have multiple applications including production of electricity, hydrogen and process heat. System concepts represented in plans of the Generation IV International Forum (GIF) System Research Plan (SRP) are based on Europe’s ELFR lead-cooled system, Russia’s BREST-OD-300 and the SSTAR system concept designed in the US. Numerous additional LFR concepts are also under various stages of development in different countries including China, Russia, the USA, Sweden, Korea and Japan.

The LFR has excellent materials management capabilities since it operates in the fast-neutron spectrum and uses a closed fuel cycle for efficient conversion of fertile uranium. It can also be used as a burner to consume actinides from spent LWR fuel and as a burner/breeder with thorium matrices. An important feature of the LFR is the enhanced safety that results from the choice of molten lead as a relatively inert and low-pressure coolant. In terms of sustainability, lead is abundant and hence available, even in case of deployment of a large number of reactors.

More importantly, as with other fast systems, fuel sustainability is greatly enhanced by the conversion capabilities of the LFR fuel cycle. Because they incorporate a liquid coolant with a very high margin to boiling and benign interaction with air or water, LFR concepts offer substantial potential in terms of safety, design simplification, proliferation resistance and the resulting economic performance.

The LFR has development needs in the areas of fuels, materials performance, and corrosion control. During the next 5 years progress is expected on materials, system design, and operating parameters. Significant test and demonstration activities are underway and planned during this time frame.

Molten Salt Reactors

The MSR is distinguished by its core in which the fuel is dissolved in molten fluoride salt. The technology was first studied more than 50 years ago. Modern interest is on fast reactor concepts as a long term alternative to solid-fuelled fast neutrons reactors. The onsite fuel reprocessing unit using pyrochemistry allows breeding plutonium or uranium-233 from thorium.

R&D progresses toward resolving feasibility issues and assessing safety and performance of the design concepts. Key feasibility issues focus on a dedicated safety approach and the development of salt redox potential measurement and control tools in order to limit corrosion rate of structural materials. Further work on the batch-wise online salt processing is required. Much work is needed on molten salt technology and related equipments

Sodium-cooled Fast Reactors

The SFR uses liquid sodium as the reactor coolant, allowing high power density with low coolant volume fraction and operation at low pressure. While the oxygen-free environment prevents corrosion, sodium reacts chemically with air and water and requires a sealed coolant system.

Plant size options under consideration range from small, 50 to 300 MWe, modular reactors to larger plants up to 1 500 MWe. The outlet temperature is 500-550°C for the options, which allows the use of the materials developed and proven in prior fast reactor programs.

The SFR closed fuel cycle enables regeneration of fissile fuel and facilitates management of minor actinides. However, this requires that recycle fuels be developed and qualified for use. Important safety features of the Generation IV system include a long thermal response time, a reasonable margin to coolant boiling, a primary system that operates near atmospheric pressure, and an intermediate sodium system between the radioactive sodium in the primary system and the power conversion system.

Water/steam, supercritical carbon-dioxide or nitrogen can be considered as working fluids for the power conversion system to achieve high performance in terms of thermal efficiency, safety and reliability. With innovations to reduce capital cost, the SFR is aimed to be economically competitive in future electricity markets. In addition, the fast neutron spectrum greatly extends the uranium resources compared to thermal reactors. The SFR is considered to be the nearest-term deployable system for actinide management.

Much of the basic technology for the SFR has been established in former fast reactor programmes, and is being confirmed by the Phenix end-of-life tests in France, the restart of Monju in Japan and the lifetime extension of BN-600 in Russia..

The SFR is an attractive energy source for nations that desire to make the best use of limited nuclear fuel resources and manage nuclear waste by closing the fuel cycle.

Supercritical Water Cooled Reactors

CWRs are high temperature, high-pressure, light-water-cooled reactors that operate above the thermodynamic critical point of water (374°C, 22.1 MPa). The reactor core may have a thermal or a fast-neutron spectrum, depending on the core design. The concept may be based on current pressure vessel or on pressure tube reactors, and thus use light water or heavy water as moderator. Unlike current water-cooled reactors, the coolant will experience a significantly higher enthalpy rise in the core, which reduces the core mass flow for a given thermal power and increases the core outlet enthalpy to superheated conditions.

For both pressure vessel and pressure-tube designs, a once through steam cycle has been envisaged, omitting any coolant recirculation inside the reactor. As in a boiling water reactor, the superheated steam will be supplied directly to the high pressure steam turbine and the feed water from the steam cycle will be supplied back to the core. Thus, the SCWR concepts combine the design and operation experiences gained from hundreds of water-cooled reactors with those experiences from hundreds of fossil-fired power plants operated with supercritical water (SCW). In contrast to some of the other Generation IV nuclear systems, the SCWR can be developed incrementally step-by-step from current water-cooled reactors.

Very High Temperature Gas Reactors

The Very High Temperature Reactor (VHTR) is primarily dedicated to the cogeneration of electricity and hydrogen, the latter being extracted from water by using thermo-chemical, electro-chemical or hybrid processes. Its high outlet temperature makes it attractive also for the chemical, oil and iron industries. Original target of outlet temperature 1 000°C from VHTR can support the efficient production of hydrogen by thermo-chemical processes. The technical basis for VHTR is the TRISO coated particle fuel, the graphite as the core structure, helium coolant, as well as the dedicated core layout and lower power density to removal decay heat in a natural way. The VHTR has potential for inherent safety, high thermal efficiency, process heat application capability, low operation and maintenance costs, and modular construction.

The VHTR is a next step in the evolutionary development of high-temperature gas-cooled reactors. It is a graphite-moderated, helium-cooled reactor with thermal neutron spectrum. It can supply nuclear heat and electricity over a range of core outlet temperatures between 700 and 950°C, or more than 1 000°C in future. The reactor core type of the VHTR can be a prismatic block core such as the Japanese HTTR, or a pebble-bed core such as the Chinese HTR-10.

For electricity generation, a helium gas turbine system can be directly set in the primary coolant loop, which is called a direct cycle or at the lower end of the outlet temperature range, a steam generator can be used with a conventional rankine cycle. For nuclear heat applications such as process heat for refineries, petrochemistry, metallurgy, and hydrogen production, the heat application process is generally coupled with the reactor through an intermediate heat exchanger (IHX), the so-called indirect cycle. The VHTR can produce hydrogen from only heat and water by using thermochemical processes (such as the sulfur-iodine (S-I) process or the hybrid sulfur process), high temperature steam electrolysis (HTSE), or from heat, water, and natural gas by applying the steam reformer technology.

While the original approach for VHTR at the start of the Generation IV program focused on very high outlet temperatures and hydrogen production, current market assessments have indicated that electricity production and industrial processes based on high temperature steam that require modest outlet temperatures (700-850°C) have the greatest potential for application in the next decade and also reduce technical risk associated with higher outlet temperatures. As a result, over the past decade, the focus has moved from higher outlet temperature designs such as GT-MHR and PBMR to lower outlet temperature designs such as HTR-PM in China and the NGNP in the US.

The VHTR has two typical reactor configurations, namely the pebble bed type and the prismatic block type. Although the shape of the fuel element for two configurations are different, the technical basis for both configuration is same, such as the TRISO coated particle fuel in the graphite matrix, full ceramic (graphite) core structure, helium coolant, and low power density, in order to achieve high outlet temperature and the retention of fission production inside the coated particle under normal operation condition and accident condition. The VHTR can support alternative fuel cycles such as U-Pu, Pu, MOX, U-Th.

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