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Evaluation of Uranium-Based Fuels Augmented by Low Levels of Thorium for Near-Term Implementation in Pressure Tube Heavy Water Reactors

Ashlea V. Colton, Blair P. Bromley, Daniel Wojtaszek, Clifford Dugal

Nuclear Science and Engineering / Volume 186 / Number 1 / April 2017 / Pages 48-65

Technical Paper /

First Online Publication:April 21, 2017

Thorium, a fertile nuclear fuel that is nearly three times as abundant as uranium, represents a long-term energy source that could complement uranium and eventually replace it. To facilitate the gradual transition from uranium-based fuels to thorium-based fuels, it may be advantageous in the near term to introduce small amounts of thorium (˂7% of the total fuel mass) into uranium-based fuels in pressure tube heavy water reactors (PT-HWRs). Downblending natural or slightly enriched uranium dioxide with thorium dioxide for fuel pellets placed at the ends of the fuel stack of a conventional 37-element fuel bundle could help reduce axial power peaking for fresh fuel, while incorporating thorium dioxide into the central element of the fuel bundle could reduce coolant void reactivity (CVR).

A series of two-dimensional lattice physics simulations was carried out as part of conceptual scoping studies to evaluate the potential performance and safety characteristics of uranium-based fuel bundles with small amounts of thorium fuel added. The simulation results were complemented by an approximate model for evaluating the potential economic characteristics. The cases studied involve modifications to fuel composition, central element materials, and the addition of thorium dioxide to the fuel stack. In addition, a set of preliminary three-dimensional MCNP simulations was performed where fuel bundles were modeled to assess the effect of thorium end pellets and graded axial enrichment on end power peaking.

Results suggest it should be possible to incorporate thorium into the fuel cycle using existing 37-element fuel bundle geometry. Advantages to incorporating thorium include a reduction in the CVR through a thorium central element, breeding of small amounts of 233U, maintaining front-end fuel costs at or below the price of natural uranium (NU) fuel, and maintaining maximum linear element ratings within 6%of those achieved using NU 37-element fuel.

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