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Fertile-Free Fuels in Pressurized Water Reactors: Design Challenges and Solutions

E. Fridman, E. Shwageraus, A. Galperin

Nuclear Technology / Volume 157 / Number 2 / February 2007 / Pages 157-176

Technical Paper / Fuel Cycle and Management /

This paper investigates the basic feasibility of using reactor-grade Pu in fertile-free fuel (FFF) matrix in pressurized water reactors (PWRs). Several important issues were investigated in this work: the Pu loading required to achieve a specific interrefueling interval, the impact of inert matrix composition on reactivity constrained length of cycle, and the potential of utilizing burnable poisons (BPs) to alleviate degradation of the reactivity control mechanism and temperature coefficients

Although the subject was addressed in the past, no systematic approach for assessment of BP utilization in FFF cores was published. In this work, we examine all commercially available BP materials in all geometrical arrangements currently used by the nuclear industry with regards to their potential to alleviate the problems associated with the use of FFF in PWRs. The recently proposed MgO-ZrO2 solid-state solution fuel matrix, which appears to be very promising in terms of thermal properties and radiation damage resistance, was used as a reference matrix material in this work. The neutronic impact of the relative amounts of MgO and ZrO2 in the matrix were also studied. The analysis was performed with a neutron transport and fuel assembly burnup code BOXER. A modified linear reactivity model was applied to the two-dimensional single fuel assembly results to approximate the full core characteristics. Based on the results of the performed analyses, the Pu-loaded FFF core demonstrated potential feasibility to be used in existing PWRs. Major FFF core design problems may be significantly mitigated through the correct choice of BP design. It was found that a combination of BP materials and geometries may be required to meet all FFF design goals. The use of enriched (in most effective isotope) BPs, such as 167Er and 157Gd, may further improve the BP effectiveness and reduce the fuel cycle length penalty associated with their use.

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