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A Critical Review of the Practice of Equating the Reactivity of Spent Fuel to Fresh Fuel in Burnup Credit Criticality Safety Analyses for PWR Spent-Fuel Pool Storage

J. C. Wagner, C. V. Parks

Nuclear Technology / Volume 136 / Number 1 / Pages 130-140

October 2001


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This research examines the practice of equating the reactivity of spent fuel to that of fresh fuel for the purpose of performing burnup credit criticality safety analyses for pressurized water reactor (PWR) spent-fuel pool (SFP) storage conditions. The investigation consists of comparing keff estimates based on reactivity "equivalent" fresh fuel enrichment (REFFE) to keff estimates using the calculated spent-fuel isotopics. Analyses of selected storage configurations common in PWR SFPs show that this practice yields nonconservative results (on the order of a few tenths of a percent) in configurations in which the spent fuel is adjacent to higher-reactivity assemblies (e.g., fresh or lower-burned assemblies) and yields conservative results in configurations in which spent fuel is adjacent to lower-reactivity assemblies (e.g., higher-burned fuel or empty cells). When the REFFE is determined based on unborated water moderation, analyses for storage conditions with soluble boron present reveal significant nonconservative results associated with the use of the REFFE. Finally, it is shown that the practice of equating the reactivity of spent fuel to fresh fuel is acceptable, provided the conditions for which the REFFE was determined remain unchanged. Determination of the REFFE for a reference configuration and subsequent use of the REFFE for different configurations violates the basis used for the determination of the REFFE and, thus, may lead to inaccurate, and possibly, nonconservative estimates of reactivity.

A significant concentration (~2000 ppm) of soluble boron is typically (but not necessarily required to be) present in PWR SFPs, of which only a portion ([less than or approximately equal]500 ppm) may be credited in safety analyses. Thus, a large subcritical margin currently exists that more than accounts for errors or uncertainties associated with the use of the REFFE. Consequently, the findings presented here do not represent a significant safety concern unless/until the subcritical margin associated with the soluble boron (that is not currently explicitly credited) is offset by the uncertainties associated with burnup credit and/or the expanded allowance of credit for the soluble boron.

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