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Medium-Power Lead-Alloy Reactors: Missions for This Reactor Technology

Neil E. Todreas, Philip E. MacDonald, Pavel Hejzlar, Jacopo Buongiorno, Eric P. Loewen

Nuclear Technology

Volume 147 / Number 3 / September 2004 / Pages 305-320


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A multiyear project at the Idaho National Engineering and Environmental Laboratory and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology investigated the potential of medium-power lead-alloy-cooled technology to perform two missions: (1) the production of low-cost electricity and (2) the burning of actinides from light water reactor (LWR) spent fuel. The goal of achieving a high power level to enhance economic performance simultaneously with adoption of passive decay heat removal and modularity capabilities resulted in designs in the range of 600-800 MW(thermal), which we classify as a medium power level compared to the lower [~100 MW(thermal)] and higher [2800 MW(thermal)] power ratings of other lead-alloy-cooled designs. The plant design that was developed shows promise of achieving all the Generation-IV goals for future nuclear energy systems: sustainable energy generation, low overnight capital cost, a very low likelihood and degree of core damage during any conceivable accident, and a proliferation-resistant fuel cycle. The reactor and fuel cycle designs that evolved to achieve these missions and goals resulted from study of the following key trade-offs: waste reduction versus reactor safety, waste reduction versus cost, and cost versus proliferation resistance. Secondary trade-offs that were also considered were monolithic versus modular design, active versus passive safety systems, forced versus natural circulation, alternative power conversion cycles, and lead versus lead-bismuth coolant.

These studies led to a selection of a common modular design with forced convection cooling, passive decay heat removal, and a supercritical CO2 power cycle for all our reactor concepts. However, the concepts adopt different core designs to optimize the achievement of the two missions. For the low-cost electricity production mission, a design approach based on fueling with low enriched uranium operating without costly reprocessing in a once-through cycle was pursued to achieve a long operating cycle length by enhancing in-core breeding. For the actinide-burning mission three design variants were produced: (1) a fertile-free actinide burner, i.e., a single-tier strategy, (2) a minor actinide burner with plutonium burned in the LWR fleet, i.e., a two-tier strategy, and (3) an actinide burner with characteristics balanced to also favor economic electricity production.

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