Saturday, 19 March 2011

Less common fuel forms

Various other nuclear fuel forms find use in specific applications, but lack the widespread use of those found in BWRs, PWRs, and CANDU power plants. Many of these fuel forms are only found in research reactors, or have military applications.
[t] Magnox fuel
A magnox fuel rod

Magnox reactors are pressurised, carbon dioxide cooled, graphite moderated reactors using natural uranium (i.e. unenriched) as fuel and magnox alloy as fuel cladding. Working pressure varies from 6.9 to 19.35 bar for the steel pressure vessels, and the two reinforced concrete designs operated at 24.8 and 27 bar. Magnox is also the name of an alloy—mainly of magnesium with small amounts of aluminium and other metals—used in cladding unenriched uranium metal fuel with a non-oxidising covering to contain fission products. Magnox is short for Magnesium non-oxidising. This material has the advantage of a low neutron capture cross-section, but has two major disadvantages:

    * It limits the maximum temperature, and hence the thermal efficiency, of the plant.
    * It reacts with water, preventing long-term storage of spent fuel under water.

Magnox fuel incorporated cooling fins to provide maximum heat transfer despite low operating temperatures, making it expensive to produce. While the use of uranium metal rather than oxide made reprocessing more straightforward and therefore cheaper, the need to reprocess fuel a short time after removal from the reactor meant that the fission product hazard was severe. Expensive remote handling facilities were required to address this danger.
[t] TRISO fuel
TRISO fuel particle which has been cracked, showing the multiple coating layers

Tristructural-isotropic (TRISO) fuel is a type of micro fuel particle. It consists of a fuel kernel composed of UOX (sometimes UC or UCO) in the center, coated with four layers of three isotropic materials. The four layers are a porous buffer layer made of carbon, followed by a dense inner layer of pyrolytic carbon (PyC), followed by a ceramic layer of SiC to retain fission products at elevated temperatures and to give the TRISO particle more structural integrity, followed by a dense outer layer of PyC. TRISO fuel particles are designed not to crack due to the stresses from processes (such as differential thermal expansion or fission gas pressure) at temperatures beyond 1600°C, and therefore can contain the fuel in the worst of accident scenarios in a properly designed reactor. Two such reactor designs are the pebble bed reactor (PBR), in which thousands of TRISO fuel particles are dispersed into graphite pebbles, and the prismatic-block gas-cooled reactor (such as the GT-MHR), in which the TRISO fuel particles are fabricated into compacts and placed in a graphite block matrix. Both of these reactor designs are very high temperature reactors (VHTR) [formally known as the high-temperature gas-cooled reactors (HTGR)], one of the six classes of reactor designs in the Generation IV initiative.

TRISO fuel particles were originally developed in Germany for high-temperature gas-cooled reactors. The first nuclear reactor to use TRISO fuels was the AVR and the first powerplant was the THTR-300. Currently, TRISO fuel compacts are being used in the experimental reactors, the HTR-10 in China, and the HTTR in Japan.
RBMK reactor fuel rod holder 1 - distancing armature; 2 - fuel rods shell; 3 - fuel tablets.
[t] QUADRISO fuel

In QUADRISO particles a burnable neutron poison (europium oxide or erbium oxide or carbide) layer surrounds the fuel kernel of ordinary TRISO particles to better manage the excess of reactivity. If the core is equipped both with TRISO and QUADRISO fuels, at beginning of life neutrons do not reach the fuel of the QUADRISO particles because they are stopped by the burnable poison. After irradiation the poison depletes and neutrons streams into the fuel kernel of QUADRISO particles inducing fission reactions. This mechanism compensates fuel depletion of ordinary TRISO fuel. In the generalized QUADRISO fuel concept the poison can eventually be mixed with the fuel kernel or the outer pyrocarbon. The QUADRISO [3] concept has been conceived at Argonne National Laboratory.
'QUADRISO Particle
[t] RBMK fuel

RBMK reactor fuel was used in Soviet designed and built RBMK type reactors. This is a low enriched uranium oxide fuel. The fuel elements in an RBMK are 3 m long each, and two of these sit back-to-back on each fuel channel, pressure tube. Reprocessed uranium from Russian VVER reactor spent fuel is used to fabricate RBMK fuel. Following the Chernobyl accident, the enrichment of fuel was changed from 2.0% to 2.4%, to compensate for control rod modifications and the introduction of additional absorbers.
[t] CerMet fuel

CerMet fuel consists of ceramic fuel particles (usually uranium oxide) embedded in a metal matrix. It is hypothesized that this type of fuel is what is used in United States Navy reactors. This fuel has high heat transport characteristics and can withstand a large amount of expansion.
[t] Plate type fuel
ATR Core The Advanced Test Reactor at Idaho National Laboratory uses plate type fuel in a clover leaf arrangement. The blue glow around the core is known as Cherenkov radiation.

Plate type fuel has fallen out of favor over the years. Plate type fuel is commonly composed of enriched uranium sandwiched between metal cladding. Plate type fuel is used in several research reactors where a high neutron flux is desired, for uses such as material irradiation studies or isotope production, without the high temperatures seen in ceramic, cylindrical fuel. It is currently used in the Advanced Test Reactor (ATR) at Idaho National Laboratory.
[t] Sodium bonded fuel

Sodium bonded fuel consists of fuel that has liquid sodium in the gap between the fuel slug (or pellet) and the cladding. This fuel type is often used for sodium cooled liquid metal fast reactors. It has been used in EBR-I, EBR-II, and the FFTF. The fuel slug may be metallic or ceramic. The sodium bonding is used to reduce the temperature of the fuel.

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