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Fuel cycle analysis of Advanced Burner Reactor with breed-and-burn thorium blanket


The Seed-and-Blanket (S&B) Sodium-cooled Fast Reactor (SFR) core concept was proposed for generating a significant fraction of the core power from thorium fueled breed-and-burn (B&B) blankets without exceeding the presently verified radiation damage constraint of 200 Displacement per Atom (DPA). To make beneficial use of the excess neutrons from fast reactors, the S&B core is designed to have an elongated TRU transmuting (or “TRU burner”) seed from which over 20% of the fission neutrons leak into a subcritical thorium blanket that radially surrounds the seed. The seed fuel is recycled while the blanket operates in a once-through breed-and-burn (B&B) mode. The objective of this paper is to compare the fuel cycle performance of the S&B reactor against an Advanced Burner Reactor (ABR) and a conventional Pressurized Water Reactor (PWR). For the fast reactors (SFR: ABR and S&B) the fuel cycle performance is evaluated based on a 2-stage PWR-SFR energy system while the reference nuclear system is made of once-through PWRs. It was found that relative to the ABR, the S&B core has a lower fuel cycle cost, higher capacity factor, and comparable short-term radioactivity. The discharged seed fuel from the S&B core features lower fissile Pu-to-Pu ratio, higher 238Pu-to-Pu ratio, higher specific plutonium decay heat, higher spontaneous fission rate, and lower overall material attractiveness for weapon use. Due to the significant amount of 233U discharged from the breed-and-burn thorium fueled blankets, the S&B core has much higher long-term radioactivity and radiotoxicity. Since the thorium fueled blanket operates in the breed-and-burn mode and requires no fuel reprocessing, the discharged blanket fuel is unattractive for weapons application. Compared with a PWR, the S&B core has a lower fuel cycle cost, much lower short-term radioactivity and radiotoxicity but higher long-term values, and higher proliferation resistance for the discharged plutonium. The natural uranium utilization of the 2-stage PWR-S&B system is approximately 60% higher than that of present PWRs; it is few percent higher than that of the 2-stage PWR-ABR system. Approximately 7% of the thorium fed to the blanket is converted into energy, which makes the thorium fuel utilization approximately 12 times the utilization of natural uranium in PWRs. A comprehensive fuel cycle evaluation performed with the methodology developed by the recent U.S Department of Energy's Nuclear Fuel Cycle Evaluation and Screening campaign concludes that the PWR-S&B system has similar fuel cycle performance characteristics as the PWR-ABR system. The S&B concept may potentially feature improved economics and resource utilization relative to the ABR.

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