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Improved resource utilization by advanced burner reactors with breed-and-burn blankets


Previous studies assessed the feasibility of designing Sodium-cooled Fast Reactors (SFR) in a novel Seed-and-Blanket (S&B) configuration in which a significant fraction of the core power is generated by a radial metallic thorium-fueled blanket that operates in the Breed-and-Burn (B&B) mode. The radiation damage on the cladding material in both seed and blanket does not exceed the presently acceptable constraint of 200 Displacements per Atom (DPA). This paper investigates a number of blanket fuel options other than metallic thorium fuel, including thorium dioxide fuel, thorium hydride fuel, thorium nitride Fully Ceramic Encapsulated (FCM) fuel, and Pressurized Water Reactor (PWR) Used Nuclear Fuel (UNF) after limited reprocessing. Since the neutron spectrum of the oxide fueled blanket is softer than that of the reference metallic thorium fueled blanket, it can discharge its fuel at an average burnup of around 110 MWd/kg versus 65 MWd/kg of the metallic thorium. The two thorium hydride fueled blankets feature an even softer neutron spectrum than the oxide fueled blanket and, therefore, a higher average discharge burnup — 192 MWd/kg and 245 MWd/kg when the H-to-Th ratio is, respectively, 0.5 and 2.0. The FCM fuel is composed of SiC matrix and cladding that is expected to self-anneal the neutrons induced damage. With the assumption that the FCM fuel will indeed be proven not limited by radiation damage, its discharge burnup could be up to 482 MWd/kg. As a result, the corresponding thorium utilization is the highest of all options examined – close to 80 times the utilization of natural uranium in present Light Water Reactors (LWRs). The amount of Trans-Th isotopes accumulated in the thorium blanket per unit of generated electricity decreases as the blanket fuel is discharged at a higher burnup. Therefore, a higher discharge blanket burnup results in lower long-term radioactivity and radiotoxicity. It is also found that the 232U/233U ratio in the discharged thorium fuel is over 3 times higher in the thorium hydride than in the other blankets thus improving the thorium-hydride blanket's proliferation resistance. Softening of the blanket spectrum leads to softening of the seed spectrum region interfacing with the blanket and this enables to discharge the seed fuel at a higher average burnup. The higher discharge burnup of the seed fuel reduces the required reprocessing and fuel fabrication capacities per unit of generated electricity. The cores having softer neutron spectrum blankets also feature less positive feedback to sodium voiding and much more negative Doppler coefficient. When PWR UNF is used after limited reprocessing to fuel the blanket, the subcritical blanket driven by the excess neutrons from the seed can discharge this fuel at an average burnup of ∼120 MWd/kg. Combined with the burnup in the first stage PWRs, this two-stage energy system can achieve an accumulated uranium burnup of ∼170 MWd/kg. This increases the fuel utilization of natural uranium by a factor of three relative to once-through PWRs while at the same time reducing the amount of high-level waste that needs to be disposed of per unit of generated electricity. Another scenario examined in this paper is a 3-stage closed energy system: TRU extracted from Stage-1 PWRs used fuel is charged to the seed of Stage-2 S&B cores while the Trans-Th (mainly 233U) extracted from Stage-2 S&B blanket discharged fuel is used as the fissile feed for Stage-3 PWRs. It is estimated that 1GWe of S&B SFRs in such a 3-Stage energy system can support 3.2 GWe of PWRs versus ∼1.7 GWe of PWRs that can be supported by 1 GWe of CR = 0.5 Advanced Burner Reactor (ABR).

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