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Pebble Bed Reactors Design Optimization Methods and their Application to the Pebble Bed Fluoride Salt Cooled High Temperature Reactor (PB-FHR)


The Fluoride salt cooled High temperature Reactor (FHR) is a class of advanced nuclear reactors that combine the robust coated particle fuel form from high temperature gas cooled reactors, direct reactor auxillary cooling system (DRACS) passive decay removal of liquid metal fast reactors, and the transparent, high volumetric heat capacitance liquid fluoride salt working fluids - flibe (33%7Li2F-67%BeF) - from molten salt reactors. This combination of fuel and coolant enables FHRs to operate in a high-temperature low-pressure design space that has beneficial safety and economic implications. In 2012, UC Berkeley was charged with developing a pre-conceptual design of a commercial prototype FHR - the Pebble Bed- Fluoride Salt Cooled High Temperature Reactor (PB-FHR) - as part of the Nuclear Energy University Programs' (NEUP) integrated research project. The Mark 1 design of the PB-FHR (Mk1 PB-FHR) is 236 MWt flibe cooled pebble bed nuclear heat source that drives an open-air Brayton combine-cycle power conversion system. The PB-FHR's pebble bed consists of a 19.8% enriched uranium fuel core surrounded by an inert graphite pebble reflector that shields the outer solid graphite reflector, core barrel and reactor vessel. The fuel reaches an average burnup of 178000 MWt-d/MT. The Mk1 PB-FHR exhibits strong negative temperature reactivity feedback from the fuel, graphite moderator and the flibe coolant but a small positive temperature reactivity feedback of the inner reflector and from the outer graphite pebble reflector.

A novel neutronics and depletion methodology - the multiple burnup state methodology was developed for an accurate and efficient search for the equilibrium composition of an arbitrary continuously refueled pebble bed reactor core. The Burnup Equilibrium Analysis Utility (BEAU) computer program was developed to implement this methodology. BEAU was successfully benchmarked against published results generated with existing equilibrium depletion codes VSOP and PEBBED for a high temperature gas cooled pebble bed reactor.

Three parametric studies were performed for exploring the design space of the PB-FHR -- to select a fuel design for the PB-FHR] to select a core configuration; and to optimize the PB-FHR design. These parametric studies investigated trends in the dependence of important reactor performance parameters such as burnup, temperature reactivity feedback, radiation damage, etc on the reactor design variables and attempted to understand the underlying reactor physics responsible for these trends.

A pebble fuel parametric study determined that pebble fuel should be designed with a carbon to heavy metal ratio (C/HM) less than 400 to maintain negative coolant temperature reactivity coefficients.

Seed and thorium blanket-, seed and inert pebble reflector- and seed only core configurations were investigated for annular FHR PBRs - the C/HM of the blanket pebbles and discharge burnup of the thorium blanket pebbles were additional design variable for core configurations with thorium blankets. Either a thorium blanket or graphite pebble reflector is required to shield the outer graphite reflector enough to extend its service lifetime to 60 EFPY. The fuel fabrication costs and long cycle lengths of the thorium blanket fuel limit the potential economic advantages of using a thorium blanket. Therefore, the seed and pebble reflector core configuration was adopted as the baseline core configuration.

Multi-objective optimization with respect to economics was performed for the PB-FHR accounting for safety and other physical design constraints derived from the high-level safety regulatory criteria. These physical constraints were applied along in a design tool, Nuclear Application Value Estimator, that evaluated a simplified cash flow economics model based on estimates of reactor performance parameters calculated using correlations based on the results of parametric design studies for a specific PB-FHR design and a set of economic assumptions about the electricity market to evaluate the economic implications of design decisions.

The optimal PB-FHR design - Mark 1 PB-FHR - is described along with a detailed summary of its performance characteristics including: the burnup, the burnup evolution, temperature reactivity coefficients, the power distribution, radiation damage distributions, control element worths, decay heat curves and tritium production rates. The Mk1 PB-FHR satisfies the PB-FHR safety criteria. The fuel, moderator (pebble core, pebble shell, graphite matrix, TRISO layers) and coolant have global negative temperature reactivity coefficients and the fuel temperatures are well within their limits.

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