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Laser Inertial Fusion-based Energy: Neutronic Design Aspects of a Hybrid Fusion-Fission Nuclear Energy System


This study investigates the neutronics design aspects of a hybrid fusion-fission energy system called the Laser Fusion-Fission Hybrid (LFFH). A LFFH combines current Laser Inertial Confinement fusion technology with that of advanced fission reactor technology to produce a system that eliminates many of the negative aspects of pure fusion or pure fission systems. When examining the LFFH energy mission, a significant portion of the United States and world energy production could be supplied by LFFH plants.

The LFFH engine described utilizes a central fusion chamber surrounded by multiple layers of multiplying and moderating media. These layers, or blankets, include coolant plenums, a beryllium (Be) multiplier layer, a fertile fission blanket and a graphite-pebble reflector. Each layer is separated by perforated oxide dispersion strengthened (ODS) ferritic steel walls. The central fusion chamber is surrounded by an ODS ferritic steel first wall. The first wall is coated with 250-500 μm of tungsten to mitigate x-ray damage. The first wall is cooled by Li17Pb83 eutectic, chosen for its neutron multiplication and good heat transfer properties. The Li17Pb83 flows in a jacket around the first wall to an extraction plenum. The main coolant injection plenum is immediately behind the Li17Pb83, separated from the Li17Pb83 by a solid ODS wall. This main system coolant is the molten salt flibe (2LiF-BeF2), chosen for beneficial neutronics and heat transfer properties. The use of flibe enables both fusion fuel production (tritium) and neutron moderation and multiplication for the fission blanket. A Be pebble (1 cm diameter) multiplier layer surrounds the coolant injection plenum and the coolant flows radially through perforated walls across the bed. Outside the Be layer, a fission fuel layer comprised of depleted uranium contained in Tristructural-isotropic (TRISO) fuel particles having a packing fraction of 20% in 2 cm diameter fuel pebbles. The fission blanket is cooled by the same radial flibe flow that travels through perforated ODS walls to the reflector blanket. This reflector blanket is 75 cm thick comprised of 2 cm diameter graphite pebbles cooled by flibe. The flibe extraction plenum surrounds the reflector bed. Detailed neutronics designs studies are performed to arrive at the described design.

The LFFH engine thermal power is controlled using a technique of adjusting the 6Li/7Li enrichment in the primary and secondary coolants. The enrichment adjusts system thermal power in the design by increasing tritium production while reducing fission. To perform the simulations and design of the LFFH engine, a new software program named LFFH Nuclear Control (LNC) was developed in C++ to extend the functionality of existing neutron transport and depletion software programs. Neutron transport calculations are performed with MCNP5. Depletion calculations are performed using Monteburns 2.0, which utilizes ORIGEN 2.0 and MCNP5 to perform a burnup calculation. LNC supports many design parameters and is capable of performing a full 3D system simulation from initial startup to full burnup. It is able to iteratively search for coolant 6Li enrichments and resulting material compositions that meet user defined performance criteria. LNC is utilized throughout this study for time dependent simulation of the LFFH engine.

Two additional methods were developed to improve the computation efficiency of LNC calculations. These methods, termed adaptive time stepping and adaptive mesh refinement were incorporated into a separate stand alone C++ library name the Adaptive Burnup Library (ABL). The ABL allows for other client codes to call and utilize its functionality. Adaptive time stepping is useful for automatically maximizing the size of the depletion time step while maintaining a desired level of accuracy. Adaptive meshing allows for analysis of fixed fuel configurations that would normally require a computationally burdensome number of depletion zones. Alternatively, Adaptive Mesh Refinement (AMR) adjusts the depletion zone size according to the variation in flux across the zone or fractional contribution to total absorption or fission.

A parametric analysis on a fully mixed fuel core was performed using the LNC and ABL code suites. The resulting system parameters are found to optimize performance metrics using a 20 MT DU fuel load with a 20% TRISO packing and a 300 μm kernel diameter operated with a fusion input power of 500 MW and a fission blanket gain of 4.0.

LFFH potentially offers a proliferation resistant technology relative to other nuclear energy systems primarily because of no need for fuel enrichment or reprocessing. A figure of merit of the material attractiveness is examined and it is found that the fuel is effectively contaminated to an unattractive level shortly after the system is started due to fission product and minor actinide build up.

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