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Types of Nuclear Reactor

Gas Cooled, Graphite Moderated

MAGNOX Reactors
MAGNOX is short for Magnesium Non-OXidising.
These are graphite moderated and gas cooled.
MAGNOX reactors were built in the UK from 1956 to 1971 but have now
been superseded.
The MAGNOX reactor is named after the magnesium alloy used to encase the
Natural Uranium is used as fuel.
Fuel elements consisting of fuel rods encased in MAGNOX cans are loaded
into vertical channels in a core constructed of graphite blocks. Further
vertical channels contain control rods (strong neutron absorbers) which can
be inserted or withdrawn from the core to adjust the rate of the fission
process and, therefore, the heat output.
The whole assembly is cooled by blowing carbon dioxide gas past the fuel
cans, which are specially designed to enhance heat transfer.
The hot gas then converts water to steam in a steam generator. Early designs
used a steel pressure vessel, which was surrounded by a thick concrete
radiation shield.
Steam Temperature and pressure are around 4000C and 40 atmospheres.
Its overall efficiency is about 30%
Advanced Gas Cooled Reactor
In order to improve the cost effectiveness of MAGNOX reactor, it was
necessary to go to higher temperatures to achieve higher thermal
efficiencies and higher power densities to reduce capital costs.
This necessitated
increases in cooling gas pressure
and changing from MAGNOX to stainless steel cladding
and from uranium metal to uranium dioxide fuel.
This in turn led to the need for an increase in the proportion of U 235 in
the fuel.
Pressure vessel is made of concrete and contains both reactor core and
heat exchanger.
The resulting design, known as the Advanced Gas-Cooled Reactor
It uses graphite as the moderator and CO2 as a coolant
Steam pressure is around 150 atmospheres and temperature around
Its overall efficiency is about 40%
Reactors installed at Calder Hall and
Berkely In UK in 1957 are gas cooled

Advances gas cooled reactors differs

from gas Cooled reactors in the facts
that in AGR the coolant and core
temperatures are higher.
Heavy Water Cooled and Moderated
The only design of heavy water moderated reactor in
commercial use is the CANDU, designed in Canada
The CANDU (short for CANada Deuterium Uranium)
reactor is a Canadian-invented, pressurized heavy water
The acronym refers to its deuterium-oxide (heavy
water) moderator and its use of
(originally, natural)uranium fuel.
CANDU reactors were first developed in the late 1950s and
1960s by a partnership between Atomic Energy of Canada
Limited (AECL), the Hydro-Electric Power Commission of
Ontario (now Ontario Power Generation),
Canadian General Electric (now GE Canada).
In the CANDU reactor unenriched uranium dioxide is held
in zirconium alloy cans loaded into horizontal zirconium
alloy tubes.
The fuel is cooled by pumping heavy
water through the tubes (under high
pressure to prevent boiling) and then to a
steam generator to raise steam from
ordinary water (also known as natural or
light water) in the normal way.
The necessary additional moderation is
achieved by immersing the zirconium
alloy tubes in an unpressurised container
(called a callandria) containing more
heavy water.
Control is effected by inserting or
withdrawing cadmium rods from the
The whole assembly is contained inside
the concrete shield and containment
1 Fuel bundle 8 machines
2 9 water moderato
(reactor core)

3 Adjuster rods 10 Pressure tube

Heavy Steam going

4 water pressur 11 to steam turbine
e reservoir

Cold water
5 12 returning from
generator turbine

Light building made
6 13
water pump of reinforced

Heavy water
7 pump
Basic design and operation
A CANDU power plant generates power in the same fashion as a fossil-
fuel power station: heat is generated by "burning" fuel, and that heat is
used to drive a steam turbine,
The CANDU consumes nuclear fuel ; when the fuel is "burned up" it is
removed from the reactor and stored as high level radioactive waste.
Fission reactions in the reactor core heat pressurized heavy water in
a primary cooling loop.
A heat exchanger, transfers the heat to a light-water secondary
cooling loop, which powers a steam turbine with an electrical
generator attached to it.
The exhaust steam from the turbines is then condensed and returned
as feedwater to the steam generator,
Newer CANDU plants, such as the Darlington Nuclear Generating
Station near Toronto, Ontario, use a diffuser to spread the warm outlet
water over a larger volume and limit the effects on the environment.
A cooling tower can be used, but it reduces efficiency and increases
costs considerably.
CANDU-specific features and advantages
Use of natural uranium as a fuel
CANDU is the most efficient of all reactors in using uranium: it uses about 15% less
uranium than a pressurized water reactor for each megawatt of electricity produced
There is no need for uranium enrichment facility
Fuel reprocessing is not needed, so costs, facilities and waste disposal associated with
reprocessing are avoided
CANDU reactors can be fuelled with a number of other low-fissile content fuels,
including spent fuel from light water reactors. This reduces dependency on uranium in
the event of future supply shortages and price increases
Use of heavy water as a moderator
Heavy water (deuterium oxide) is highly efficient because of its low neutron absorption
and affords the highest neutron economy of all commercial reactor systems. As a result
chain reaction in the reactor is possible with natural uranium fuel
Heavy water used in CANDU reactors is readily available. It can be produced locally,
using proven technology. Heavy water lasts beyond the life of the plant and can be re-
CANDU reactor core design
Reactor core comprising small diameter fuel channels rather that one large pressure
vessel Allows on-power refueling - extremely high capability factors are possible
The moveable fuel bundles in the pressure tubes allow maximum burn-up of all the fuel
in the reactor core
Extends life expectancy of the reactor because major core components like fuel channels
are accessible for repairs when needed
One is the cost of its heavy water. CANDU
reactors require the purest grade of heavy
water ever developed, better than 99.975%
pure. Such pure heavy water is expensive
because heavy water is chemically
indistinguishable from normal water, and
mixes easily with it.
The second major disadvantage is that since
the reactor can use unenriched uranium, the
reactor could in principle be used to produce
plutonium for nuclear weapons.
the building costs are expensive
Water Cooled and Moderated
By moving to greater levels of enrichment of U 235, it is possible to tolerate a greater
level of neutron absorption in the core (that is, absorption by non-fissile, non-fertile
materials) and thus use ordinary water as both a moderator and a coolant.
The most widely used reactor type in the world is the Pressurised Water Reactor
(PWR) (see Fig 1.3a) which uses enriched (about 3.2% U235) uranium dioxide as a
fuel in zirconium alloy cans.
The fuel, which is arranged in arrays of fuel "pins" and combined with the movable
control rods, is held in a steel vessel through which water at high pressure (to
suppress boiling) is pumped to act as both a coolant and a moderator.
The high-pressure water is then passed through a steam generator, which raises
steam in the usual way. As in the CANDU design, the whole assembly is contained
inside the concrete shield and containment vessel.
In the pressurized water reactor (PWR), the water which passes over the reactor
core to act as moderator and coolant does not flow to the turbine, but is contained in
a pressurized primary loop. The primary loop water produces steam in the
secondary loop which drives the turbine. The obvious advantage to this is that a fuel
leak in the core would not pass any radioactive contaminants to the turbine and
Another advantage is that the PWR can operate at higher pressure and temperature,
about 160 atmospheres and about 3150C. This provides a higher efficiency than
the BWR, but the reactor is more complicated and more costly to construct.
In a PWR, the primary coolant (water) is pumped under high
pressure to the reactor core where it is heated by the energy
generated by the fission of atoms. The heated water then flows to
a steam generator where it transfers its thermal energy to a
secondary system where steam is generated and flows to turbines
which, in turn, spin an electric generator. In contrast to a boiling
water reactor, pressure in the primary coolant loop prevents the
water from boiling within the reactor.
PWRs were originally designed to serve as nuclear
propulsion for nuclear submarines and were used in the original
design of the second commercial power plant at Shipping port
Atomic Power Station.
The US Army Nuclear Power Program operated pressurized water
reactors from 1954 to 1974.
Three Mile Island Nuclear Generating Station initially operated
two pressurized water reactor plants, TMI-1 and TMI-2.
The pressurized water reactor has three new
Generation III reactor evolutionary designs: the AP-1000, VVER-
1200, ACPR1000
PWR turbine cycle loop is separate from the
primary loop, so the water in the secondary loop
is not contaminated by radioactive materials.
PWRs can passively scram the reactor in the
event that offsite power is lost to immediately
stop the primary nuclear reaction. The control
rods are held by electromagnets and fall by
gravity when current is lost; full insertion safely
shuts down the primary nuclear reaction.
PWR technology is favored by nations seeking to
develop a nuclear navy, the compact reactors fit
well in nuclear submarines and other nuclear
The coolant water must be highly pressurized to remain liquid at high
temperatures. This requires high strength piping and a heavy pressure
vessel and hence increases construction costs.
The reactor pressure vessel is manufactured from ductile steel but, as the
plant is operated, neutron flux from the reactor causes this steel to become
less ductile. Eventually the ductility of the steel will reach limits determined
by the applicable boiler and pressure vessel standards, and the pressure
vessel must be repaired or replaced. This might not be practical or
economic, and so determines the life of the plant.
Additional high pressure components such as reactor coolant pumps,
pressurizer, steam generators, etc. are also needed. This also increases the
capital cost and complexity of a PWR power plant.
The high temperature water coolant with boric acid dissolved in it is can
cause radioactive corrosion products to circulate in the primary coolant
loop. This not only limits the lifetime of the reactor, but the systems that
filter out the corrosion products and adjust the boric acid concentration
add significantly to the overall cost of the reactor and to radiation exposure.
Enrichment of the uranium significantly increases the costs of fuel
Because water acts as a neutron moderator, it is not possible to build a fast
neutron reactor with a PWR design.
The second type of water cooled and moderated reactor does away with the
steam generator and, by allowing the water within the reactor circuit to boil, it
raises steam directly for electrical power generation.
This, however, leads to some radioactive contamination of the steam circuit
and turbine, which then requires shielding of these components in addition to
that surrounding the reactor.
Such reactors, known as Boiling Water Reactors (BWRs), (see Fig. 1.3b) are in
use in some ten countries throughout the world.
The boiling water reactor (BWR) is a type of light water nuclear
reactor used for the generation of electrical power. It is the second most
common type of electricity-generating nuclear reactor after the pressurized
water reactor (PWR), also a type of light water nuclear reactor.
The main difference between a BWR and PWR is that in a BWR, the reactor
core heats water, which turns to steam and then drives a steam
turbine. In a PWR, the reactor core heats water, which does not
boil. This hot water then exchanges heat with a lower pressure water system,
which turns to steam and drives the turbine.
The BWR was developed by the Idaho National Laboratory and
General Electric in the mid-1950s. The main present manufacturer is
GE Hitachi Nuclear Energy, which specializes in the design and construction of
this type of reactor.
BWR schematic.

1. Reactor 10. Generator

pressure vessel 11. Exciter
(RPV) 12. Condenser
2. Nuclear fuel 13. Coolant
element 14. Pre-heater
3. Control rods 15. Feedwater
4. Circulation pump
pumps 16. Cold water
5. Control rod pump
motors 17. Concrete
6. Steam enclosure
7. Feedwater 18. Connection
8. High pressure to electricity
turbine (HPT) grid
9. Low pressure
The reactor vessel and associated components operate at a substantially lower pressure
(about 75 times atmospheric pressure) compared to a PWR (about 158 times
atmospheric pressure).
Pressure vessel is subject to significantly less irradiation compared to a PWR, and so
does not become as brittle with age.
Operates at a lower nuclear fuel temperature.
Fewer components due to no steam generators and no pressurizer vessel.
Lower risk (probability) of a rupture causing loss of coolant compared to a PWR, and
lower risk of core damage. This is due to fewer pipes, fewer large diameter pipes, fewer
welds and no steam generator tubes.
Can operate at lower core power density levels using natural circulation without forced
A BWR may be designed to operate using only natural circulation so that recirculation
pumps are eliminated entirely.
BWRs do not use boric acid , leading to less possibility of corrosion within the reactor
vessel and piping.
Due to their single major vendor (GE/Hitachi), the current fleet of BWRs have
predictable, uniform designs that, while not completely standardized, generally are very
similar to one another.
BWRs are ideally suited for peaceful uses like power generation,
process/industrial/district heating, due to low cost, simplicity, and safety focus, which
come at the expense of larger size and slightly lower thermal efficiency.
Complex calculations for managing consumption of nuclear fuel during
operation due to "two phase (water and steam) fluid flow" in the upper part of
the core. This requires more instrumentation in the reactor core. The
innovation of computers, however, makes this less of an issue.
Much larger pressure vessel than for a PWR of similar power, with
correspondingly higher cost. (However, the overall cost is reduced because a
modern BWR has no main steam generators and associated piping.)
Shielding and access control around the steam turbine are required during
normal operations due to the radiation levels arising from the steam entering
directly from the reactor core.
Control rods are inserted from below for current BWR designs. There are two
available hydraulic power sources that can drive the control rods into the core
for a BWR under emergency conditions. There is a dedicated high pressure
hydraulic accumulator and also the pressure inside of the reactor pressure
vessel available to each control rod. Either the dedicated accumulator (one
per rod) or reactor pressure is capable of fully inserting each rod.
Most other reactor types use top entry control rods that are held up in the
withdrawn position by electromagnets, causing them to fall into the reactor
by gravity if power is lost.
Water Cooled, Graphite Moderated
The RBMK (Russian: Reaktor Bolshoy Moshchnosti Kanalnyy, "High Power Channel-type
Reactor") is a class of graphite-moderated nuclear power reactor designed and built by the
Soviet Union.
The RBMK is an early Generation II reactor and the oldest commercial reactor design still in
wide operation. Certain aspects of the RBMK reactor design namely the graphite-tipped
control rods, the positive void coefficient characteristic and instability at low power levels
contributed to the 1986 Chernobyl disaster in which an RBMK exploded during a
mishandled test, and radioactivity was released over a large portion of Europe.
The disaster prompted worldwide calls for the reactors to be completely decommissioned.
However there is still considerable reliance on RBMK facilities for power in Russia and the
post-Soviet republics. While nine RBMK blocks under construction were cancelled after the
Chernobyl disaster, and the last of three remaining RBMK blocks at the
Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant was finally shut down in 2000, as of 2013 there are still 11
RBMK reactors operating in Russia though
all 11 were retrofitted with a number of safety updates.
In RBMKs, light water was used as a coolant; moderation was instead carried out by graphite.
Heat is removed from the fuel by pumping water under pressure up through the channels
where it is allowed to boil, to steam drums, thence driving electrical turbo-generators. Many
of the major components, including pumps and steam drums, are located within a concrete
shield to protect operators against the radioactivity of the steam.
The reactor pit is made of reinforced concrete and has dimensions 21.6 by 21.6 by
25.5 metres (71 71 84 ft). It houses the vessel of the reactor, made of a
cylindrical wall and top and bottom metal plates. The vessel contains the graphite
stack and is filled with a helium-nitrogen mixture for providing an inert
atmosphere for the graphite and for mediation of heat transfer from the graphite
to the coolant channels.
The moderator blocks are made of nuclear graphite of dimensions 250 by 250 by
250 millimetres (9.8 9.8 9.8 in). There are holes of 11.4 cm (4.5 in) diameter
through the longitudinal axis of the blocks for the fuel and control channels. The
blocks are stacked inside the reactor vessel into a cylindrical core with a diameter
and height of 14 by 8 metres (46 ft 26 ft).The maximum allowed temperature of
the graphite is up to 730 C (1,350 F).
The reactor vessel is a steel cylinder with a diameter and height of 14.52 by 9.75
metres (47.6 ft 32.0 ft), and a wall thickness 16 mm (0.63 in).
The moderator is surrounded by a cylindrical water tank, a welded structure with
3 cm (1.2 in) thick walls, inner diameter of 16.6 m (54 ft 6 in) and outer diameter
of 19 m (62 ft 4 in), internally divided to 16 vertical compartments. The water is
supplied to the compartments from the bottom and removed from the top; the
water can be used for emergency reactor cooling. The tank contains
thermocouples for sensing the water temperature and ion chambers for
monitoring the reactor power.
PBMR - Pebble Bed Modular Reactor
The reactor is a helium-cooled graphite moderated unit of 100MWe which drives a gas
turbine linked to a generator giving up to 50% efficiency. Key design features:
Fuel elements are spherical 'pebbles' 60mm in diameter of graphite containing tiny
spheres of uranium dioxide coated with carbon and silicon carbide. This coating retains
the gaseous and volatile fission products generated in operation.
The reactor consists of a vertical steel pressure vessel, 6m in diameter and about 20m
high. It is lined with graphite bricks drilled with vertical holes to house the control rods.
Helium is used as the coolant and transfers heat to a closed cycle gas turbine and
When fully loaded the core contains 310,000 fuel spheres; re-fuelling is done on-line
with irradiated spheres being withdrawn at the base of the reactor and fresh fuel elements
being added atthe top.
The PBMR has inherent passive safety features that require no operator intervention.
Removal of decay heat is achieved by radiation, conduction and convection. The
combination of very low power density of the core and temperature resistance of the fuelin
millions of independent particles underpins the safety assurance of the design. (See Figure
The PBMR design takes forward the approach originally developed in Germany (AVR
15MW experimental pebble bed reactor and Thorium High-Temperature Reactor THTR
300MWe) and is being developed by Eskom, the South African electrical utility, for
application in South Africa initially through a demonstration plant. Exelon (the major US
utility) and BNFL are supporting this venture to develop and commercialise the PBMR.
Fast Reactors
All of today's commercially successful reactor systems are "thermal" reactors,
using slow or thermal neutrons to maintain the fission chain reaction in the U
fuel. Even with the enrichment levels used in the fuel for such reactors, however,
by far the largest numbers of atoms present are U
, which are not fissile.
Consequently, when these atoms absorb an extra neutron, their nuclei do not
split but are converted into another element, Plutonium. Plutonium is fissile and
some of it is consumed in situ, while some remains in the spent fuel together with
unused U
. These fissile components can be separated from the fission product
wastes and recycled to reduce the consumption of uranium in thermal reactors
by up to 40%, although clearly thermal reactors still require a substantial net feed
of natural uranium.
Nuclear Reactor Types 11
It is possible, however, to design a reactor which overall produces more fissile
material in the form of Plutonium than it consumes. This is the fast reactor in
which the neutrons are unmoderated, hence the term "fast". The physics of this type of reactor dictates a core with
a high fissile concentration, typically around
Fast Reactors
20%, and made of Plutonium. In order to make it breed, the active core is surrounded by
material (largely U238) left over from the thermal reactor enrichment process. This material
is referred to as fertile, because it converts to fissile material when irradiated during
operation of the reactor. Due to the absence of a moderator, and the high fissile content of
the core, heat removal requires the use of a high conductivity coolant, suchas liquid sodium.
Sodium circulated through the core heats a secondary loop of sodium coolant,
which then heats water in a steam generator to raise steam. Otherwise, design practice
follows established lines, with fuel assemblies clad in cans and arranged together in the
core, interspersed with movable control rods. The core is either immersed in a pool of
coolant, or coolantis pumped through the core and thence to a heat exchanger. The reactor
is largely unpressurised since sodium does not boil at the temperatures experienced, and is
contained within steel and concrete shields (See Figure 1.7).
The successful development of fast reactors has considerable appeal in principle. This is
because they have the potential to increase the energy available from a given quantity of
uranium by a factorof fifty or more, and can utilise the existing stocks of depleted uranium,
which would otherwise have no value.
Fast reactors, however, are still currently at the prototype or demonstration stage. They
would be more expensive to build than other types of nuclear power station and will
therefore become commercial only if uranium or other energy prices substantially increase.
The British prototype reactor was at Dounreay in Scotland, but has now been closed on cost
grounds. In 1992 the Government announced that all UK research into fast reactors would
cease. The justification for these decisions was the belief that commercial fast reactors
would notbe needed in the UK for 30 to 40 years.