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New reactor designs.

There are signs of change in the nuclear reactor market. Finland is currently evaluating bids for a fifth nuclear unit and Bulgaria is discussing a new reactor. The U.S. government is funding Nuclear Power 2010, a program to build at least two nuclear reactors by 2010. The U.S. Department of Energy participates in the Generation IV International Forum (GIF), an association often nations that seeks to develop a new generation of commercial reactor designs by 2030.

"New Reactor Designs," a paper from the Energy Information Administration, summarizes nuclear reactor designs that are available or anticipated to become available in the United States. The reactors discussed either are included in the voluntary certification and pre-certification programs of the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) or are included under the GIF program.

Existing Reactor Designs. All commercial reactors in the United States fall into two categories, pressurized water reactors (PWR) and boiling water reactors (BWR), collectively known as light water reactors (LWR). Light water reactors are the most commercially popular reactor design worldwide. There have been attempts to operate other classes of reactors in the United States, including a high-temperature gas-cooled reactor (HTGR), but most were prototypes and were not commercial successes.

Commercial reactors operating outside the United States include fast breeder reactors (FBR), pressurized heavy water reactors (PHWR), and gas-cooled reactors (GCR). FBRs have limited market support, though units operate in Russia and France. PHWRs designed by Atomic Energy of Canada Ltd. (AECL), often called CANDU reactors, have been built in Canada, India, and several other nations. They are the most successful line of reactors after the LWRs, and are popular because they can be built and operated at competitive costs. GCRs and their derivatives, designed and built since the 1950s in the United Kingdom and elsewhere, have operated longer than any other commercial design.

New Designs. Three new reactor designs have been certified by the NRC; all three are advanced light water reactors that incorporate improved safety concepts. Only one of the three, the advanced boiling water reactor from GE/Toshiba/Hitachi, has been deployed, two in Japan and four under construction in Taiwan and Japan. Westinghouse BNFL owns the other two certified designs, but no longer promotes either, in favor of its AP1000, which is presently the only design undergoing certification.

Several designs are in the pre-certification phase, including a simplified BWR from General Electric, an advanced BWR from Framatome ANP that has been bid for the proposed reactor in Finland; and AECL's ACR-700, an evolution of its CANDU line. Westinghouse BNFL also has a PWR that would be smaller and much simpler than most existing PWRs.

Two designs from the HTGR family of reactors, which use helium for heat transfer, are also in pre-certification--the pebble-bed modular reactor from Eskom and General Atomic's gas-turbine modular helium reactor, a design that has received attention as a source of high temperature heat required for the production of hydrogen Two other designs have not been submitted for pre-certification in the United States but are nevertheless receiving attention, the European pressurized water reactor and AECL's ACR-1000.

Generation IV Concepts. During 2002, GIF members agreed to concentrate their efforts and funds on six concept designs that could become commercially viable between 2015 and 2025.

The gas-cooled fast reactor uses helium coolant directly to a gas turbine generator to produce electricity and would be a breeder reactor. The design might be used as a process heat source for the production of hydrogen. The lead-cooled fast reactor uses molten lead or a lead-bismuth alloy as its coolant. The molten salt reactor (MSR) involves a circulating liquid of sodium, zirconium, and uranium fluorides as a reactor fuel. The MSR has been presented as providing a comparatively thorough fuel burn, safe operation, and proliferation resistance. Sodium-cooled fast reactors have been the most popular design for breeder reactors, with prototypes built as early as 1951. Advanced designs based on considerable additional research have a target deployment date of 2015. The supercritical-water-cooled reactor is to be the next step in LWR development; it would operate at higher temperatures and thermal efficiencies than present LWRs, and be less expensive to build and operate than today's LWR. Most research on the design has been in Japan. The very-high-temperature reactor, an evolution from the HTGR family of reactors, would operate at higher temperatures than other HTGRs and would provide process heat that could be used in hydrogen production and desalinization.

"New Reactor Designs" includes links to supplementary information about reactor designs and nuclear energy.
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Title Annotation:Energy Plug
Publication:Monthly Energy Review
Date:Aug 1, 2003
Previous Article:Glossary.
Next Article:Section 1. Energy overview.

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