Development of Improved Burnable Poisons for Commercial Nuclear Power Reactors

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Burnable poisons are used in all modern nuclear reactors to permit higher loading of fuel without the necessity of an overly large control rod system. This not only permits a longer core life but can also be used to level the power distribution. Commercial nuclear reactors commonly use B{sub 4}C in separate non-fueled rods and more recently, zirconium boride coatings on the fuel pellets or gadolinium oxide mixed with the fuel. Although the advantages are great, there are problems with using these materials. Boron, which is an effective neutron absorber, transmutes to lithium and helium upon absorption of a neutron. ... continued below

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760 pages

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Renier, J.A. April 17, 2002.

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Burnable poisons are used in all modern nuclear reactors to permit higher loading of fuel without the necessity of an overly large control rod system. This not only permits a longer core life but can also be used to level the power distribution. Commercial nuclear reactors commonly use B{sub 4}C in separate non-fueled rods and more recently, zirconium boride coatings on the fuel pellets or gadolinium oxide mixed with the fuel. Although the advantages are great, there are problems with using these materials. Boron, which is an effective neutron absorber, transmutes to lithium and helium upon absorption of a neutron. Helium is insoluble and is eventually released to the interior of the fuel rod, where it produces an internal pressure. When sufficiently high, this pressure stress could cause separation of the cladding from the fuel, causing overly high centerline temperatures. Gadolinium has several very strongly absorbing isotopes, but not all have large cross sections and result in residual burnable poison reactivity worth at the end of the fuel life. Even if the amount of this residual absorber is small and the penalty in operation small, the cost of this penalty, even if only several days, can be very high. The objective of this investigation was to study the performance of single isotopes in order to reduce the residual negative reactivity left over at the end of the fuel cycle. Since the behavior of burnable poisons can be strongly influenced by their configuration, four forms for the absorbers were studied: homogeneously mixed with the fuel, mixed with only the outer one-third of the fuel pellet, coated on the perimeter of the fuel pellets, and alloyed with the cladding. In addition, the numbers of fuel rods containing burnable poison were chosen as 8, 16, 64, and 104. Other configurations were chosen for a few special cases. An enrichment of 4.5 wt% {sup 235}U was chosen for most cases for study in order to achieve a 4-year fuel cycle. A standard pressurized water reactor fuel core was chosen for the study, and state-of-the-art neutronic reactor core computer codes were used for analysis. Power distribution, fuel burnup, reactivity due to burnable poisons and other fission products, spectrum shift, core reactivity, moderator void coefficients, as well as other parameters were calculated as a function of time and fuel burnup. The results not only showed advantages of separation of burnable poison isotopes but revealed benefits to be achieved by careful selection of the configuration of even naturally occurring elements used as burnable poisons. The savings in terms of additional days of operation is shown in Figure 1, where the savings is plotted for each of six favorable isotopes in the four configurations. The benefit of isotope separation is most dramatic for dysprosium, but even the time savings in the case of gadolinium is several days. For a modern nuclear plant, one day's worth of electricity is worth about one million dollars, so the resulting savings of only a few days is considerable. It is also apparent that the amount of savings depends upon the configuration of the burnable poison.

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760 pages

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  • Other Information: PBD: 17 Apr 2002

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  • Report No.: ORNL/TM-2001/238
  • Grant Number: AC05-00OR22725
  • DOI: 10.2172/814398 | External Link
  • Office of Scientific & Technical Information Report Number: 814398
  • Archival Resource Key: ark:/67531/metadc735641

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  • April 17, 2002

Added to The UNT Digital Library

  • Oct. 18, 2015, 6:40 p.m.

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  • March 30, 2016, 8:19 p.m.

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Renier, J.A. Development of Improved Burnable Poisons for Commercial Nuclear Power Reactors, report, April 17, 2002; United States. (digital.library.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metadc735641/: accessed January 19, 2018), University of North Texas Libraries, Digital Library, digital.library.unt.edu; crediting UNT Libraries Government Documents Department.