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UNIT – 5

NUCLEAR POWER PLANT

5.1 INTRODUCTION
A generating station in which nuclear energy is converted into electrical energy
is known as a nuclear power station.
There is strategic as well as economic necessity for nuclear power in the most part
of the world. The strategic importance lies primarily in the fact that one large nuclear power
plant saves more than 50,000 barrels of oil per day. At $30 to $40 per barrel (1982), such a
power plant would pay for its capital cost in a few short years. For those countries that now
rely on but do not have oil, or must reduce the importation of foreign oil, these strategic and
economic advantages are obvious. For those countries that are oil exporters, nuclear power
represents an insurance against the day when oil is depleted. A modest start now will assure
that they would not be left behind when the time comes to have to use nuclear technology.
The unit costs per kilowatt-hour for nuclear energy are now comparable to or lower than the
unit costs for coal in most parts of the world.

5.2 ECONOMICS OF NUCLEAR POWER PLANT


Assessing the relative costs of new generating plants utilizing different technologies is
a complex matter and the results depend crucially on location. Coal is, and will probably
remain, economically attractive in countries such as China, India, USA and Australia, as long
as carbon emissions are cost-free. Gas is also competitive for base-load power in many
places, particularly using combined-cycle plants.
Nuclear power plants are expensive to build but relatively cheap to run. In many places,
nuclear energy is competitive with fossil fuels as a means of electricity generation. Waste
disposal and decommissioning costs are usually fully included in the operating costs. If the
social, health and environmental costs of fossil fuels are also taken into account, the
competitiveness of nuclear power is improved.
On a levelised (i.e. lifetime) basis, nuclear power is an economic source of electricity
generation, combining the advantages of security, reliability and very low greenhouse gas
emissions. Existing plants function well with a high degree of predictability. The operating
cost of these plants is lower than almost all fossil fuel competitors, with a very low risk of
operating cost inflation. Plants are now expected to operate for 60 years and even longer in
the future. The main economic risks to existing plants lie in the impacts of subsidized
intermittent renewable and low-cost gas-fired generation. The political risk of higher,
specifically-nuclear, taxation adds to these risks.
The economics of nuclear plants are heavily influenced by their capital cost, which accounts
for at least 60% of their levelised cost of electricity (LCOE). Interest charges and the
construction period are important variables for determining the overall cost of capital.
The economics of nuclear power involves consideration of several aspects:
(a) Capital Costs: The capital cost of a nuclear power plant includes the cost of land, cost
of design and planning, cost of building, cost of nuclear reactor, heat exchangers,
steam turbines, turbo – alternators etc.
Nuclear reactors are very heavy (about 100000 tons) and impose bearing
pressures of about 50 tons per square meter. Therefore, the site for nuclear power
plant should have strong substrata. The cost of foundations is also quite high. Very
few countries possess the technology to manufacture nuclear reactors and, therefore,
the capital cost of nuclear reactors is very high. The cooling water requirements of a
nuclear power plant are also very high. So, the cost of cooling tower is also high.
Nuclear fuel may remain in a reactor for more than 5 years. Therefore, the cost
of fuel injected initially is considered as a capital cost and may be a few crore rupees.
Because of above reasons, the total capital cost of a nuclear power plant is
considerably high and may be about Rs 15000 – 60000 per kW of installed capacity.
(b) Plant Operating Cost: The quantity of fuel placed i.e. nuclear reactor during any
period has little relationship to the kilowatt hours generated. So, the fuel costs are
calculated on the basis of ‘target irradiation’. The quantity of fuel consumed in the
reactors is calculated from the electrical output of the plant and operating fuel cost
allocation is based on this calculation. The other operating costs include salaries and
wages of operating and maintenance staff, oil, water, material for maintenance etc.
The total operating costs per kW of a nuclear power plant are less than that of a
coal fired power station.
The overall efficiency of a nuclear power plant is about 30 to 40%. The efficiency
is higher at high load factors. Therefore, a nuclear power is always operated as a base
load plant.
(c) External costs: to society from the operation, which in the case of nuclear power is
usually assumed to be zero, but could include the costs of dealing with a serious
accident that are beyond the insurance limit and in practice need to be picked up by
the government. The regulations that control nuclear power typically require the plant
operator to make a provision for disposing of any waste, thus these costs are
‘internalized’ (and are not external). Electricity generation from fossil fuels is not
regulated in the same way, and therefore the operators of such thermal power plants
do not yet internalize the costs of greenhouse gas emission or of other gases and
particulates released into the atmosphere. Including these external costs in the
calculation improves the economic competitiveness of new nuclear plants.
(d) Other costs such as system costs and nuclear-specific taxes.

5.3 MERITS AND DEMERITS OF NUCLEAR POWER PLANT


The various advantages of a nuclear power plant compared to other conventional power plant
are as follows:
1. Space requirement of a nuclear power plant is less as compared to other conventional
power plants of equal size.
2. A nuclear power plant consumes very small quantity of fuel. Thus fuel transportation
cost is less and large fuel storage facilities are not needed. Further the nuclear power
plants will conserve the fossil fuels (coal, oil, gas etc.) for other energy need.
3. There is increased reliability of operation.
4. Nuclear power plants are not affected by adverse weather conditions.
5. Nuclear power plants are well suited to meet large power demands. They give better
performance at higher load factors (80 to 90%).
6. The output control is extremely flexible i.e., the output can be instantaneously
adjusted from zero to an upper limit. The limit is set by the capacity of the heat
removal system to prevent overheating of the pile.
7. It can be located near the load centres because it does not require large quantities of
water and need not be near coal mines. Therefore, the cost of primary distribution is
reduced.
8. Materials expenditure on metal structures, piping, storage mechanisms are much
lower for a nuclear power plant than a coal burning power plant.
For example for a 100 MW nuclear power plant the weight of machines and
mechanisms, weight of metal structures, weight of pipes and fittings and weight of
masonry and bricking up required are nearly 700 tonnes, 900 tonnes, 200 tonnes and
500 tonnes respectively whereas for a 100 MW coal burning power plant the
corresponding value are 2700 tonnes, 1250 tonnes, 300 tonnes and 1500 tonnes
respectively. Further area of construction site required aired for 100 MW nuclear
power plant is 5 hectares whereas was for a 100 MW coal burning power plant the
area of construction site is nearly 15 hectares.
9. It does not require large quantity of water.
10. These plant are most economical in large capacity (100 MVA and more).
However the nuclear power plants have the following drawbacks:
1. Initial cost of nuclear power plant is very high as compared to hydro or steam power
plant.
2. Nuclear power plants are not well suited for varying loads as the reactor does not
respond to the load fluctuations efficiently.
3. Radioactive wastes if not disposed carefully may have bad effect on the health of
workers and other population.
In a nuclear power plant the major problem faced is the disposal of highly
radioactive waste in form of liquid, solid and gas without any injury to the
atmosphere. The preservation of waste for a long time creates lot of difficulties and
requires huge capital.
4. Maintenance cost of the plant is high.
5. It requires trained personnel to handle nuclear power plants.
6. The fuel used is expensive and is difficult to recover.
7. The cooling water requirements of a nuclear power plant are very heavy (more than
twice the water required for the same size coal – fired steam power plant). Hence
cooling towers required for nuclear power plants are larger and costlier than those for
conventional steam power plants.

5.4 LIMITATIONS OF NUCLEAR POWER PLANT


The most serious limitations of nuclear energy are disposal/storage of the nuclear waste,
and radiation. After a period of time in the reactor, the bundles of rods lose their ability to
produce heat effectively. These "spent" rods remain radioactive, posing a disastrous threat
if that radiation were released. Since it takes hundreds of thousands of years for the
radiation to extinguish, nuclear waste has to be disposed of in a way that will contain the
radioactivity and protect people.
5.5 SAFETY MEASURES FOR NUCLEAR POWER PLANT
Nuclear power plants should be located far away from the populated area to avoid
the radioactive hazard. A nuclear reactor produces α and β particles, neutrons and γ-
quanta which can disturb the normal functioning of living organisms. Nuclear power
plants involve radiation leaks, health hazard to workers and community, and negative
effect on surrounding forests.
At nuclear power plants there are three main sources of radioactive contamination of
air.
i. Fission of nuclei of nuclear fuels.
ii. The second source is due to the effect of neutron fluxes on the heat carrier in the
primary cooling system and on the ambient air.
iii. Third source of air contamination is damage of shells of fuel elements.
This calls for special safety measures for a nuclear power plant. Some of the
safety measures are as follows.
i. Nuclear power plant should be located away from human habitation.
ii. Quality of construction should be of required standards.
iii. Waste water from nuclear power plant should be purified. The water purification
plants must have a high efficiency of water purification and satisfy rigid
requirements as regards the volume of radioactive wastes disposed to burial.
iv. An atomic power plant should have an extensive ventilation system. The main
purpose of this ventilation system is to maintain the concentration of all
radioactive impurities in the air below the permissible concentrations.
v. An exclusion zone of 1.6 km radius around the plant should be provided where no
public habitation is permitted.
vi. The safety system of the plant should be such as to enable safe shut down of the
reactor whenever required. Engineered safety features are built into the station so
that during normal operation as well as during a severe design basis accident the
radiation dose at the exclusion zone boundary will be within permissible limits as
per internationally accepted values. Adoption of a integral reactor vessel and end
shield assemblies, two independent shut down systems a high pressure emergency
core cooling injection system and total double containment with suppression pool
are some of the significant design improvements made in Narora Atomic Power
Project (NAPP) design.
In our country right from the beginning of nuclear power programme
envisaged by our great pioneer Homi Bhabha in peaceful uses of nuclear energy
have adopted safety measures of using double containment and moderation by
heavy water one of the safest moderators of the nuclear reactors.
vii. Periodical checks be carried out to check that there is no increase in radioactivity
than permissible in the environment.
viii. Wastes from nuclear power plant should be carefully disposed off. There should
be no danger of pollution of water of river or sea where the wastes are disposed.
In nuclear power plant design, construction, commissioning and
operation are carried out as power international and national codes of protection
with an overriding place given to regulatory processes and safety of plant
operating personnel, public and environment.

5.6 SELECTION OF SITE FOR NUCLEAR POWER PLANT


The following points should be kept in view while selecting the site for a nuclear power
station:
a. Availability of water supply. As sufficient water is required for cooling purposes,
therefore, the plant site should be located where ample quantity of water is available,
e.g., across a river or by sea-side.
b. Disposal of waste. The waste produced by fission in a nuclear power station is
generally radioactive which must be disposed off properly to avoid health hazards.
The waste should either be buried in a deep trench or disposed off in sea quite away
from the sea shore.
Therefore, the site selected for such a plant should have adequate
arrangement for the disposal of radioactive waste.
c. Distance from populated areas. The site selected for a nuclear power station should
be quite away from the populated areas as there is a danger of presence of
radioactivity in the atmosphere near the plant. However, as a precautionary measure, a
dome is used in the plant which does not allow the radioactivity to spread by wind or
underground waterways.
d. Transportation facilities. The site selected for a nuclear power station should have
adequate facilities in order to transport the heavy equipment during erection and to
facilitate the movement of the workers employed in the plant.
e. Distance from load center. The plant should be located near the load center. This will
minimize the power losses in transmission lines.
f. Accessibility. There should be reasonable accessibility for plant personnel, hauling in
equipment, and dispatching and receiving heavily shielded radioactive materials.
From the above mentioned factors it becomes apparent that ideal choice
for a nuclear power station would be near sea or river and away from thickly
populated areas.

5.7 NUCLEAR REACTION


A nuclear reaction is considered to be the process in which two nuclear particles (two
nuclei or a nucleus and a nucleon) interact to produce two or more nuclear particles or ˠ-rays
(gamma rays). Thus, a nuclear reaction must cause a transformation of at least one nuclide to
another. Sometimes if a nucleus interacts with another nucleus or particle without changing
the nature of any nuclide, the process is referred to a nuclear scattering, rather than a nuclear
reaction.
The interaction between the projectile and target nucleus may result in elastic
scattering, inelastic scattering and capture or absorption. If a neutron collides with a nucleus,
and the nucleus remains unchanged in its isotopic composition and the neutron undergoes a
change in its direction of motion (with or without change in energy) then the process is called
scattering. If the neutron disappears from the system, the process is called capture or
absorption.
Elastic scattering occurs when a neutron strikes a nucleus and rebounds
elastically. In such a collision kinetic energy is transmitted elastically in accordance with the
basic laws of motion. If the nucleus is of the same mass as the neutron then a large amount of
kinetic energy is transferred to the nucleus. If the nucleus is of a much greater mass than the
neutron then most of the kinetic energy is retained by the neutron as it rebounds. The amount
of kinetic energy transferred also depends upon the angle of impact and hence the direction of
motion of the neutron and nucleus after the impact.
Inelastic scattering occurs when a neutron strikes and enters a nucleus. The nucleus
is excited into an unstable condition and a neutron is immediately emitted but with a lower
energy than that of the entering neutron. The surplus energy is transferred to the nucleus as
kinetic energy and excitation energy. The excited nucleus subsequently returns to the ground
state by the emission of a γ -ray. Such collisions are inelastic since all the initial kinetic
energy does not reappear as kinetic energy. Some is absorbed by the nucleus and
subsequently emitted in a different form ( γ -ray). The emitted neutron may or may not be the
one that initially struck the nucleus. In simplistic terms the neutron can be considered simply
to be bouncing off an energy absorbing nucleus.
5.8 NUCLEAR FISSION PROCESS
Nuclear fission is the process of splitting apart nuclei (usually large nuclei). In other
words, nuclear fission is a nuclear reaction in which the nucleus of an atom splits into
smaller parts (lighter nuclei). This nuclear reaction is triggered by the neutron. When large
nuclei, such as uranium-235, fissions, energy is released. The amount of energy released is so
large that there corresponds a measurable decrease in mass, from the mass-energy
equivalence. This means that some of the mass is converted to energy. The amount of mass
lost in the fission process is equal to about 3.20×10-11 J of energy. This fission process
generally occurs when a large nucleus that is relatively unstable (meaning that there is some
level of imbalance in the nucleus between the Coulomb force and the strong nuclear force) is
struck by a low energy thermal neutron. In addition to smaller nuclei being created when
fission occurs, fission also releases neutrons.
The fission of U-235 in reactors is triggered by the absorption of a low energy neutron,
often termed a "slow neutron" or a "thermal neutron". Other fissionable isotopes which can
be induced to fission by slow neutrons are plutonium-239, uranium-233, and thorium-232.

Figure 5.1
Figure 5.2 Illustration of Fission Process
235
If all the atoms of 1 kg of pure U 92 (containing 25.64 × 1023 atoms) were fissioned, the
energy released would be equivalent to that contained in 3 × 106 kg of coal with a calorific
value of 6000 Kcal/kg.
Characteristics of nuclear fission may be summed up as below:
a. Upon capturing a neutron, a heavy nucleus cleaves into two or more nuclei.
b. Two or more neutrons are produced by fission of each nucleus.
c. Vast quantities of energy (3 million times of that produced by equivalent amount of
coal) are produced as a result of conversion of small mass into energy.
d. All the fission products are radioactive, giving off β and γ radiations.
5.9 NUCLEAR ENERGY
A heavy isotope as Uranium – 235 (or Plutonium – 239) can undergo nuclear
chain reaction yielding vast amounts of energy. The energy released by the fission of nuclei is
called nuclear fission energy or nuclear energy.
The fission of U – 235 or Pu – 239 occurs instantaneously, producing
incomprehensible quantities of energy in the form of heat and radiation. If the reaction is
uncontrolled, it is accompanied by explosive violence and can be used in atomic bombs.
However, when controlled in a reactor, the fission of U – 235 is harnessed to generate
electricity.
Figure 5.3 Chain Reaction of Uranium – 235 Producing Energy

5.10 NUCLEAR CHAIN REACTION


Nuclear chain reactions are the reactions where nuclear energy is obtained, generally
through nuclear fission. These chain reactions are what provide nuclear power plants with the
energy that is then turned into electricity for use by people. In these reactions, neutrons
generated by the fission process continue on to initiate fission in other atoms. These reactions
generally occur with heavier isotopes such as uranium-235 where there is a continuous
release and absorption of neutrons. Fig. 5.4 below is a visual representation of what a nuclear
fission chain reaction looks like. If at least one neutron from each fission strikes another U-
235 nucleus and initiates fission, the chain reaction is sustained and it is said to be critical.
The mass of uranium-235 that is required to produce a reaction that is self-
sustaining is said to be the "critical mass". This critical chain reaction can be accomplished
at relatively low uranium-235 concentrations if the neutrons are moderated to lower their
speed. A moderator is necessary because the probability for fission is greater with slow
neutrons. The general equation for a nuclear chain reaction of uranium-235 is:
Uranium – 235 + 0 n  ~ 3 0 n + energy
Figure 5.4 Illustration of Propagation and Multiplication U – 235 Fission Chain Reaction

If every one neutron input into the equation releases two or three more neutrons,
then the number of fission events increases dramatically each generation. However, in reality
not all of the released neutrons actually cause more fission. Only 1.1 neutron per reaction
actually goes on to cause more fissions and continue the chain, however the number of fission
events still grows quickly. The process of a nuclear chain reaction releases large amounts of
energy, but this energy can be utilized in different ways. On average, there is about 200 MeV
of energy released during fission. To put this into context, burning coal provides only a
couple eV, while 200 MeV is equal to 200 million electron volts. The difference in these
energies is enormous. In nuclear reactors, the reaction is moderated and progresses at a slow
pace to release its energy over a period of time so it can be harnessed and used for peaceful
purposes. An atomic bomb utilizes this fission chain reaction as well, however it is designed
to release its energy all at once - which is much more damaging. In either case, the release of
the energy is controlled, but the time over which the energy from the chain reaction is
released differs.
5.11 NUCLEAR FUELS
Nuclear fuel is the fuel that is used in a nuclear reactor to sustain a nuclear chain
reaction. These fuels are fissile, and the most common nuclear fuels are uranium-235 and
plutonium-239 which are radioactive metals. All processes involved in obtaining, refining,
and using this fuel make up a cycle known as the nuclear fuel cycle.
Uranium-235 is used as a fuel in different concentrations. Some reactors, such as the
CANDU reactor, can use natural uranium with uranium-235 concentrations of only 0.7%,
while other reactors require the uranium to be slightly enriched to levels of 3% to 5.
Plutonium-239 is produced and used in reactors that contain significant amounts of uranium-
238, and this plutonium is used as a fuel in fast breeder reactors. It can also be recycled and
used as a fuel in thermal reactors. Current research is being done to investigate how thorium-
232 can be used as a fuel.
When used in a reactor, the fuels used can have a variety of different forms - a metal,
an alloy, or some sort of oxide. Most nuclear reactors are fueled with a compound known as
uranium dioxide. This uranium dioxide is put together in a fuel assembly and inserted into the
nuclear reactor, where it can stay for several months up to a few years.[5] While in the
reactor the fuel undergoes nuclear fission and releases energy. This released energy is used to
generate electricity. Neutrons released during the fission process allow for a fission chain
reaction to occur, allowing energy to be generated continually. The fuel is removed from the
reactor after large amounts of the fuel - whether it is uranium-235 or plutonium-239 - have
undergone fission. The "used" nuclear fuel is known as spent or irradiated fuel. After use, the
fuel must be cooled for a few years as it is extremely hot.
The spent fuel is placed in large, deep pools of water that act as a coolant and a radiation
shield. The coolant property allows the water to remove the decay heat and the shielding
abilities protect workers from the radioactivity of the fuel. After cooling, the fuel can be re-
purposed or sent to storage depending on regulations.

5.12 LAYOUT OR SCHEMATIC ARRANGEMENT OF NUCLEAR POWER PLANT


In nuclear power plant, the nuclear energy is converted into electrical energy. Nuclear
power plant is a kind of thermal power plant in which the thermal source is the nuclear
reactor. The schematic arrangement of a nuclear power station is shown in Fig 5.5 (a) and 5.5
(b). The whole arrangement can be divided into the following main stages:
1. Nuclear Reactor
2. Heat Exchanger
3. Steam Turbine
4. Alternator
5. Condenser

Figure 5.5 (a) Schematic Diagram of Nuclear Power Plant

a. Nuclear Reactor: It is an apparatus in which nuclear fuel (U235) is subjected to


nuclear fission. It controls the chain reaction that starts once the fission is done. If the
chain reaction is not controlled, the result will be an explosion due to the fast increase
in the energy released. A nuclear reactor is a cylindrical stout pressure vessel and
houses fuel rods of Uranium, moderator and control rods (See Figure).The fuel rods
constitute the fission material and release huge amount of energy when bombarded
with slow moving neutrons. The moderator consists of graphite rods which enclose
the fuel rods. The moderator slows down the neutrons before they bombard the fuel
rods. The control rods are of cadmium and are inserted into the reactor. Cadmium is
strong neutron absorber and thus regulates the supply of neutrons for fission. When
the control rods are pushed in deep enough, they absorb most of fission neutrons and
hence few are available for chain reaction which, therefore, stops. However, as they
are being withdrawn, more and more of these fission neutrons cause fission and hence
the intensity of chain reaction (or heat produced) is increased. Therefore, by pulling
out the control rods, power of the nuclear reactor is increased, whereas by pushing

Figure 5.5 (b) Layout of Nuclear Power Plant

them in, it is reduced. In actual practice, the lowering or raising of control rods is
accomplished automatically according to the requirement of load. The heat produced
in the reactor is removed by the coolant, generally a sodium metal. The coolant
carries the heat to the heat exchanger.
a. Heat Exchanger: In the heat exchanger, the primary coolant transfers heat to the
secondary coolant (water). Thus water from the secondary loop is converted into
steam. The primary system and secondary system are closed loop, and they are never
allowed to mix up with each other. Thus, heat exchanger helps in keeping secondary
system free from radioactive stuff. Heat exchanger is absent in boiling water reactors
b. Steam Turbines: Generated steam is passed through a steam turbine, which runs due
to pressure of the steam. As the steam is passed through the turbine blades, the
pressure of steam gradually decreases and it expands in volume. The steam turbine is
coupled to an alternator through a rotating shaft.
c. Alternator: The steam turbine rotates the shaft of an alternator thus generating
electrical energy. Electrical output of the alternator is the delivered to a step up
transformer to transfer it over distances.
d. Condenser: The steam coming out of the turbine, after it has done its work, is then
converted back into water in a condenser. The steam is cooled by passing it through a
third cold water loop.
While deciding the layout of a nuclear power plant due considerations should be
given to safety, operating convenience and capital economy.

5.13 NUCLEAR REACTOR – MAIN PARTS AND THEIR FUNCTIONS


Reactor is that part of nuclear power plant where fuel is subjected to nuclear fission and the
energy released in the process is utilized to heat the coolant which may in turn generate steam
or be used in gas turbine.
The main function of the reactor is to control the emission and absorption of neutrons. A
nuclear reactor consists of the following basic components (Fig. 5.6)

Figure 5.6 Nuclear Reactor and its components


a. Reactor Core: A nuclear reactor core is a key component of a nuclear reactor. In
reactor physics, the nuclear core is a bounded region, where a neutron multiplication
occurs and where chain reactions take place. The reactor core contains especially the
nuclear fuel (fuel assemblies), the moderator and the control rods. The core of the
reactor contains all the nuclear fuel assemblies and generates most of the heat
(fraction of the heat is generated outside the reactor – e.g. gamma rays energy). The
assemblies are exactly placed in the reactor according to a fuel loading pattern.
The core is located inside a reactor pressure vessel and is carried by a core
support barrel. There is a neutron reflector (core baffle or heavy reflector) around the
core (around peripheral fuel assemblies), which is usually formed of stainless rings
accurately surrounding the nuclear fuel assemblies. The top of the nuclear core is
defined by an upper guide structure assembly. This assembly is made of stainless steel
and has many purposes. The upper guide structure assembly exerts an axial force on
fuel assemblies (through springs in the fuel assembly), thus defines the exact position
of the fuel assembly in the core. The upper guide structure assembly also guides and
protects control rod assemblies and in-core instrumentation.
For using the reactor to convert the fertile material into fissionable material, the
material to be converted should be put around the core, so that the neutrons, which
otherwise would escape the core, would be utilized for conversion.
b. Moderator: The nuclear fission reaction consists of bombarding fuels such as
Uranium with energetic neutrons. This makes the target unstable and makes it split
into two parts accompanied with the release of energy which is utilized to generate
electricity. There is a certain threshold below which the neutron will not be absorbed
by the target nucleus, but that does not mean that above that threshold any neutron can
cause fission. Infact there is a range of energy within which they can cause fission.
Neutrons which fall above that range are known as fast neutrons and they are not
readily absorbed by the target nucleus and hence not useful in sustaining a chain
reaction. A moderator is one of the important components of nuclear power plant
helping to maintain neutron population in the thermal energy range.
Whenever a thermal neutron causes fission it also leads to the release of fast
neutrons. Now these fast neutrons have to be slowed down and brought to lower
energy levels if they have to cause successful fission in turn.
A moderator is a medium which is used to absorb a portion of the kinetic
energy of fast neutrons so that they come in the category of thermal neutrons which
help to sustain a controlled chain reaction. The mechanism of speed control works in
such a way that fast moving neutrons strike the nuclei of moderator material which is
not efficient at absorbing them but simply slows them down with repeated collisions
thus bringing them into the thermal zone.
A moderator should process the following properties:
a. It should have high thermal conductivity.
b. It should be available in large quantities in pure form.
c. It should have high melting point in case of solid moderators and low melting
point in case of liquid moderators.
d. It should provide good resistance to corrosion.
e. It should be stable under heat and radiation.
f. It should be able to slow down neutrons.
c. Control rods: Control rods are used in nuclear reactors to control the fission rate of
uranium and plutonium. They are composed of chemical elements such as boron,
silver, indium and cadmium that are capable of absorbing many neutrons without
themselves fissioning. Because these elements have different capture cross sections
for neutrons of varying energies, the composition of the control rods must be designed
for the reactor's neutron spectrum. Boiling water reactors (BWR), pressurized water
reactors (PWR) and heavy water reactors (HWR) operate with thermal neutrons,
while breeder reactors operate with fast neutrons.
Control rods are usually used in control rod assemblies (typically 20 rods
for a commercial PWR assembly) and inserted into guide tubes within a fuel element.
A control rod is removed from or inserted into the central core of a nuclear reactor in
order to increase or decrease the neutron flux, which describes the number of neutrons
that split further uranium atoms. This in turn affects the thermal power, the amount of
steam produced and hence the electricity generated.
d. Coolant: A nuclear reactor coolant is a coolant in a nuclear reactor used to remove
heat from the nuclear reactor core and transfer it to electrical generators and the
environment. Frequently, a chain of two coolant loops are used because the primary
coolant loop takes on short-term radioactivity from the reactor.
A good coolant should not absorb neutrons, should be non-oxidizing, non – toxic
and non – corrosive and have high chemical and radiation stability and good heat
transfer capability.
Almost all currently operating nuclear power plants are light water reactors
using ordinary water under high pressure as coolant and neutron moderator. Heavy
water reactors (CANDU) use deuterium oxide which has identical properties to
ordinary water but much lower neutron capture, allowing more thorough moderation.
e. Reflector: As we know that the reactor consists of the fission process which occurs
when a thermal energy neutron is absorbed by the target nucleus leading to its
division into two nuclei and emission of 2 or 3 neutrons apart from the heat energy.
These neutrons fly randomly in all directions and are usually in the region of fast
moving energy neutrons. The moderator is used to control the speed of these neutrons
so that they act usefully in creating more fission, but many of these neutrons may
simply get lost by flying off the reactor core and thus serving no useful purpose. This
might hinder the progression of a chain reaction which is very necessary for the
nuclear reactor.
In order to reduce this process of neutron loss the inner surface of the
reactor core is surrounded by a material which helps to reflect these escaping neutrons
back towards the core of the reactor and these materials are known as reflecting
materials.
The use of a proper reflector helps to reduce the size of the reactor core for a
given power output since the number of neutrons leaking are lesser and help to
propagate the fission process instead. It also reduces the consumption of the fissile
material.
f. Thermal Shielding: The fission reaction is accompanied by emission of radiation
like α, β and γ. Exposure to these radiations is dangerous. In order to protect the
persons working near the reactor from these harmful radiations the reactor is enclosed
in steel and concrete which are capable of stopping these radiations. Shielding
prevents radiations to reach outside the reactor. Coolant flows over the shielding to
take away the heat.
g. Reactor Vessel: A nuclear reactor consists of various parts which carry out different
functions related to heat generation by “burning" of nuclear fuel, but an enclosure is
needed to contain all these parts and act as a covering for all these paraphernalia.
Reactor Vessel acts to enclose the various parts inside the reactor including the core,
shield, reflector etc.
Control of the nuclear reaction is absolutely necessary and this is done with the
help of control rods. The reactor vessel provides a place to insert these control rods in
the nuclear reactor and move them in or out of the reactor core depending on the
requirements of power.
5.14 CONTROL OF NUCLEAR REACTOR
It is necessary to control the heat output of a nuclear reactor. This is achieved by
controlling the neutron flux. Automatic control is employed to start, shut down and operate a
reactor.
a) Control rods: For normal operation, the multiplication constant must be
maintained at unity. This will ensure that neutron flux is held at constant value.
Neutrons may be absorbed by inserting some material having high absorption
cross-section. Such materials are boron, hafnium and cadmium. They are
generally alloyed with steel and made into control rods which can be moved in
and out of channels in the core. To ensure even distribution of neutron flux it is
necessary to employ large number of rods – the number generally exceeding
hundred. When rods are fully inserted, the neutron absorption will maximum,
Number of neutrons produced in one generation
k (= ) will be much
Number of neutrons produced in the preceding generation
less than 1 and reactor shut down. Generally, the control rods are divided into
three categories – shut off rods, coarse and fine regulation rods.
The shut off rods are normally kept out and are used for reducing the
reactivity in the case of emergency.
The regulation rods are for starting and continuous control. The coarse
control rods are for taking the reactor to the required power level after it has been
started and for effecting the large changes. However the reactivity should not be
changed at a dangerous rate. The fine control rods are for maintaining the reactor
critical when running under normal conditions. They can adjust reactivity to a
fine degree of accuracy.
b) Control through flow of coolant: In addition to control by using control rods, it
is necessary to maintain an appropriate relation between mass flow of coolant
and power. At constant temperature the power output is proportional to the rate
of flow of coolant. Coolant temperature recorders and coolant flow indicators
and operation switches are necessary for this purpose.
5.15 CLASSIFICATION OF REACTORS:
A nuclear reactor can be classified in different ways such as on the basis of types of cores
used, moderator used, coolant used, fuel used and neutron energy.
On the basis of Type of Core used:
a. Homogenous Reactors.
b. Heterogeneous Reactors
On the basis of Moderator used:
a. Graphite Reactors.
b. Beryllium Reactors.
c. Light Water Reactors.
d. Heavy Water Reactors.
On the basis of Coolant used:
a. Ordinary water cooled Reactors.
b. Heavy water cooled Reactors.
c. Gas cooled Reactors.
d. Liquid metal cooled Reactors.
e. Organic liquid cooled Reactors.
On the basis of Neutron Energy used:
a. Thermal Reactors.
b. Fast Reactors.
On the basis of Fuel Material used:
a. Enrich Uranium.
b. Natural Uranium.
c. Plutonium.
d. Thorium
A heterogeneous reactor has a large number of fuel rods with the coolant
circulating around them and carrying away the heat produced during the fission process. In a
homogenous reactor, the moderator and fuel are mixed together. The solution is critical in the
core.
Due to difficulties in maintenance, induced radioactivity, erosion and corrosion,
homogenous reactors are not commonly used. Natural uranium also cannot be used. Light
water cooled and moderated reactors using slightly enriched uranium fuel are the most
commonly used for power production.

5.16 POWER REACTORS IN USE


Power reactors commonly employed in nuclear power plants are briefly described as follows:
1. Boiling Water Reactor (BWR): This is the simplest type of water reactor. As the
name suggests, these are the reactors where coolant boils in the reactor pressure vessel
itself. The boiling water reactor utilizes enriched uranium (with U-235 content about
3 %) as the fuel and light water as both moderator and coolant. A BWR operates at a
relatively lower pressure of about 76 bar in such way that water boils in the core at
about 285 °C. Steam-water mixture leaves the core, with water separated from steam
in a steam separator. A steam dryer is used to produce dry steam required to run the
turbine for power generation. A BWR assembly comprises 90-100 fuel rods and there
are up to 750 assemblies in a core holding up to 140 tonnes of uranium. A number of
safety devices are installed to achieve immediate isolation of the reactor from the
engine house in case of a malfunction. A schematic sketch of a BWR plant is shown
below (Fig. 5.7):

Figure 5.7 Boiling Water Reactor


Advantages:
a. The reactor vessel and associated components operate at a substantially lower
pressure of about 70–75 bars (1,020–1,090 psi).
b. Can operate at lower core power density levels using natural circulation
without forced flow.
c. A BWR may be designed to operate using only natural circulation so that
recirculation pumps are eliminated entirely
d. Simple in construction.
e. Elimination of heat exchanger circuit resulting in reduction in cost and gain in
thermal efficiency.
Disadvantages:
a. Since steam is produced from water, which is passing through the reactor, the
radioactive contamination of turbine mechanism is possible. Better steam
pipes are required to avoid the radioactive fear.
b. Waste of steam will also lower the efficiency of the plant.
c. It is not suitable for meeting a sudden increase in load.
2. Pressurized Water Reactor (PWR): Water can be used as a moderator and coolant for
power reactors. Fig. 5.8 shows the pressurized water reactor power plant. The fuel
used is slightly enriched uranium in the form of thin rods or pallets and cladding is
either of stainless steel or zircaloy. Water under pressure is used as both moderator
and coolant. This type of reactor is extensively developed in USA. The most
important limitation in PWR is the critical temperature of water. The coolant pressure
must be greater than the saturation pressure to suppress boiling which is maintained at
about 155 bars. A circulating pump is used to maintain the water round the core,
which absorbs heat. The PWR power plant is composed of two loops in series, the
coolant loop, also called primary loop and the water-steam or working fluid loop. The
coolant picks up the heat from the reactor and transfers it to the working fluid to
generate steam to run the turbine-generator system similar to the steam power plant.
A pressurizer and surge tank, which is tapped into the pipe loop, is used to
maintain the constant pressure in the water system throughout the load range. There is
also some modification to increase the efficiency of the cycle by inclusion of an oil-
fired superheater between main heat exchangers and the turbine. There is also an
economizer along with some feed water heaters. Since the water passing through the
reactor becomes radioactive and therefore the entire primary circuit including the heat
exchanger has to be shielded.
Advantages:
a. It is cheap as ordinary water is used as moderator and coolant.
b. It is very compact in size compared to other reactors.
c. Power density of reactor is relatively high.
d. Reactor takes care of the load variation by using the pressurizer and surge tank.
Disadvantages:
a. Low thermal efficiency (approximately 20%).
b. Greater heat loss due to use of heat exchanger.
c. Due to high pressure, a strong pressure vessel is required.
d. There is lack of flexibility in recharging.
e. More safety device is required.

Figure 5.8 Pressurized Water Reactor

3. Heavy Water Cooled and Moderated (CANDU Type) Reactor: Heavy water (D2O)
has almost the same characteristic as that of ordinary water. Its boiling point at
atmospheric pressure is 101.40C and its density at room temperature is only 10%
above the density of water. Heavy water moderated and cooled reactors are
extensively developed and used in Canada and are called Canadian Deuterium
Uranium (CANDU) reactors. These reactors use pressurized heavy water (PHW) and
suitable for those countries which do not produced the enriched uranium. Fig. shows
the CANDU reactor. This reactor uses the natural uranium as fuel, which is
comparatively cheaper than the enriched uranium. Other advantages are low pressure
vessel, no control rods and low fuel consumption. The moderators being al low
temperature is more effective in slowing down the neutrons. The construction of
equipment requires lesser time than the others.
The main drawback of this type of reactor is its cost, as the cost of heavy
water is extremely high. There is also problem of leakage, therefore, a proper safety
design is needed.

Figure 5.8 Heavy Water Reactor


4. Gas – Cooled Reactor: In gas-cooled reactors, gas is used as a coolant and graphite is
used as a moderator, as shown in Fig. 5.9.
The inherent advantage of gas-cooling is that the maximum temperature of the
working fluid can be selected independently; raising temperature does not necessarily
imply raising of coolant pressure, as with the liquid cooled reactors. Normally carbon
dioxide or helium is used as coolant. Although gases are inferior to water in heat
transfer, but offers several advantages such as safer than water-cooled reactors, less
severe corrosion problem and natural uranium can be used as fuel.
Helium, a suitable coolant compared to CO2, as it is chemically inert, has good heat
transfer capability and low-neutron absorption. Being a monoatomic gas, it can
produce more power for a given temperatures in the Brayton cycle and higher
efficiency.
Figure 5.9 Gas Cooled Reactor

5. Fast Breeder Reactor (FBR): A fast breeder reactor is different from the thermal
reactors on the basis that a thermal reactor uses fissile nuclear fuel and produces heat
whereas; a fast breeder reactor produces heat and at the same time converts fertile
material into fissile material. It is possible to make a fast reactor producing more
fissile material than it consumes.
The advantage of using high energy neutrons, in a reactor, has been known
since early days of nuclear science. In a fast breeder reactor the average neutron yield of a
fission caused by a fast neutron is greater than in thermal reactors. The absorption cross-
sections are low and conversion factor is high. Also, no moderator is needed in this
reactor.
A coolant with excellent heat-transfer properties is required to minimize the
temperature – drop from the fuel surface to the coolant and also it must be non-
moderating. This rules out water, and the best coolants for fast breeder reactors are liquid
metals such as sodium (Na). Such reactors are also called as liquid metal cooled reactors
(LMCR). Due to induced radioactive of liquid sodium, an intermediate loop also uses Na
or NaK as coolant between the primary radioactive coolant and the steam cycle.
Therefore, there is a need of two heat exchangers. The primary loop design can be either
pool type or loop type. In pool type system, the reactor core, primary pumps and
intermediate heat exchangers are placed in a large pool of liquid sodium contained reactor
vessel, whereas in loop type system all are placed outside the vessel. Fig. 5.10 shows a
liquid metal fast breeder reactor (LMFBR)

Figure 5.10 Liquid Metal Fast Breeder Reactor (LMFBR)

5.17 EFFECTS OF NUCLEAR POWER PLANTS


In nuclear power stations, the combustion of fuel is low. Harmful effluents from such power
stations in the atmosphere are insignificant. However, isotopes formed in nuclear power
reactors have a high toxicity and their effect on living organisms may be accumulative. That
is why, the problems of disposal, transport and storage of liquid radioactive wastes are
extremely significant. Such power plants will produce practically no harmful effect on the
biosphere provided the radioactive waste storage problem is safely solved.
A nuclear reactor produces α – rays, β – rays and γ – rays and neutrons which can disturb
the normal working of living organisms, and thus calls for special safely measures. α – rays
are heavy particles carrying positive charge and can cause internal hazard if ingested. β – rays
have greater penetrating power, as compared to α – rays, due to their smaller size.
Overexposure to β – rays can cause skin burns and repeated overexposure may result in
malignant growth. γ – rays are electromagnetic radiations of very short wavelength, have
high energy and are very penetrating. They are capable of causing considerable damage,
especially to organic materials. Overexposure to γ – rays causes the blood diseases,
undesirable genetic effects, anaemia etc. Large exposure may cause death within hours of
exposure. However, the effects of slow exposure may become apparent after several years.
Neutrons are produced in fission with a very wide range of energies up to about 10 MeV.
Though they have no charge but are highly penetrating. Their effects are similar to those of γ
– rays.
The biological effects of nuclear radiations depend upon (i) amount of dose
absorbed, (ii) time duration of exposure, (iii) sensitivity and recovery of recipient organism
and (iv) distribution of active material within the body. A long time exposure to even a small
dose may not cause immediate effect but leads to delayed effects such as shortening of life,
leukemia, genetic effects etc.
Nuclear power stations are surrounded by a sanitary protective zone to minimize the
risk of irradiation of the population within such a zone. It is prohibited to build residential
buildings, children houses and auxiliary buildings not related to the concerned power plant.
The level of radiation of this territory is checked periodically.

5.18 DISPOSAL OF NUCLEAR WASTE AND EFFLUENT


The disposal of solid, liquid and gaseous waste and effluent from nuclear power plants
needs special attention because of the danger of radiation. It is necessary to measure the
radioactivity in the gaseous and liquid effluents and keep the records. Gaseous effluents are
filtered before discharging into atmosphere. Moreover, the filtered gas is discharged at high
levels so that it is dispersed properly. The probability of fire in the reactor fuel channel is
very low. However, if fire does take place, large volumes of gaseous fission products may be
released. It is necessary to have a cleanup plant through which these products can be passed
to remove radioactive iodine which is the major hazard.
It is essential to monitor the loss of carbon-dioxide from the reactor to ensure that this
loss does not exceed about 1 ton per day. It is necessary to check the concentration of carbon
dioxide in the atmosphere near the reactor. Proper precautions against toxic and radiological
hazards are necessary, especially during scheduled blowing down operation.
At most of the nuclear power stations, the liquid effluents are discharged after
filtration, pH adjustment and dilution by mixing with the discharged cooling water. However,
at some stations it may be necessary to remove the radioactivity from the liquid effluents by
ion – exchange process. Proper records are maintained for all potentially radioactive liquids
discharged from the plant. These records should indicate the quantities of such effluents
discharged. The samples of discharge are also kept so that these samples may be checked by
Government agencies.
It is necessary to take special precautions regarding leakage of radioactive liquid
effluents to ground. These precautions include double containment of drains and design of
concrete storage tanks.
The solid wastes like rejected control rods, pieces of fuel cans etc. have to be
stored in shielded concrete vaults. It is essential to separate chemically incompatible and
combustible materials. The most highly radioactive solid wastes are irradiated fuel elements.
These waste elements are stored under water or air cooled shielded area for about 100 days so
that radioactivity may decay to a sufficiently low level. The spent fuel storage chambers have
capacities to cool, shield and store such materials for many years. After this time, these
wastes are disposed to underground places. Vacated coal mines are also used for this
disposal.
5.19 SHIELDING
Adequate shielding has to be provided to guard personnel and delicate instruments from
radioactive wastes. The various materials used for shielding are:
(a) Lead: It is a common shielding material, has high density (11.3 gm/cm3) and is
invariably used due to its low cost.
(b) Concrete: Its density is 2.4 gm/cm3 and is less efficient than lead.
(c) Steel: Its density is 7.8 gm/ cm3. It is not an efficient shielding material but has good
structural properties. It is sometimes used as attenuating shield.
(d) Cadmium: Its density is 8.65 gm/ cm3. It can absorb slow neutrons by a nuclear reaction.
The effectiveness of a shielding material depends mostly on the density of the material.
No single material is effective in shielding against all types of radioactive radiations. A
material containing hydrogen i.e. water or polythene is used to slow down fast neutrons,
boron or steel is used to absorb thermal neutrons. A heavy material like lead is needed to act
as a thermal shield and to absorb gamma rays.
In nuclear power reactors a thermal shield of several cms thick steel surrounded by
about 3m thick concrete is used. Water, in concrete, slows down fast neutrons. Iron, barium
or steel turnings are mixed in concrete to attenuate gamma rays and absorb thermal neutrons.
Review Questions and Previous Year University Questions
Ques 1: What factors are taken into account while selecting the site for a nuclear power
plant? (June – 2008, Dec – 2013)
Ques 2: Draw the schematic diagram of nuclear power station and discuss its operation.
(June – 2008, June – 2010)
Ques 3: Draw a neat diagram of liquid metal cooled reactor and explain it. Give its
advantages and disadvantages. (June – 2008, June – 2012, June – 2011)
Ques 4: What are the merits and demerits of nuclear power plant?
(June – 2009, Jan – 2013, Dec – 2013, Dec – 2011)
Ques 5: Draw a neat diagram of pressurized water reactor and explain its advantages and
disadvantages. (June – 2009, June – 2012)
Ques 6: What is breeding? With a neat diagram, explain the construction and principle of
operation of fast breeder reactor. (June – 2009, Dec – 2011, June – 2012, 2010)
Ques 7: List out the advantages and disadvantages of nuclear power plant. (Dec – 2008)
Ques 8: Discuss some of the safety measures incorporated for nuclear power plant.
(Dec – 2008, 2010)
Ques 9: Explain the necessity of providing shielding in nuclear reactors.
(Dec – 2008, June – 2012, 2010)
Ques 10: Enumerate and explain essential components of nuclear reactor with diagram.
(Dec – 2009, 2011, Dec – 2013)
Ques 11: Describe the construction and working of pressurized water reactor. What are its
advantages and disadvantages? (Dec – 2009)
Ques 12: Explain the method of nuclear waste disposal. (Dec – 2009)
Ques 13: What are the nuclear fuels? Classify the nuclear reactors. (Dec – 2010)
Ques 14: Explain the functions of the following in a nuclear reactor:
(Dec – 2010, Jan – 2013)
a. Control Rod
b. Moderator
c. Reflector
d. Biological Shield
e. Cladding and structure materials
Ques 15: Write a brief note on safety measured to be taken while disposing the nuclear waste
material. Also explain the various methods of nuclear waste disposal.
Ques 16: Explain with a neat sketch the main parts of a nuclear power plant. (Dec – 2014)
Ques 17: List out limitations of a nuclear power plant. (Dec – 2014)
Ques 18: Write a note on the safety precautions to be taken in a nuclear power plant.
(Dec – 2014)
Ques 19: With a neat sketch, explain the working of boiling water reactor. (June – 2011)
Ques 20: List the adverse effects of fossil fuels. (Dec – 2011)