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Title: The design of reactor cores for civil nuclear marine propulsion
Author: Alam, Syed Bahauddin
ISNI:       0000 0004 7229 6859
Awarding Body: University of Cambridge
Current Institution: University of Cambridge
Date of Award: 2018
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Perhaps surprisingly, the largest experience in operating nuclear power plants has been in nuclear naval propulsion, particularly submarines. This accumulated experience may become the basis of a proposed new generation of compact nuclear power plant designs. In an effort to de-carbonise commercial freight shipping, there is growing interest in the possibility of using nuclear propulsion systems. Reactor cores for such an application would need to be fundamentally different from land-based power generation systems, which require regular refueling, and from reactors used in military submarines, as the fuel used could not conceivably be as highly enriched. Nuclear-powered propulsion would allow ships to operate with low fuel costs, long refueling intervals, and minimal emissions; however, currently such systems remain largely confined to military vessels. This research project undertakes computational modeling of possible soluble-boron-free (SBF) reactor core designs for this application, with a view to informing design decisions in terms of choices of fuel composition, materials, core geometry and layout. Computational modeling using appropriate reactor physics (e.g. WIMS, MONK, Serpent and PANTHER), thermal-hydraulics etc. codes (e.g. COBRA-EN) is used for this project. With an emphasis on reactor physics, this study investigates possible fuel assembly and core designs for civil marine propulsion applications. In particular, it explores the feasibility of using uranium/thorium-rich fuel in a compact, long-life reactor and seek optimal choices and designs of the fuel composition, reactivity control, assembly geometry, and core loading in order to meet the operational needs of a marine propulsion reactor. In this reactor physics and 3D coupled neutronics/thermal-hydraulics study, we attempt to design a civil marine reactor core that fulfills the objective of providing at least 15 effective full-power-years (EFPY) life at 333 MWth. In order to unleash the benefit of thorium in a long life core, the micro-heterogeneous ThO2-UO2 duplex fuel is well-positioned to be utilized in our proposed civil marine core. Unfortunately, A limited number of studies of duplex fuel are available in the public domain, but its use has never been examined in the context of a SBF environment for long-life small modular rector (SMR) core. Therefore, we assumed micro-heterogeneous ThO2-UO2 duplex fuel for our proposed marine core in order to explore its capability. For the proposed civil marine propulsion core design, this study uses 18% U-235 enriched micro-heterogeneous ThO2-UO2 duplex fuel. To provide a basis for comparison we also evaluate the performance of homogeneously mixed 15% U-235 enriched all-UO2 fuel. This research also attempts to design a high power density core with 14 EFPY while satisfying the neutronic and thermal-hydraulics safety constraints. A core with an average power density of 100 MW/m3 has been successfully designed while obtaining a core life of 14 years. The average core power density for this core is increased by ∼50% compared to the reference core design (63 MW/m3 and is equivalent to Sizewell B PWR (101.6 MW/m3 which means capital costs could be significantly reduced and the economic attractiveness of the marine core commensurately improved. In addition, similar to the standard SMR core, a reference core with a power density of 63 MW/m3 has been successfully designed while obtaining a core life of ∼16 years. One of the most important points that can be drawn from these studies is that a duplex fuel lattice needs less burnable absorber than uranium-only fuel to achieve the same poison performance. The higher initial reactivity suppression and relatively smaller reactivity swing of the duplex can make the task of reactivity control through BP design in a thorium-rich core easier. It is also apparent that control rods have greater worth in a duplex core, reducing the control material requirements and thus potentially the cost of the rods. This research also analyzed the feasibility of using thorium-based duplex fuel in different cases and environments to observe whether this fuel consistently exhibit superior performance compared to the UO2 core in both the assembly and whole-core levels. The duplex fuel/core consistently exhibits superior performance in consideration of all the neutronic and TH constraints specified. It can therefore be concluded from this study that the superior performance of the thorium-based micro-heterogeneous ThO2-UO2 duplex fuel provides enhanced confidence that this fuel can be reliably used in high power density and long-life SBF marine propulsion core systems, offering neutronic advantages compared to the all-UO2 fuel. Last, but not least, considering all these factors, duplex fuel can potentially open the avenue for low-enriched uranium (LEU) SBF cores with different configurations. Motivated by growing environmental concerns and anticipated economic pressures, the overall goal of this study is to examine the technological feasibility of expanding the use of nuclear propulsion to civilian maritime shipping and to identify and propose promising candidate core designs.
Supervisor: Parks, Geoff Sponsor: Not available
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
Keywords: Small modular reactor ; Soluble-boron-free ; neutronics ; reactor core design ; coupled neutronics/thermal-hydraulics ; nuclear marine propulsion ; high power density marine core ; burnable poison ; control rods ; Neutron spectrum optimization ; Whole-core analysis ; Deterministic code ; Monte Carlo code ; Nodal diffusion method ; WIMS ; MONK ; PANTHER ; SERPENT ; COBRA-EN