Reactor performance and safety characteristics of ThN-UN fuel concepts in a PWR

Gorton, JP; Collins, BS; Nelson, AT; Brown, NR

Brown, NR (reprint author), Univ Tennessee, Knoxville, TN 37916 USA.



The reactor performance and safety characteristics of mixed thorium mononitride (ThN) and uranium mononitride (UN) fuels in a pressurized water reactor (PWR) are investigated to discern the potential nonproliferation, waste, and accident tolerance benefits provided by this fuel form. This paper presents results from an initial screening of mixed ThN-UN fuels in normal PWR operating conditions and compares their reactor performance to UO2 in terms of fuel cycle length, reactivity coefficients, and thermal safety margin. ThN has been shown to have a significantly greater thermal conductivity than UO2 and UN. Admixture with a UN phase is required because thorium initially contains no fissile isotopes. Results from this study show that ThN-UN mixtures exist that can match the cycle length of a UO2-fueled reactor by using U-235 enrichments greater than 5% but less than 20% in the UN phase. Reactivity coefficients were calculated for UO2, UN, and ThN-UN mixtures, and it was found that the fuel temperature and moderator temperature coefficients of the nitride-based fuels fall within the acceptable limits specified by the AP1000 Design Control Document. Reduced soluble boron and control rod worth for these fuel forms indicates that the shutdown margin may not be sufficient, and design changes to the control systems may need to be considered. The neutronic impact of N-15 enrichment on reactivity coefficients is also included. Due to the greatly enhanced thermal conductivity of the nitride-based fuels, the UN and ThN-UN fuels provide additional margin to fuel melting temperature relative to UO2.

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