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A gas-cooled reactor (GCR) is a nuclear reactor that uses graphite as a neutron moderator and carbon dioxide as coolant. Although there are many other types of reactor cooled by gas, the terms GCR and to a lesser extent gas cooled reactor are particularly used to refer to this type of reactor.
A nuclear reactor, formerly known as an atomic pile, is a device used to initiate and control a self-sustained nuclear chain reaction. Nuclear reactors are used at nuclear power plants for electricity generation and in propulsion of ships. Heat from nuclear fission is passed to a working fluid, which in turn runs through steam turbines. These either drive a ship's propellers or turn electrical generators' shafts. Nuclear generated steam in principle can be used for industrial process heat or for district heating. Some reactors are used to produce isotopes for medical and industrial use, or for production of weapons-grade plutonium. Some are run only for research. As of early 2019, the IAEA reports there are 454 nuclear power reactors and 226 nuclear research reactors in operation around the world.
Graphite, archaically referred to as plumbago, is a crystalline form of the element carbon with its atoms arranged in a hexagonal structure. It occurs naturally in this form and is the most stable form of carbon under standard conditions. Under high pressures and temperatures it converts to diamond. Graphite is used in pencils and lubricants. Its high conductivity makes it useful in electronic products such as electrodes, batteries, and solar panels.
In nuclear engineering, a neutron moderator is a medium that reduces the speed of fast neutrons, thereby turning them into thermal neutrons capable of sustaining a nuclear chain reaction involving uranium-235 or a similar fissile nuclide.
The GCR was able to use natural uranium as fuel, enabling the countries that developed them to fabricate their own fuel without relying on other countries for supplies of enriched uranium, which was at the time of their development in the 1950s only available from the United States or the Soviet Union.
Natural uranium refers to uranium with the same isotopic ratio as found in nature. It contains 0.711% uranium-235, 99.284% uranium-238, and a trace of uranium-234 by weight (0.0055%). Approximately 2.2% of its radioactivity comes from uranium-235, 48.6% from uranium-238, and 49.2% from uranium-234.
Enriched uranium is a type of uranium in which the percent composition of uranium-235 has been increased through the process of isotope separation. Natural uranium is 99.284% 238U isotope, with 235U only constituting about 0.711% of its mass. 235U is the only nuclide existing in nature that is fissile with thermal neutrons.
The United States of America (USA), commonly known as the United States or America, is a country composed of 50 states, a federal district, five major self-governing territories, and various possessions. At 3.8 million square miles, the United States is the world's third or fourth largest country by total area and is slightly smaller than the entire continent of Europe's 3.9 million square miles. With a population of over 327 million people, the U.S. is the third most populous country. The capital is Washington, D.C., and the largest city by population is New York City. Forty-eight states and the capital's federal district are contiguous in North America between Canada and Mexico. The State of Alaska is in the northwest corner of North America, bordered by Canada to the east and across the Bering Strait from Russia to the west. The State of Hawaii is an archipelago in the mid-Pacific Ocean. The U.S. territories are scattered about the Pacific Ocean and the Caribbean Sea, stretching across nine official time zones. The extremely diverse geography, climate, and wildlife of the United States make it one of the world's 17 megadiverse countries.
There were two main types of generation I GCR:
Magnox is a type of nuclear power/production reactor that was designed to run on natural uranium with graphite as the moderator and carbon dioxide gas as the heat exchange coolant. It belongs to the wider class of gas cooled reactors. The name comes from the magnesium-aluminium alloy used to clad the fuel rods inside the reactor. Like most other "Generation I nuclear reactors", the Magnox was designed with the dual purpose of producing electrical power and plutonium-239 for the nascent nuclear weapons program in Britain. The name refers specifically to the United Kingdom design but is sometimes used generically to refer to any similar reactor.
The United Kingdom (UK), officially the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, informally as Britain, is a sovereign country lying off the north-western coast of the European mainland. The United Kingdom includes the island of Great Britain, the north-eastern part of the island of Ireland and many smaller islands. Northern Ireland is the only part of the United Kingdom that shares a land border with another sovereign state, the Republic of Ireland. Apart from this land border, the United Kingdom is surrounded by the Atlantic Ocean, with the North Sea to the east, the English Channel to the south and the Celtic Sea to the south-west, giving it the 12th-longest coastline in the world. The Irish Sea lies between Great Britain and Ireland. With an area of 242,500 square kilometres (93,600 sq mi), the United Kingdom is the 78th-largest sovereign state in the world. It is also the 22nd-most populous country, with an estimated 66.0 million inhabitants in 2017.
The UNGG is an obsolete nuclear power reactor design developed by France. It was graphite moderated, cooled by carbon dioxide, and fueled with natural uranium metal. The first generation of French nuclear power stations were UNGGs, as was Vandellos unit 1 in Spain. Of ten units built, all were shut down by end 1994, most for economic reasons due to staffing costs.
The main difference between these two types is in the fuel cladding material. Both types were mainly constructed in their countries of origin, with a few export sales : two Magnox plants to Italy and Japan, and one UNGG to Spain. More recently, GCRs based on the declassified drawings of the early Magnox reactors have been constructed by North Korea at the Yongbyon Nuclear Scientific Research Center.
Italy, officially the Italian Republic, is a country in Southern Europe. Located in the middle of the Mediterranean Sea, Italy shares open land borders with France, Switzerland, Austria, Slovenia and the enclaved microstates San Marino and Vatican City. Italy covers an area of 301,340 km2 (116,350 sq mi) and has a largely temperate seasonal and Mediterranean climate. With around 61 million inhabitants, it is the fourth-most populous EU member state and the most populous country in Southern Europe.
Japan is an island country in East Asia. Located in the Pacific Ocean, it lies off the eastern coast of the Asian continent and stretches from the Sea of Okhotsk in the north to the East China Sea and the Philippine Sea in the south.
Spain, officially the Kingdom of Spain, is a country mostly located in Europe. Its continental European territory is situated on the Iberian Peninsula. Its territory also includes two archipelagoes: the Canary Islands off the coast of Africa, and the Balearic Islands in the Mediterranean Sea. The African enclaves of Ceuta, Melilla, and Peñón de Vélez de la Gomera make Spain the only European country to have a physical border with an African country (Morocco). Several small islands in the Alboran Sea are also part of Spanish territory. The country's mainland is bordered to the south and east by the Mediterranean Sea except for a small land boundary with Gibraltar; to the north and northeast by France, Andorra, and the Bay of Biscay; and to the west and northwest by Portugal and the Atlantic Ocean.
Both types used fuel cladding materials that were unsuitable for medium term storage under water, making reprocessing an essential part of the nuclear fuel cycle. Both types were, in their countries of origin, also designed and used to produce weapons-grade plutonium, but at the cost of major interruption to their use for power generation despite the provision of online refuelling.
Nuclear reprocessing technology was developed to chemically separate and recover fissionable plutonium from spent nuclear fuel. Originally, reprocessing was used solely to extract plutonium for producing nuclear weapons. With commercialization of nuclear power, the reprocessed plutonium was recycled back into MOX nuclear fuel for thermal reactors. The reprocessed uranium, also known as the spent fuel material, can in principle also be re-used as fuel, but that is only economical when uranium supply is low and prices are high. A breeder reactor is not restricted to using recycled plutonium and uranium. It can employ all the actinides, closing the nuclear fuel cycle and potentially multiplying the energy extracted from natural uranium by about 60 times.
The nuclear fuel cycle, also called nuclear fuel chain, is the progression of nuclear fuel through a series of differing stages. It consists of steps in the front end, which are the preparation of the fuel, steps in the service period in which the fuel is used during reactor operation, and steps in the back end, which are necessary to safely manage, contain, and either reprocess or dispose of spent nuclear fuel. If spent fuel is not reprocessed, the fuel cycle is referred to as an open fuel cycle ; if the spent fuel is reprocessed, it is referred to as a closed fuel cycle.
In nuclear power technology, online refuelling is a technique for changing the fuel of a nuclear reactor while the reactor is critical. This allows the reactor to continue to generate electricity during routine refuelling, and therefore improve the availability and profitability of the plant.
In the UK, the Magnox was replaced by the advanced gas-cooled reactor (AGR), an improved Generation II gas cooled reactor. In France, the UNGG was replaced by the pressurized water reactor (PWR).
A generation II reactor is a design classification for a nuclear reactor, and refers to the class of commercial reactors built up to the end of the 1990s. Prototypical generation II reactors include the PWR, CANDU, BWR, AGR, VVER and RBMK.
Pressurized water reactors (PWRs) constitute the large majority of the world's nuclear power plants and are one of three types of light water reactor (LWR), the other types being boiling water reactors (BWRs) and supercritical water reactors (SCWRs). In a PWR, the primary coolant (water) is pumped under high pressure to the reactor core where it is heated by the energy released by the fission of atoms. The heated water then flows to a steam generator where it transfers its thermal energy to a secondary system where steam is generated and flows to turbines which, in turn, spin an electric generator. In contrast to a boiling water reactor, pressure in the primary coolant loop prevents the water from boiling within the reactor. All LWRs use ordinary water as both coolant and neutron moderator.
Gas-cooled reactor types include:
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An Advanced Gas-cooled Reactor (AGR) is a type of nuclear reactor designed and operated in the United Kingdom. These are the second generation of British gas-cooled reactors, using graphite as the neutron moderator and carbon dioxide as coolant. They have been the backbone of the UK's nuclear generation fleet since the 1980s.
The pebble-bed reactor (PBR) is a design for a graphite-moderated, gas-cooled nuclear reactor. It is a type of very-high-temperature reactor (VHTR), one of the six classes of nuclear reactors in the Generation IV initiative. The basic design of pebble-bed reactors features spherical fuel elements called pebbles. These tennis ball-sized pebbles are made of pyrolytic graphite, and they contain thousands of micro-fuel particles called TRISO particles. These TRISO fuel particles consist of a fissile material surrounded by a coated ceramic layer of silicon carbide for structural integrity and fission product containment. In the PBR, thousands of pebbles are amassed to create a reactor core, and are cooled by a gas, such as helium, nitrogen or carbon dioxide, that does not react chemically with the fuel elements.
A nuclear meltdown is a severe nuclear reactor accident that results in core damage from overheating. The term nuclear meltdown is not officially defined by the International Atomic Energy Agency or by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission. However, it has been defined to mean the accidental melting of the core of a nuclear reactor, and is in common usage a reference to the core's either complete or partial collapse.
The Pebble Bed Modular Reactor (PBMR) is a particular design of pebble bed reactor under development by South African company PBMR (Pty) Ltd since 1994. The project entails the construction of a demonstration power plant at Koeberg near Cape Town and a fuel plant at Pelindaba near Pretoria.
In nuclear engineering, the void coefficient is a number that can be used to estimate how much the reactivity of a nuclear reactor changes as voids form in the reactor moderator or coolant. Reactivity, in the nuclear engineering sense, measures the degree of change in neutron multiplication in a reactor core. Reactivity is directly related to the tendency of the reactor core to change power level: if reactivity is positive, the core power tends to increase; if it is negative, the core power tends to decrease; if it is zero, the core power tends to remain stable. The reactivity of the core may be adjusted by the reactor control system in order to obtain a desired power level change. It can be compared to the reaction of an automobile as conditions around it change, and therefore the corresponding counter-measure that the driver applies to maintain road speed or execute a desired manoeuvre.
The light-water reactor (LWR) is a type of thermal-neutron reactor that uses normal water, as opposed to heavy water, as both its coolant and neutron moderator – furthermore a solid form of fissile elements is used as fuel. Thermal-neutron reactors are the most common type of nuclear reactor, and light-water reactors are the most common type of thermal-neutron reactor.
Passive nuclear safety is a design approach for safety features, implemented in a nuclear reactor, that does not require any active intervention on the part of the operator or electrical/electronic feedback in order to bring the reactor to a safe shutdown state, in the event of a particular type of emergency. Such design features tend to rely on the engineering of components such that their predicted behaviour would slow down, rather than accelerate the deterioration of the reactor state; they typically take advantage of natural forces or phenomena such as gravity, buoyancy, pressure differences, conduction or natural heat convection to accomplish safety functions without requiring an active power source. Many older common reactor designs use passive safety systems to a limited extent, rather, relying on active safety systems such as diesel powered motors. Some newer reactor designs feature more passive systems; the motivation being that they are highly reliable and reduce the cost associated with the installation and maintenance of systems that would otherwise require multiple trains of equipment and redundant safety class power supplies in order the achieve the same level of reliability. However, weak driving forces that power many passive safety features can pose significant challenges to effectiveness of a passive system, particularly in the short term following an accident.
A molten salt reactor (MSR) is a class of nuclear fission reactor in which the primary nuclear reactor coolant and/or the fuel is a molten salt mixture. MSRs offer multiple advantages over conventional nuclear power plants, although for historical reasons, they have not been deployed.
Generation IV reactors are a set of nuclear reactor designs currently being researched for commercial applications by the Generation IV International Forum, with technology readiness levels varying between the level requiring a demonstration, to economical competitive implementation. They are motivated by a variety of goals including improved safety, sustainability, efficiency, and cost.
The very-high-temperature reactor (VHTR), or high-temperature gas-cooled reactor (HTGR), is a Generation IV reactor concept that uses a graphite-moderated nuclear reactor with a once-through uranium fuel cycle. The VHTR is a type of high-temperature reactor (HTR) that can conceptually have an outlet temperature of 1000 °C. The reactor core can be either a "prismatic block" or a "pebble-bed" core. The high temperatures enable applications such as process heat or hydrogen production via the thermochemical sulfur–iodine cycle.
The gas-cooled fast reactor (GFR) system is a nuclear reactor design which is currently in development. Classed as a Generation IV reactor, it features a fast-neutron spectrum and closed fuel cycle for efficient conversion of fertile uranium and management of actinides. The reference reactor design is a helium-cooled system operating with an outlet temperature of 850 °C using a direct Brayton closed-cycle gas turbine for high thermal efficiency. Several fuel forms are being considered for their potential to operate at very high temperatures and to ensure an excellent retention of fission products: composite ceramic fuel, advanced fuel particles, or ceramic clad elements of actinide compounds. Core configurations are being considered based on pin- or plate-based fuel assemblies or prismatic blocks, which allows for better coolant circulation than traditional fuel assemblies.
A nuclear reactor core is the portion of a nuclear reactor containing the nuclear fuel components where the nuclear reactions take place and the heat is generated. Typically, the fuel will be low-enriched uranium contained in thousands of individual fuel pins. The core also contains structural components, the means to both moderate the neutrons and control the reaction, and the means to transfer the heat from the fuel to where it is required, outside the core.
A graphite reactor is a nuclear reactor that uses carbon as a neutron moderator, which allows un-enriched uranium to be used as nuclear fuel.
HTR-10 is a 10 MWt prototype pebble bed reactor at Tsinghua University in China. Construction began in 1995, achieving its first criticality in December 2000, and was operated in full power condition in January 2003.
An organic nuclear reactor, or organic cooled reactor (OCR), is a type of nuclear reactor that uses some form of organic fluid, typically a hydrocarbon substance like polychlorinated biphenyl (PCB), for cooling and sometimes as a neutron moderator as well.