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Engineering Fundamentals CBT

Printout of CBT Content for Reference Purposes Only


Reference CBT:
Basic Atomic and Nuclear Physics V 1.0
1019164



ELECTRIC POWER RESEARCH INSTITUTE
3420 Hillview Avenue, Palo Alto, California 94304-1338 PO Box 10412, Palo Alto, California 94303-0813 USA
800.313.3774 650.855.2121 askepri@epri.com www.epri.com
Engineering Fundamentals CBT:
Printout of CBT Content for Reference Purposes Only
Reference CBT:
Basic Atomic and Nuclear Physics V 1.0
1019164
June 2009



EPRI Project Manager
Ken Caraway


iv
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NOTE
For further information about EPRI, call the EPRI Customer Assistance Center at 800.313.3774 or
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iii
PRODUCT DESCRIPTION

Summary
This document provides a printout of the CBT content for use as a reference document only.
Students are encouraged to use the CBT as animations, flash video, and interactive features are
intended to enhance their learning experience.
NOTE: The CBT should be used to validate information as errors may have been introduced
when converting the graphics, equations, etc.
Abstract
The Basic Atomic and Nuclear Physics Version 1.0 module of Engineering Fundamentals
provides a basic overview of this topic applicable to all engineering disciplines beginning their
career in the nuclear power industry.
Description
The Basic Atomic and Nuclear Physics module covers basic atomic structure, fission,
radioactivity, reactor operation, and nuclear safety. This course will help new engineers
understand how their work might impact reactor operations and nuclear safety. This module is
intended for use as orientation training for new engineering support personnel.
Software Requirements
Windows 2000 SP2, Windows XP, Windows Vista
Application, Value and Use
Allows engineering support personnel to review the content when they desire and at their own
pace
Uses interactive features and graphics to illustrate key concepts & enhance training
Keywords
Training
Fundamentals
Atomic structure
Nuclear physics
Radioactivity
Fission
Reactor operation
Reactor systems
Nuclear safety


ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS

EPRI would like to acknowledge the following individuals for their active participation
and significant contributions toward the development of this training course:

Ken Caraway EPRI
Jack Feimster Exelon Corporation
Nate Granger Wolf Creek Nuclear Operating Corporation
Beth Hughes Handshaw, Inc.
Don Lesnick Exelon Corporation
Joe Montague Dominion
Henry Nicholson Duke Energy Corporation
Liz Sisk EPRI
Terry Stuchlik Wolf Creek Nuclear Operating Corporation




v
CONTENTS
1 INTRODUCTION TO BASIC ATOMIC AND NUCLEAR PHYSICS ......................................1-1
2 BASIC ATOMIC STRUCTURE ..................................... ERROR! BOOKMARK NOT DEFINED.
3 THE FISSION PROCESS AND NEUTRON INTERACTIONSERROR! BOOKMARK NOT DEFINED.
4 RADIOACTIVITY .......................................................... ERROR! BOOKMARK NOT DEFINED.
5 REACTOR OPERATION .............................................. ERROR! BOOKMARK NOT DEFINED.
6 NUCLEAR SAFETY ..................................................... ERROR! BOOKMARK NOT DEFINED.

1-1
1
INTRODUCTION TO BASIC ATOMIC & NUCLEAR
PHYSICS
Introduction

Welcome to the Basic Atomic and Nuclear Physics course. In this course, you will learn
about basic atomic structure, radioactivity, fission, reactor operation, and nuclear safety.
Regardless of your discipline, you can make changes that affect reactor operations and
nuclear safety in your day-to-day job. Changes that may affect operations
include instrumentation and control changes, electrical and/or mechanical system
alignment or availability, and introduction of foreign material (items unintended for
system use) including coatings inside containment. You must be aware of how all
equipment and systems in the plant might be impacted by what you and others do.
After completing this lesson, you will be able to:
Describe how a nuclear power plant generates electricity
Describe the design differences between the two types of reactor systems
typically used in the United States
If you are not familiar with the navigation features used in this course, click the About
tab to review the navigation information.


Nuclear Steam Supply Systems

First, lets take a high-level look at how a nuclear power plant works. The purpose of a
nuclear power plant is to produce steam that is used to generate electricity. The
underlying concept behind this Nuclear Steam Supply System (NSSS), as it is called, is
straightforward. Nuclear fission indirectly creates heat, which is then used to generate
steam. From this point, a nuclear power plant functions very much like a fossil fuel
generating plant. The steam flows through turbines, rotating a shaft, which then turns
the generator to produce electricity.
Each component and system in a nuclear power plant is designed and must be
operated to ensure that fission remains a safe, economic, reliable source of power.
Although the basic premise is simple, the NSSS is a complex system requiring a
fundamental understanding of certain aspects of nuclear physics.
The diagram below shows the main components of a PWR NSSS system. Roll your mouse over each component to identify its
function. (Note: This function will not work in this Word document.)



1-3
Fuel
Let's take a closer look at how an NSSS works. The fuel for an NSSS is typically
enriched uranium that fissions easily with proper geometry and moderation. For U.S.
nuclear plants, fuel is typically contained in small, cylindrical pellets, which measure
approximately 0.4 inch in diameter by 0.5 inch long. Pellets have small diameters so
that heat can be removed effectively. One pellet of uranium can generate as much
electricity as 4 barrels of oil or 1.3 tons of coal. Clearly, the reactor fuel has high power
density (power per unit volume) compared to fossil fuels.
The pellets are stacked one on top of another to form a 12-foot long column and
placed into a sealed tube. The tube is called a fuel rod and is cladded with a wall
thickness typically about 0.04 inches thick. The cladding is made of a zirconium alloy
that transmits heat, absorbs few neutrons, and is non-corrosive, characteristics
important for maintaining the integrity of the tubes while efficiently transferring the heat
and neutrons produced by fission. The cladding provides the first layer in the defense-
in-depth design for keeping radioactive fission products contained. A set of fuel rods is
bundled in a square lattice called a fuel assembly. Assemblies are placed side-by-side
in a nearly cylindrical array inside a large steel vessel called the reactor vessel, which is
part of the Reactor Coolant System boundary - the second barrier to radioactivity. The
total number of fuel assemblies depends on the type and power level of the reactor.




Moderator and Coolant

Interactions of free neutrons with nuclei in the fuel can result in fission. Fission occurs
when a free neutron collides with a nucleus, is absorbed by the nucleus, and causes the
nucleus to split into two fragments and emit additional neutrons. During fission, energy
is released in the form of heat. If the newly emerged neutrons cause additional fissions,
a chain reaction results. Self-sustained fission chain reactions generate a steady supply
of heat, the source of nuclear power in an NSSS.
However, neutrons born from fission typically have high kinetic energy and tend not to
cause fission. Therefore, to facilitate fission of uranium, neutrons must be slowed down.
This is achieved by using a moderator, which surrounds the fuel rods. Fast neutrons
bounce off nuclei of similar mass in the moderator. With each collision, the neutrons
lose some of their kinetic energy and start slowing down.
In U.S. reactors, the moderator is water, which also serves as the coolant. The heat
from fission transfers from the fuel rods to the coolant, which is used for steam
generation, but also keeps the fuel from overheating. Reactors that use "light" water (no
neutron in the hydrogen atom) as moderator and coolant are called light water reactors,
or LWRs. In other countries such as Canada, other media are often used for the coolant
and moderator, including deuterium (known as "heavy water"). In those cases, the
moderator and coolant may be located in physically separate volumes.


1-5
Controlling Fission Rate
While continuous fission is necessary for power generation, the rate at which power is
produced must be controlled. Too many fissions can generate too much heat, while too
few can produce an insufficient power output. The number of fissions per secondthe
fission ratecan be controlled by introducing or withdrawing a substance that absorbs
neutrons. Of the several neutrons generated in each fission, only one is needed to
cause another fission and maintain a steady chain reaction. Therefore, by using a
neutron absorber, you can "collect," or absorb, extra neutrons, which slows the fission
rate. If power production is low, you can remove the neutron absorber so more neutrons
are available, which quickens the fission rate.
One method for absorbing neutrons is to use control rods. They are made of a
substance such as silver, indium, hafnium, cadmium, or boron that readily absorb
neutrons, making them unavailable for future fissions within the fuel. Control rods are
partially or fully inserted or withdrawn from the reactor core as needed to start up the
reactor and to increase or decrease power. They can be inserted completely to shut
down the reactor for refueling, or in case of an automatic scram or emergency condition.
The control rods are either moved through the reactor vessel from the top, as in a
Pressurized Water Reactor (PWR), or from the bottom, as in a Boiling Water Reactor
(BWR). Other prevalent methods for controlling the fission rate are:
Using boric acid in PWRs - Boric acid is added to or diluted from the moderator
before the moderator enters the reactor. Like control rods, boric acid absorbs
neutrons.
Increasing pump speed on BWRs - Increasing the pump speed sweeps steam
bubbles from the core more rapidly. This increases neutron moderation, and thus
increases the population density of available slow neutrons.



Shielding

The nuclear reactor consists of the reactor vessel and everything inside it, including the
core, support structures, and other components. The core is the heart of the reactor, the
part that generates heat. It consists of the fuel assemblies, the coolant, the moderator,
and the control rods. Fission in the reactor core not only creates heat, it produces
significant amounts of nuclear radiation and radioactive byproducts harmful to people
and the environment. To safeguard workers inside the plant, a concrete biological shield
surrounds the vessel, while other individual components that may contain radioactive
materials are shielded by the reactor building wall or other concrete structures.
In addition to the fuel cladding and reactor coolant system boundary (includes the
reactor vessel) preventing the release of radioactive materials into the environment in
the event of an accident, the NSSS is completely enclosed in a steel-lined, concrete
containment barrier, which in many nuclear plants is the large dome visible on the site.
Extensive additional systems and design features, which vary by reactor type, contain
and prevent accidental releases of radiation.




1-7
Steam Generation

Once fission starts to heat up the coolant in the reactor, what happens next? Depending
on the type of reactor, the heated water is pumped to a heat exchanger, as in this
example, or is allowed to boil within the reactor itself.
Click each picture below to view a larger version.


In a Boiling Water Reactor, or BWR, bulk boiling occurs in the upper part of the reactor
and nucleate boiling in the lower portion of the reactor core.

In a Pressurized Water Reactor, or PWR, high pressure keeps the water in the reactor
(called the primary coolant) from bulk boiling by raising its boiling point (localized
nucleate boiling can still occur). The pressure is controlled by a pressurizer. This highly
pressurized and heated primary coolant is pumped to a heat exchanger called a steam
generator. The steam generator is a large, cylindrical steel vessel containing water at a
lower pressure (called the secondary coolant). The high pressure primary coolant flows
through tubes in the steam generator and heats up the surrounding lower-pressure
secondary coolant, causing it to boil. While remaining isolated in the primary coolant
loop, after transferring heat energy to the secondary coolant, the primary coolant flows
back into the reactor to be reheated.



Power Reactor Types
As you've already seen in this lesson, PWR systems and BWR systems generate steam
in different ways.
In the table below, click each button on the left to learn about more differences between the two systems.
Design

Steam Production

Reactivity Control


1-9
Creating Electricity


From the point after the steam is created, a nuclear power plant is very similar to a fossil
fuel power plant. The steam that has been created in the steam generator (PWR) or in
the reactor (BWR) will then flow to the steam turbines. The turbines then turn a shaft as
the hot steam expands through them. Large nuclear power plants typically have one
high pressure and three low pressure turbines. The turbine shaft is coupled to an
electrical generator, which converts the mechanical energy of the turbines to electrical
energy. About one-third of the fission heat is converted to electricity in U.S. nuclear
generating stations.





Cooling


After passing through the turbines, the steam is exhausted into a condenser, which
consists of hundreds of tubes designed to remove the latent heat of vaporization. The
steam condenses and is termed condensate, as it passes around the tubes, which are
filled with cool circulating water. The condensate is pumped back to the steam
generator in a PWR, called the secondary loop, or to the reactor in a BWR. The steam
cycle is now complete.
The heat transferred from the steam to the water inside the condenser tubes must be
removed. To remove it, the heated condenser water is pumped to a cooling tower or a
cooling canal, where it cools by evaporation. At that point, it is either reused for cooling,
as in a closed cooling cycle with a cooling tower, or it is discharged to an impoundment
or stream according to state and federal requirements on thermal discharge. In some
locations, state and federal environmental regulations allow the cooling water from the
condenser to be pumped directly to a body of water, such as a river or ocean.



1-11
Review Question 1
Match the nuclear power function in Column 2 with the component in Column 1.
Moderator A. Rotated by expanding steam to produce mechanical energy

Control rods B. Controls the reactor power and also provides a mechanism for rapid shutdown
of the reactor

Biological Shielding C. Slows down fast neutrons

Steam generator D. Prevents the release of radioactive materials into the environment in the event
of an accident

Turbine E. Converts the secondary coolant in a PWR into steam

The correct matching sequence is CBDEA.


Review Question 2

In a BWR, bulk boiling occurs in the upper region of the core, not in separate steam
generators.

True or False?

The correct answer is True. In a BWR, bulk boiling occurs in the upper region of the
core, while in a PWR, bulk boiling occurs in the steam generator.

1-13
Conclusion
You have now completed the Introduction to Basic Atomic and Nuclear Physics lesson,
and have learned about the fundamental concepts of nuclear power generation.
Now that you have completed this lesson, you can do the following:
Describe how a nuclear power plant generates electricity
Describe the design differences between the two types of reactor systems
typically used in the United States
In the next lesson, you will learn about the basic atomic structure and the properties of a
nucleus.


2-1
2
BASIC ATOMIC STRUCTURE
Introduction
In the last lesson, you learned how a nuclear power plant creates electrical energy. In
this lesson, you will learn about the characteristics that make an atom the key to nuclear
energy. You will learn about the structure and properties of an atom, as well as the
forces that influence it.
After you have completed this lesson, you will be able to:
Define the following terms: nucleus, proton, neutron, electron, isotope, atomic
mass unit (u), electron volt (eV)
Given a nuclide symbol, identify the number of neutrons, number of protons,
number of nucleons, chemical element, and mass number
Define the ground and excited states of a nucleus and, in general terms, explain
how a nucleus changes energy levels
Describe the Line of Stability




Nuclear Energy
At the heart of every atom is an extremely dense, positively-charged nucleus, 20,000 to
200,000 times smaller than the overall size of the atom but containing essentially all of
its total mass. The nucleus is a tiny conglomeration of particles that is in a constant tug-
of-war between two competing forcesone pushing the nucleus apart (Coulombic
repulsion), the other keeping it together (nuclear force).
Within this miniscule piece of matter is the door to massive energynuclear energy.
Understanding the nucleus, its components, its properties, the forces influencing it, and
the units and measurements used to describe it is the key to unlocking the door to
nuclear power.




2-3
The Atom
An atom is too tiny to be seen very clearly, even with an electron microscope. For this
reason, models that explain physically observed atomic phenomena are used to
describe an atom. The simplest of these, the Bohr model of an atom, describes a small
nucleus where over 99.9% of the atom's mass is concentrated, surrounded by electrons
that orbit the nucleus in shells of discrete radii. Imagine a penny in the center of a
baseball stadium, and you have an idea of the nucleus's relative size compared to the
rest of the atom. In fact, as a whole, an atom is mostly empty space.
Below is a picture of an atom. Click each labeled part to learn more.


Nucleus: The nucleus is the center of an atom that is comprised of a tightly-packed
cluster of particles called neutrons and protons. It contains 99.9% of its mass and is
comprised of neutrons and protons held together in a very small volume by nuclear
force.

Neutron: A neutron is a sub-atomic particle with no charge that has about the same
mass as a proton.

Proton: A proton is a positively-charged particle that, along with neutrons, comprise a
nucleus. Protons have a positive charge exactly equal in magnitude to the charge of an
electron.

Electron: An electron is a negatively-charged particle with little mass that orbits the
nucleus. An atom with an equal number of electrons and protons has a neutral charge.

Electron Shell: An electron shell is the orbital area around the nucleus that corresponds
to energy levels of electrons.


Atomic Elements

The number of protons in a nucleus determines the atomic element. There are currently
113 confirmed elements. An atom with only one proton is hydrogen (H). In fact, it is the
only element that may not have any neutrons. An atom with two protons is helium (He),
with three, lithium (Li), and so on. You can use the periodic table to look up information
about elements.

Click each element below to see a diagram of its structure.


Isotopes are atoms of the same element (same number of protons) that may have
different numbers of neutrons. Every element can exist in the form of several different
isotopes. Hydrogen isotopes, for example, include an atom with just one proton in the
nucleus, another with a proton and a neutron, and yet another with one proton and two
neutrons.

2-5
Standard Notation
The standard notation of an atom is shown below.
Click each part of the notation to learn more.

When interpreting standard notations of atoms, you should remember the following:
The mass number (A) is the sum of the atomic number (Z) and the number of
neutrons (N).
The number of neutrons (N) is usually excluded from the notation. It can be
calculated by subtracting the atomic number (Z) from the mass number (A).
The atomic number (Z) may be left off of the notation because an element, as
specified by its symbol, uniquely determines the number of protons.
Don't confuse the mass of an atom with its atomic number (Z).


X is the chemical symbol for the element.
A, the mass number, is the total number of protons and neutrons.
Z, the atomic number or charge number, is the number of protons.
N is the number of neutrons.



Standard Notation, Continued

Remember, you can calculate the number of neutrons by subtracting the atomic number
(Z) from the mass number (A).
Try calculating the number of neutrons in each element below. Then, click the element to show the answer.

Suppressing the atomic number and the neutron number in the notation, the above
isotopes can also be represented as
1
H,
6
He,
12
C and
235
U. They are also sometimes
written in X-A notation, as in H-1, He-6, C-12 or U-235.

The hydrogen atom has 0 neutrons.
The helium atom has 4 neutrons.
The carbon atom has 6 neutrons.
The uranium atom has 143 neutrons.


2-7
Sub-Atomic Notation
Sub-atomic particles have similar representations.
Click each particle below to view its notation.

Proton

This notation shows that the mass number for a proton is 1 and the charge for a proton
is +1.

Neutron

This notation shows that the mass number for a neutron is 1, and the neutron has
no charge.

Electron

The mass number of an electron is 0 and carries a
-1 charge.

Nuclei frequently interact in some way with many of the other particles they encounter.
Balance equations use "isotope" notation to depict the reactants and the products of
these nuclear reactions. The total mass numbers and the charge (atomic) numbers are
unchanged in nuclear reactions and must balance on both sides of the equation.


Excitation and Energy
Like an orbital electron, a nucleus can exist at various, discrete levels of energy, each
isotope having a characteristic set of levels. The lowest energy state is called the
ground state. Higher energy states are called excited states. A nucleus gains excitation
energy in many nuclear reactions and jumps to a higher energy level. An excited
nucleus will release excess energy as radiation to return to its ground state. Like the
energy levels, the excitation energy and the emitted radiation energy are discrete and
will equal the difference in energy between the initial and final levels.
Click the Forward button in the bottom-right corner of the graphic at right to progress through each slide in the animation.



2-9
Electron Volts

The energy involved in a nuclear reaction is so small that usual energy units such as
Joule and Btu are cumbersome. Instead, the electron volt, eV, is used to describe
energy at atomic and sub-atomic levels. One eV is equal to the amount of energy
gained by an electron when accelerated through a potential difference of one volt.


Nuclear reaction energy is typically of the order of keV or MeV.




Atomic Mass

The mass of an atom is so small that it is usually expressed in terms of the convenient
atomic mass units or u (amu). One u is defined as 1/12 the mass of a carbon-12 atom
or 1.66054 x 10
-24
grams. The mass of H, the smallest atom, is 1.0078250 u. The mass
of a C-12 atom is 12 u. The tables below show the atomic mass of sub-atomic particles
and a comparison of the atomic mass of the nuclei of three atoms.
Click each table to learn more.



Notice the masses of nuclear particles. Which has the greater mass, a proton or a
neutron? The neutron is more massive. At less than one billionth of a gram, a proton or
a neutron is still about 1,840 times more massive than an electron. The mass of an
atom overall is only very slightly more than the mass of its nucleus, since essentially all
of the mass is concentrated in the nucleus.

Compare the mass and radii of three different nucleihydrogen, boron, and uranium.
The size of a nucleus varies with the number of nucleons (protons and neutrons) it has.
A nucleus with a small number of nucleons is called a light nucleus. One with a large
number is a heavy nucleus.

2-11

Since like charges repel, why aren't the positively-charged protons in a nucleus sent off
in every direction? The nucleus, with its compact collection of nucleons, is held intact by
a specific force. Which of the following forces do you think keeps a nucleus intact?


A. Electrostatic attraction
B. Magnetism
C. Gravity
D. Nuclear force
The nuclear force, or "strong force," is the attractive force between the nucleons that
holds them very tightly together to form the nucleus. It impacts protons and neutrons
equally and is independent of charge. Although it is the strongest force known, the
nuclear force acts only over very short distances and has no effect outside the nucleus.


Binding Energy and Mass Defect
The nucleus is not easily broken apart. The stability of the nucleus is maintained by its
binding energy. Nuclear binding energy is the energy that binds all the nucleons in the
nucleus and, therefore, is also the energy required to break the nucleus into individual
nucleons. Every time a nucleus fissions and splits into two, it is releasing a small part of
its binding energy. The major component of the binding energy is the potential energy
associated with the nuclear force between neighboring nucleons. Binding energy can
also be explained by examining the mass defect.
The energy equivalent of this value can be determined by using Einstein's energy-mass
equivalence equation, E=mc
2
.
A nucleus has less mass than the total masses of its parts (mass defect), but it has
binding energy equivalent to the difference. Since energy and mass are
interchangeable, nothing is really missing!
Binding energy can also be expressed in terms of its average value for any individual
nucleon. Binding energy per nucleon is an index of a nucleus's stability: the larger its
value, the more tightly bound the nucleons and the more stable the nucleus. The
graphic at right shows an example of how binding energy is calculated for a deuterium
(2H) atom.


2-13
Line of Stability
Every isotope has unique characteristics, including atomic mass, binding energy, atomic
percent abundance, and radioactivity data for radioactive isotopes. Information about
isotopes can be found in the Chart of Nuclides (CN), (http://atom.kaeri.re.kr/). Below is a
condensed graphical representation of the most commonly used properties of isotopes.
Navigate to the website for a larger view of the chart.
Below is an image of the Chart of Nuclides. Click each section to learn more.


Nuclides to the right and left of the line of stability are unstable and strive to become
stable through radioactive decay. Elements with Z>83 (bismuth) have no stable
isotopes. Radioactivity explains much of what happens in a nuclear reactor. You will
learn more about radioactivity in the next lesson.

Nuclides to the left of the line of stability generally have an excess of protons compared
to the stable nuclides.

Stable nuclides (blue squares) are clustered in a narrow band called the Line of
Stability. They have a balanced number of neutrons and protons because at small
numbers, the nuclear force is strong enough to counteract the Coulombic repulsion.
However, with more protons in the nucleus, the Coulombic repulsion is more difficult to
counteract. Therefore, larger stable nuclei tend to have more neutrons than protons.
Neutrons increase the distance between protons, acting as buffers among them.

Nuclides to the right of the line usually have an excess of neutrons and are considered
neutron-rich.


Review Question 3
Below is a diagram of the standard notation of an atom. Match the description in
Column 2 with the letter in Column 1.



X A. The chemical symbol for the element

A B. The number of neutrons

Z C. The atomic number, or the number of protons

N D. The mass number, or total number of protons and neutrons


The correct matching sequence is ADCB.

2-15
Review Question 4

An excited nucleus will release excess energy as radiation to return to its ground state.

True or False?


The correct answer is True. An excited nucleus will release excess energy as radiation
to return to its ground state.





Review Question 5

What is the force trying to pull a nucleus apart?

A. Nuclear force
B. Coulombic repulsion
C. Binding energy
D. Kinetic energy


The correct answer is B. Coulombic repulsion is the electrostatic force that makes
particles with like charge repel each other along a straight line between their centers.


2-17


Conclusion
You've now completed the Basic Nuclear Structure lesson and have learned about the
properties and characteristics of an atom.
Now that you've completed this lesson, you can:
Define the following terms: nucleus, proton, neutron, electron, isotope, atomic
mass unit (u), electron volt (eV)
Given a nuclide symbol, identify the number of neutrons, number of protons,
number of nucleons, chemical element, and mass number
Define the ground and excited states of a nucleus and, in general terms, explain
how a nucleus changes energy levels
Describe the Line of Stability

3-1
3
THE FISSION PROCESS AND NEUTRON
INTERACTIONS
Introduction

Now that you've learned about the structure and properties of an atom, you'll learn
about the process that makes nuclear power possible - fission. A nuclear reactor is
designed to sustain the fission process in a safe and controlled manner while
transferring the heat energy and containing the radioactive fission products. This lesson
will describe the neutron interactions that initiate and sustain the process, and how the
process is controlled.
After you have completed this lesson, you will be able to:
Describe the fission process
Describe the life cycle of a neutron
Define criticality and reactivity
Describe how a chain reaction is controlled and maintained
State the difference between fuel and non-fuel absorption (poisoning) and a
scattering (moderation) type of neutron interaction


The Fission Process

When a nucleus absorbs a neutron, it gains excitation energy from the neutrons mass
and kinetic energy. In certain heavy isotopes, this added excitation energy may put the
compound nucleus over its critical energy threshold. This may induce the nucleus to
split, or fission, into two lighter radioactive nuclei (also called fission fragments, fission
products), or daughters.
During fission, some of the total mass of the original heavy nucleus and absorbed
neutron is lost in the reaction. In accordance with Einstein's equation (E = mc2), this lost
mass defect is converted to about 200 MeV of energy. Fission also releases two to
three other (fission) neutrons along with heat energy and radiation.






3-3
Neutron Moderation
Neutrons born from fission typically have high kinetic energy (are "fast"). A very small
fraction of the high energy neutrons cause fast fission in U-238. As neutrons slow
down, the probability of a neutron causing fission (cross section) in certain heavy nuclei
increases. This probability is greatest when neutrons slow down to energies that are in
thermal equilibrium with their surroundings (i.e., the fuel nuclei).
As you learned earlier in this course, U.S. reactors incorporate a moderator to slow
down fast neutrons and facilitate fission. The moderator, which is water in the U.S.,
surrounds the fuel rods to slow neutrons down to thermal equilibrium with the U-235 fuel
material, in order to undergo thermal fission. When small hydrogen atoms collide with a
neutron, they scatter. Much of the neutrons energy is lost, similar to when two billiard
balls have an elastic collision. While not absorbed, the moderated neutron loses
energy and slows down toward thermal energy levels.
Click the Forward arrow in the bottom-right corner of the graphic at right to progress through each slide in
the scattering animation.





Fission Fuels

Because they can fission with low energy thermal neutrons, certain isotopes of Uranium
and Plutonium (i.e., U-235, Pu-239, and Pu-241) are used in U.S. reactors. These
isotopes, displayed in red in the table at right, are referred to as fissile. Because they
readily fission, they make excellent fuels.
U-235 Enrichment
Uranium is the most widely used isotope. It occurs naturally all over the world; however,
less than 1% of natural uranium is fissile U-235. In order to use its fissile quality to
sustain fission reactions, the concentration of U-235 atoms in U.S. reactor fuel designs
is increased to approximately 4-5% U-235 by weight through enrichment. The balance
of these fuel rods is composed almost entirely of 95-96% U-238 isotopes.
Plutonium Generation
While most of the fission energy comes from enriched U-235 fuel, in U.S. reactors, a
significant amount of energy comes from Pu fission. Over time, non-fissile isotopes,
such as U-238 (called fertile isotopes, displayed in blue in the table at right), capture
neutrons and decay to fissile isotopes, such as Pu-239. Since approximately 95% of the
fuel is U-238 conversion to fissile Pu isotopes, or breeding reaction, is natural.
Click here to see a diagram of a breeding reaction.


3-5
Sustaining the Fission Chain Reaction


As the 2-3 neutrons created in the fission process are slowed down, they can fission
other heavy nuclei in the reactor. But, every neutron does not necessarily cause fission
in the fuel. Some neutrons escape from the reactor, and others may be absorbed by
other reactor materials (such as the moderator, cladding, control rods/absorbers, or
structural materials). The ratio between one generation of neutrons (n
1
) and the
previous generation (n
0
) is denoted by k, the multiplication factor, as shown below.




Criticality


In order for the production of neutrons and a fission reaction to be sustainable, it is
imperative that k = 1 where the neutron population (or power) stays constant and the
reactor is exactly critical. When k is greater than 1, the number of neutrons grows with
time and the reactor is supercritical. When k is less than 1, the number decreases with
time and the reactor is subcritical.
Click here to see the multiplication factor equation from the previous page.



3-7
Neutron Multiplication - Six Factor Formula
From fast, high-energy birth, there are six major factors that affect neutron multiplication
(k).
Six Factor Formula:
Since n
1
/n
0
is the multiplication factor, k, the equation can be re-arranged and written in
its usual form as k = f P
f
P
t
. Thus, this expression for k, which is the product of the
six factors defined above, is called the six-factor formula.
, Fast fission factor:
This factor determines how many additional fission neutrons are generated by fast (non-
thermal) fissions. In addition to the generation of fissile plutonium, a very small number
of fast fissions occur in U-238, while the neutrons are still fast or at high energy.
Pf, Fast non-leakage probability:
Some fast neutrons escape through the boundaries of the reactor core before they start
to slow down. Pf is the probability that fast neutrons do not escape. In other words, 1-Pf
is the probability of escape. So there are n0 Pf fast neutrons that remain inside the
reactor and try to become thermal neutrons.
, Resonance escape probability:
Probability a neutron is not absorbed as they slow down to thermal energy. As the
remaining neutrons continue to slow down, some will fall into energy resonance with the
surrounding material and be captured. Those that escape resonance capture will slow
down and reach thermal equilibrium with the fuel material.
Pt, Thermal non-leakage probability:
Probability a neutron does not leak out of the core while thermal. A small fraction of the
thermal neutrons will escape from the reactor. The others will get absorbed in fuel or
other reactor materials (moderator and control rods).
f, Thermal utilization factor:
This is the fraction of thermal neutron absorptions that occur in the fuel as opposed to in
any material in the reactor core. Since that will include absorptions in the control rods or
control poisons, f is primarily the factor that can be controlled by the reactor operators. f
is typically in the range of 0.75 0.5 for an LWR.
, Reproduction factor:
The remaining neutrons that cause fission produce the next generation (n1) of two to
three fission neutrons for every neutron absorbed by the fuel.


Delayed Neutrons

Most, but not all, of the n
1
generation neutrons come directly from fission. Fission can
be thought of as a two-stage process. In the first stage, called the prompt stage, the
nucleus splits emitting fragments, neutrons, energy, and radiation. In the second, known
as the delayed stage, several seconds after fission on average, a small number of the
fission products release an additional delayed neutron. U.S. reactor designs use
delayed neutrons to sustain criticality. This time delay using neutrons from previous
generations provides an inherent safety control mechanism for the reaction.






3-9
Reactivity
In addition to the delayed neutrons, other methods are used to control reactivity in
LWRs. Change in the reactor that affects neutron multiplication is called reactivity ().
Reactivity is a measure of the departure of a reactor from criticality and is described as
the percentage difference in the value of k from one, or:

Reactivity can be positive, zero, or negative. When the multiplication factor, k, is exactly
one, the reactor maintains a steady, self-sustaining chain reaction. If k is less than 1,
and the reactor must be made critical, the difference, k-1, must be compensated for by
using positive reactivity. Thus, the magnitude of k, which is equal to (k-1), is a
measure of the compensation required to make a non-critical reactor become critical.
Positive (or withdrawing control rods) reactivity (e.g., creating Pu-239) increases
neutron multiplication and moves the reactor towards supercritical. Negative (or
inserting control rods) reactivity (e.g., depleting U-235 fuel) takes away neutrons and
moves the reactor towards subcriticality.
Another example of reactivity change is referred to as the Reactivity Coefficient. An
example is the Moderator Temperature Coefficient, expressed as reactivity per degree
change in moderator temperature. Temperature affects water density and changes
the number of moderating atoms in a given volume. This changes the multiplication
factor. In BWRs, the control of water flow changes the amount of steam production and
density of the coolant.




Controlling Fission
Materials that absorb or capture neutrons are used in the reactor to control the chain
reaction. Control rods are inserted or withdrawn from the reactor to control the power
level or shut down the reaction. The insertion of a control rod is another example of
adding negative reactivity. Conversely, removing the control rods removes negative
reactivity. Control rods are positioned in terms of resulting reactivity changes per
distance moved. This facilitates operator-generated reactivity changes through control
rod movement.
In PWRs, the neutron poison, boron, is dissolved throughout the reactor core in the
moderator/coolant. This helps control the neutron population. The boron absorbs
neutrons, thus reducing the possibility of fission. This is another example of negative
reactivity. However, as the boron burns out, it introduces a positive reactivity effect.
Some fuel assemblies may also have an additional burnable poison to compensate for
the high positive reactivity of the new fuel in the core after refueling. This neutron
absorbing material (e.g., gadolinia or boron) may be part of the fuel material, coated
externally on the fuel pellets, or inserted as discrete rods in the fuel assembly.




3-11
Neutron Life Cycle
Throughout this lesson, you've learned that in a fission chain reaction, neutrons are
born, live for a short while, may beget new neutrons, and then die. What important
events mark the life cycle of fission neutrons inside an LWR? The graphic below shows
everything that can happen to such neutrons from the time they are born from thermal
fissions in fissile fuel nuclei to when they complete their life cycle and produce the next
generation of fission neutrons.




Review Question 6

A nuclear reactor is designed to do which of the following?


A. Sustain the fission process
B. Shut down the fission process
C. Transfer heat energy
D. Contain the radioactive fission products

The correct answers are A, C, and D.
A nuclear reactor is designed to sustain the fission process in a safe and controlled
manner, while transferring the heat energy and containing the radioactive fission
products.


3-13
Review Question 7

The ratio between one generation of neutrons and the previous generation is known as
which of the following?
A. Criticality factor
B. Multiplication factor
C. Energy-mass equivalence
D. Neutron life cycle

The correct answer is B.
The ratio between one generation of neutrons and the previous generation is known as
the multiplication factor.



Review Question 8

Which of the following are examples of adding negative reactivity in the reactor?

A. Inserting a control rod
B. Removing a control rod
C. Introducing a poison
D. Burning out a poison

The correct answers are A and C.
Negative reactivity takes away neutrons and moves the reactor towards subcriticality.
Examples include inserting a control rod and introducing a poison.




3-15
Conclusion
You have completed this lesson and learned about the neutron interactions that initiate
and sustain the fission process, and how the process is controlled.
Now that you've finished this lesson, you can:
Describe the fission process
Describe the life cycle of a neutron
Define criticality and reactivity
Describe how a chain reaction is controlled and maintained
State the difference between fuel and non-fuel absorption (poisoning) and a
scattering (moderation) type of neutron interaction

4-1

4
RADIOACTIVITY
Introduction

Nuclear reactors use and generate a large amount of radioactive material. Radioactivity
is the state describing unstable isotopes, which spontaneously emit sub-atomic particles
and energy (radiation) from their nuclei. In this lesson, you will learn about radioactivity
and radioactive decay, and how they affect nuclear power plant operation.
After you have completed this lesson, you will be able to:
Define the following terms: radioactivity, radioactive decay, radiation,
radioisotope, half-life, and decay constant
Describe the three major modes of radioactive decay: alpha, beta, and gamma-
ray emission
Determine the number of atoms of a specific radioisotope and their activity after a
specified time using the radioactive decay law and half-life





Fission Products and Radioactivity

When they fission, fuel nuclei do not split evenly. As can be seen in the graph to the
right, the fission products come out as a wide variety of neutron-rich isotopes ranging
from 76 to 160 in mass number. The excess neutrons give the fission fragments too
much energy and make them unstable. Unstable nuclei naturally release energy by
means of radioactive decay, otherwise known as radioactivity or activity. The most
common forms are Alpha and Beta, which are particles similar to neutrons, and
Gamma, which are similar to X-rays.




4-3
Alpha Decay
Typically, heavy radioactive nuclei such as U-238 and Pu-239 emit alpha particles.
Alpha particles resemble the nucleus of a Helium atom with two protons and two
neutrons. They are relatively big with a lot of mass and energy.
Because the alpha is such a relatively large particle, a lot of energy is released when
heavy nuclei undergo alpha decay. However, because of their size, alpha particles are
easily stopped by thin layers of shielding. A sheet of paper or the outer layers of dead
skin will stop them.





Beta and Gamma Decay

The mid-sized fission fragment nuclei typically decay by beta particle emission. The
beta particle emission is the decay of a nucleon, either an electron or an anti-electron
(positron) from the nucleus. Electron emission is known as beta minus decay and
positron emission as beta plus decay. The daughter products of the beta decays are
also usually radioactive, and thus lead to a decay chain that will terminate ultimately in a
stable isotope. It is because of these radioactive fission products that used fuel removed
from the reactor must be isolated and shielded in order to minimize radiation exposure
to the public and environment.



4-5

Decay Rate

Like all radioisotopes, fission products decay at different rates and by different modes.
One isotope may take billions of years to decay while another decays in
seconds. Radioactive decay does not make nuclei disappear; they simply change to a
more stable configuration. The decay rate of a fission fragment is determined by its half-
life (t
1/2
), the time for half the atoms to decay. Half-life is an inherent, unchangeable
characteristic of a radioisotope. The decay rate or activity (A) for a radioisotope
depends on and is proportional to the current population of available atoms, N(t). This
relationship is represented by the decay constant () where = A/N. The initial (time =
0) activity A and population N
0
of a radioisotope decreases exponentially over time. This
radioactive decay law is expressed as:
or because they are proportional
There is a unique relationship between decay rates and half-life. In the radioactivity
equation, if t = t
1/2
, the activity must decrease to half the original value or A(t)/A
0
= .
Therefore:


This means radioactivity decreases faster for isotopes with larger decay constants,
which implies shorter half-lives. The shorter the half-life, the larger the decay constant
and the faster N(t) or A(t) decreases. More highly radioactive fission products decay
away more quickly. Fission products with longer half-lives typically have lower energy
radioactivity. It is important to understand radioactivity and its implications, to ensure on-
site work is performed with adequate protective measures.




Decay Heat

In addition to shielding requirements, another feature of nuclear power arising from
fission product radioactivity is that, even after the reactor is shut down and the fission
chain reaction has stopped, the fuel continues to generate decay heat. Decay heat
generation impacts spent fuel handling and storage, waste management, and reactor
safety at a nuclear plant. A typical LWR produces over 220 MWt of decay heat
immediately upon shutdown. Since much of this early decay heat is from short-lived
fission products, the heat production rate decreases sharply in the first few hours. But,
following a reactor shutdown, adequate cooling must be available. Otherwise, the decay
heat is sufficient to boil the core dry and melt the fuel. Reactor designs have specially
engineered safeguards to provide such cooling.
You will learn more about decay heat in the next lesson, Reactor Operation.



4-7

Review Question 9

Which of the following determines a fission fragment's decay rate?
A. Radioactivity
B. Decay heat
C. Beta particle emissions
D. Half-life

The correct answer is D.
The decay rate of a fission fragment is determined by its half-life, the time for half the
atoms to decay.



Review Question 10

After the reactor is shut down and the fission chain reaction has stopped, the fuel is safe
for handling with special precautions and safety measures (e.g., shielding and cooling).

True or False?


The correct answer is True.
Even after the reactor is shut down and the fission chain reaction has stopped, the fuel
continues to generate decay heat, which impacts spent fuel handling and storage,
waste management, and reactor safety at a nuclear plant. When the fuel is handled,
it must be moved using proper shielding and tools.

4-9


Conclusion

You have completed the Radioactivity lesson. You have learned what radioactivity and
radioactive decay are and how they affect the operation of a nuclear power plant.
Now that you've completed this lesson, you can:
Define the following terms: radioactivity, radioactive decay, radiation,
radioisotope, half-life, and decay constant
Describe the three major modes of radioactive decay: alpha, beta, and gamma-
ray emission
Determine the number of atoms of a specific radioisotope and their activity after a
specified time using the radioactive decay law and half-life




5-1
5
REACTOR OPERATION
Introduction

So far in this course, you've learned about atomic structure, the fission process, and
radioactivity. In this lesson, you'll learn how it all works together in the reactor to create
and control nuclear energy.
At the end of this lesson, you will be able to:
Describe how temperature, pressure, voids, fuel constituents, control rods, boron
concentration, and fission product poisons affect the fission process
Describe how reactor operation affects temperature, pressure, voids, fuel
enrichment (burn-up or depletion), boron concentration, and fission product
poisions
Describe how criticality and/or reactivity affect startup, power operations, and
shutdown
Describe how changes in various balance of plant parameters affect reactor
operations in a PWR and a BWR
Define decay heat and describe its affect on plant operations
Describe the significance of loss of coolant accidents (LOCA) in all plant
conditions





Reactivity Feedback Mechanisms

The control of reactivity is an important function in reactor operations. Physical
mechanisms, inherent to the design, that are affected by and in turn affect reactivity are
called reactivity feedback mechanisms. Feedback can be positive or negative: positive
feedback increases reactivity and negative feedback decreases reactivity. The following
mechanisms affect reactivity in reactor operation.
Click each mechanism below to learn how it affects reactivity.


Temperature feedback:
Temperature feedback results from temperature changes in the water (moderator) and
the fuel. Temperature affects both the density of the moderator and the neutron
absorption cross sections of the fuel, either of which can impact reactivity.

Pressure feedback and void feedback:
Pressure feedback and void feedback, of primary concern in BWRs, is due to the
change in moderator density as a result of changes in the number of steam bubbles (or
voids) in the coolant during power operation.

Fuel enrichment:
Fuel enrichment is affected by U depletion and Pu production, which alters the number
of fissile atoms in the fuel. U-235, initially loaded in the reactor fuel at the beginning of
the cycle, is depleted by neutron absorption, resulting in removal of positive reactivity.
Pu-239 is produced from neutron absorption in U-238 and increases positive reactivity.

Control rods:
Control rods contain materials that absorb neutrons. Inserting more control rods into the
core is an addition of negative reactivity, while withdrawal of control rods from the core
provides a removal of negative activity.

Burnable poison rods:
Burnable poison rods also capture neutrons that would otherwise be absorbed in the
fuel. They are placed in the reactor at the beginning of core life to compensate for the
excess fuel necessary for the reactor to remain critical over the irradiation cycle. The
material used to absorb the neutrons is gradually depleted (burned), resulting in a
negative reactivity removal.


5-3
Boron:
Boron, in the form of boric acid, is used as a soluble poison in PWRs. The high positive
reactivity of fresh fuel early in core life is offset by the negative reactivity of high
concentrations of boric acid. As the fuel depletes over core life, the plant operators
reduce the boron concentration.

Fission product poisons:
Fission product poisons capture neutrons that would otherwise be absorbed in the fuel,
and therefore lower the multiplication factor. The production of fission product poisons is
then a source of negative reactivity. Of primary concern are Xe-135 and Sm-149 due to
their high neutron absorption cross sections.



Moderator Temperature Feedback

In LWRs, the moderator (water) and coolant are the same. Moderator temperature
changes generally cause changes in reactor power. An increase in reactor power
generally results in an increase in the moderator (coolant) temperature, which
decreases the moderator density. In an under-moderated condition, the further
reduction in moderator density decreases its effectiveness in neutron moderation,
resulting in decreased reactivity (a negative effect). LWRs are designed to be under-
moderated such that the moderator temperature feedback is negative.
Some PWRs experience an over-moderated condition early in core life due to the high
boron concentration in the core. In an over-moderated system, a reduction in moderator
density from increased coolant temperature reduces the number of boron atoms that act
as absorbers, which increases reactivity (a positive effect). Thus, a temperature
increase will continue to add positive reactivity, which increases temperature even
more. This undesirable effect can be overcome by other feedback mechanisms, such as
fuel temperature feedback.

Reactivity increases with moderator density until neutrons become thermal. After that, reactivity
decreases with moderator density because neutron absorption increases.



5-5

Temperature, Pressure, and Void Feedback

Fuel Temperature Feedback
Increasing the fuel temperature in an LWR increases resonance radiative capture in U-
238, which constitutes over 96% of the uranium fuel, thereby decreasing reactivity. A
decrease in fuel temperature has the opposite effect, resulting in an increase in
reactivity. Opposing this effect is the possibility that the fuel temperature increase may
also increase absorption in resonances in the fission cross section of the fuel. However,
this effect is relatively small compared to resonance capture in U-238.
Pressure and Void Feedback
The effect of the presence of steam bubbles, or voids, in BWRs is similar to the
moderator temperature effect in that the moderator density is reduced. In a BWR,
increasing pressure decreases the presence of voids. Conversely, decreasing pressure
increases the presence of voids. In under-moderated systems, the presence of voids
effectively removes moderation of neutrons and lowers the reactivity. In an over-
moderated system, just the opposite is true. The presence of voids removes excess
moderator, lowering absorption and increasing reactivity.




U Depeletion and Pu Production

Positive reactivity is supplied by the U-235 that is blended into the U-238 in the fuel
rods. The term "burn-up" is used to represent the consumption of the uranium and is
quoted as MWd/Tonne U (megawatt days/metric ton of uranium). As the operating cycle
progresses, the
U-235 that is initially loaded in the core gets depleted by fission. In a reactor that is
operating at steady power output, a good approximation is that the U-235 concentration,
hence reactivity, decreases linearly with burn-up, a reduction in positive reactivity over
the life of the core.
As the reactor operates at power, Plutonium (Pu) isotopes are produced from neutron
absorption in the U-238 contained within the fuel rods. This increases the reactivity of
the core because some of the fissile Pu isotopes (Pu-239 and Pu-241) undergo fission
and produce energy. By the end of an irradiation cycle, about 40% of the reactor power
is estimated to be due to the fission of these Pu isotopes. The Pu isotopes build up to
equilibrium values with irradiation. The net contribution to reactivity from Pu production
is positive, but is not large enough to offset the positive reactivity decrease caused by
U-235 depletion. Overall, over the fuel cycle, the positive reactivity of the core
decreases.
Click the Play button in the graphic at right to view U depletion.







5-7

Fission Product Poisons

Fission products capture neutrons and lower reactivity. Many of these isotopes have
fairly low absorption cross sections; however, two isotopes that occur near the second
peak of the fission yield curve, Xe-135 and Sm-149, have very high absorption cross
sections. Their accumulation in the fuel rods can cause major changes in reactivity. To
fully understand their effects, let's look at their production and decay modes and how
their concentration might vary with time in a reactor:
Xe-135 is produced in two ways: directly as a fission product, and also by the decay of
I-135 (half-life = 6 h), which is produced by fission. Xe-135 has an incredibly high
thermal neutron absorption cross section, which is the reason for its nuisance factor. It
decays with a half-life of 9.1 h to Cs-135, which is practically stable. In a reactor
operating at a steady power level, the Xe concentration is held at an equilibrium value
by its destruction through radioactive decay, and through neutron absorption and
conversion to Xe-136, which has a much smaller absorption cross section. If reactor
power is decreased or the reactor shuts down, I-135 continues to decay to Xe-135, but
Xe-135 destruction by neutron absorption stops. Since I-135 has a shorter half-life than
Xe-135, this results in an initial increase in the Xe level and an accompanying addition
of negative reactivity. After the relatively short-lived I-135 has decayed away, the
production of Xe-135 stops, and the Xe-135 concentration decreases exponentially by
radioactive decay. Xe can cause operational problems because of the large reactivity
swings it can cause over relatively short periods of time. Click here to see an animation
of Xe buildup after reactor shutdown.
Sm-149 is the decay product of Pm-149, a daughter of the fission product Nd-149. The
half-lives of Nd and Pm are 2 h and 54 h respectively. Sm-149 is a stable isotope and is
destroyed only by neutron absorption. Its thermal neutron cross section is also very high
and thus, its build-up in a reactor adds significant negative reactivity. Since Sm is
stable, it simply accumulates to some maximum value following power reduction or
reactor shutdown. When the reactor is restarted and increases in power, the built-up Sm
is destroyed by neutron absorption. Click here to see an animation of Sm buildup after
reactor shutdown.





Reactivity Control in a PWR

Positive reactivity largely comes from the fuel or from the removal of negative reactivity
through inherent or operator-initiated processes meant to offset the depletion of the
positive reactivity in the fuel. Reactivity in a PWR is controlled in three ways.
Click the graphic at left to view a larger image of a PWR control assembly, then click each method of reactivity control below to
learn more.



Control rods:
Most control rods are made of an alloy of 80% silver, 15% indium, and 5% cadmium,
provide quick power control. The control rods consist of rodlets (individual rods)
connected to a spider, which form a single control rod assembly. Each assembly is
moved by a separate control rod drive mechanism that drives each control rod
assembly into the top of the core. About one-third of the fuel assemblies in the core will
contain a control rod assembly.

Burnable poison rods:
Some fuel assemblies may also have burnable poison rods, usually made of gadolinia
(Gd2O3) that are placed in unrodded fuel pin tubes. The gadolinia absorbs neutrons,
thus compensating for the high positive reactivity of the core in the fuel cycle. That
absorption of neutrons burns out the gadolinia, thereby reducing the negative reactivity
during the cycle.

Boric acid:
Soluble boric acid serves as a chemical shim (changing boron concentration) in the
primary coolant to provide longer-term control. Increasing the boron concentration via
boration or decreasing the boron concentration via dilution provides somewhat uniform
control of reactivity, both vertically and radially, in the core.

5-9


Reactivity Control in a BWR

Reactivity in a BWR is also controlled in three ways.
Click the graphic at left to view a larger image of a BWR control assembly, then click each method of reactivity control below to
learn more.



Control rods:
Control rods, which enter the BWR core from the bottom, are used for large changes of
power and to compensate for fuel depletion. The control rods are made of B4C (boron)
powder packed inside thin rods. The rods are canned into a cruciform (cross-shaped)
configuration. Each single cruciform control blade is associated with four neighboring
fuel assemblies. They are operated using hydraulic controls and a locking piston
arrangement that prevents accidental removal.

Burnable poison rods:
Some fuel assemblies may also have burnable poison rods, usually made of gadolinia
(Gd2O3) that are placed in unrodded fuel pin tubes. The gadolinia absorbs neutrons,
thus compensating for the high positive reactivity of the core in the fuel cycle. The
absorption of neutrons burns out the gadolinia, thereby reducing the negative reactivity
during the cycle.

Recirculation flow:
This method provides up to 25% power changes. Increasing the flow will decrease the
number of steam bubbles within the core (void fraction), which will increase reactivity via
increased moderation, thereby increasing power. Decreasing the recirculation flow will
increase the number of steam bubbles in the core, displacing the water that was used
for neutron moderation. The decreased moderation will decrease the positive reactivity,
causing the power to decrease.



Reactivity Coefficients

Short term changes in reactivity, such as those due to temperature, are often quantified
in terms of feedback reactivity coefficients. The reactivity coefficient is the change of
reactivity per unit change in the parameter that alters the reactivity. Common reactivity
coefficients allow quantification of the reactivity effects attributable to moderator
temperature, fuel temperature, voids, and pressure. For example, a fuel temperature
coefficient (
T
) is defined as:

where is the change in reactivity and T is a unit change in the fuel temperature.
If a reactor had a positive fuel temperature coefficient, an increase in fuel
temperature would result in an increase in reactivity, and an associated increase
in power. The power increase would then cause a further increase in fuel
temperature, and so on. A positive fuel temperature coefficient would be
detrimental to reactor operations.
Conversely, if a reactor has a negative fuel temperature coefficient, then an
increase in fuel temperature would result in a reduction in reactivity, and a
corresponding reduction in reactor power. The reduction in power would lower
the fuel temperature, which would increase the reactivity and bring the reactor
back to a constant power level.

5-11


Reactor Startup

At the beginning of the startup, the control rods are fully inserted in the core, providing a
large amount of negative reactivity to overcome the large amount of positive reactivity
contained in the fuel. As the rods are withdrawn, the number of neutrons available to
cause fission increases, which increases the number of fissions. The control rods are
withdrawn incrementally until the positive reactivity in the core overcomes the remaining
negative reactivity of the control rods. Removal of the control rods continues until the
startup rate desired by the plant operators is achieved.
In this condition, the reactor is slightly super-critical, and will remain super-critical until
the fuel temperature and moderator temperature begin to increase. As described earlier,
those temperature increases will insert negative reactivity, which will offset the reactivity
increase caused by the withdrawal of control rods, and will ultimately return the startup
rate to zero. The reactor will then be critical at a much higher rate of flux than was
present prior to rod withdrawal.







Achieving 100% Power


To achieve 100% power from startup condition in a PWR, the boron concentration in the reactor coolant
system is reduced, which reduces the negative reactivity in the core, allowing the neutron flux, or power
to increase. This increase will continue until the negative reactivity feedback increase from the moderator
temperature and fuel temperature overcomes the reduction in boron concentration. The operators and
reactor engineers are able to calculate the combined effects of the boron, moderator temperature, and
fuel temperature to determine the power level at which the reactor will be controlled.


To achieve 100% power from a startup condition in a BWR, the control rods are
withdrawn from the core, allowing the positive reactivity of the core to increase the
neutron flux. At about 70% reactor power, variable speed recirculation pumps are used
to increase the flow of water through the core. This increased flow replaces the steam
voids in the core with water, which increases the moderation of the neutrons, adding
positive reactivity to reach 100% power.

5-13


Reactor Power Plant Operation
A reactor is critical when its reactivity is zero. If the change in a system parameter
results in the addition of reactivity (positive or negative) then a corresponding change
must occur in some other parameter to compensate for this reactivity insertion.
The effects on reactor operations caused by changes in the balance of plant parameters
can be viewed from the perspective of the changes in moderator temperature and
pressure. For example, a turbine load increase will increase the amount of thermal
energy removed from the reactor coolant system, causing the reactor coolant
temperature to decrease. With a negative moderator temperature coefficient, the drop in
coolant temperature will insert positive reactivity. The positive reactivity insertion from
the moderator temperature coefficient will cause the reactor power to increase, which
will increase the fuel temperature. With a negative fuel temperature coefficient, this fuel
temperature increase will insert an amount of negative reactivity that balances with the
positive reactivity added by the moderator temperature. The reactor will continue
operation with a reduced coolant temperature at an increased power.
In both a PWR and a BWR, this scenario can be created by increased removal of
thermal energy via any of the following processes:
Feedwater termperature decrease
Feedwater flow increase
Steam flow increase




Void Fraction

Unlike in a PWR, the boiling water in the core of a BWR produces steam voids that
affect reactivity. The effects on reactor operation caused by changes in balance of plant
parameters can then be viewed from the perspective of the changes in the fraction of
voids in the core. In a BWR, a decrease in the void fraction results in increased
moderation of the neutrons because more water occupies the space between the fuel
rods. An increase in neutron moderation causes an increase in flux due to an increase
in power/reactivity.
Any of the following plant parameter changes will cause a decrease in the void fraction,
thereby increasing power:
Feedwater temperature decrease
Feedwater flow increase
Steam temperature decrease
Steam pressure increase
Steam flow decrease



5-15

Reactor Shutdown

To shutdown a PWR from a 100% power condition, the operators increase the boron
concentration of the reactor coolant system. This addition of negative reactivity causes
the reactor power to start decreasing. As the power decreases, the fuel temperature
and moderator temperature also decrease, providing a feedback of positive reactivity.
The amount of boron added to the coolant can be varied by the operators to reduce
power to a pre-determined level or to completely shut down the reactor. Again, the
combined effects of the boron, moderator temperature, and fuel temperature must be
calculated to determine the power level at which the reactor will be controlled.
The build-up of Xe-135 during the power reduction must also be considered. As the
power decreases, less Xe-135 is burned-up by the reduced neutron flux, but the I-135
continues to decay to Xe-135 at a rate commensurate with production at 100% power.
In short, Xe-135 starts to add negative reactivity to the core while power is being
reduced. The plant operators will have to compensate for this negative reactivity
addition by reducing the boron concentration or withdrawing control rods if the power
decrease is to be stopped before the reactor reaches zero power.
To shutdown a BWR from 100% power, control rods are inserted to increase the
addition of negative reactivity to decrease the neutron flux to zero power. The core
recirculation flow can also be reduced, which promotes the generation of steam in the
core. The increased voiding displaces the water that was moderating the neutrons.
Reducing the moderation results in a reduced number of thermal neutrons for fissions,
so reactor power decreases.





Decay Heat

As you learned in the Radioactivity lesson, one unique feature of nuclear power is that
after the reactor is shut down and the fission chain reaction has stopped, the fuel
continues to generate some heat because of the decay of fission products. The amount
of decay heat decreases with time since it originates from radioactive decay processes.
Still, over the first several days following a reactor shutdown, adequate cooling must be
available to remove the decay heat to reduce the potential for core damage. Reactor
designs have specially engineered safeguards to provide such cooling.
Since much of this early decay heat will be from short-lived fission products, the heat
production rate decreases sharply in the first few hours. For example, about 16 MWt is
generated after one day of reactor shutdown, and it drops more slowly to about 9 MWt
after the first five days. Without cooling, such thermal power is sufficient to boil the core
dry and melt the fuel. Click here to view the graph from the Radioactivity lesson that
illustrates the decay heat generation rate as a function of time.
Decay heat generation impacts spent fuel handling and storage, waste management,
and reactor safety at a nuclear plant. The production of decay heat long after the reactor
has been shutdown requires cooling systems to provide cooling water flow to the core
during accident conditions as well as during normal shutdown conditions. Nuclear power
plants use decay heat removal systems to reject that decay heat from the core.
Click the graphic below for operating experience related to decay heat.


At Three Mile Island Unit 2 in 1979, a loss of forced cooling water flow through the core allowed the core
temperature to increase even though the reactor had been shut down for several hours. The thermal
energy generated from radioactive decay increased the temperature in the core to a value that allowed
the fuel cladding to burn and the fuel to melt. That reactor has not been re-started.

5-17

Loss of Coolant Accidents

Loss of coolant accidents (LOCA) can also occur with severity during routine shutdown
conditions. The risk for a LOCA while shutdown is greatest when the reactor coolant
system inventory has been reduced during a refueling outage, which reduces the
volume of water available to remove decay heat. A loss of forced cooling flow through
the core in a reduced inventory condition can result in rapid temperature increase of the
coolant and subsequent degradation of the fuel.
To reduce the risk associated with loss of coolant during reduced inventory conditions,
the nuclear power plants ensure a sufficient number of pumps with redundant power
supplies are available to provide core cooling water flow. In addition, some activities are
prohibited until after the core has been shutdown for a time period that allows the decay
heat generation to be reduced to an acceptable level.



Spent Fuel

Fuel assemblies that are discharged from reactors during refueling are called spent fuel.
During the course of the irradiation, much of the U-235 is depleted by fission and
transmutation to U-236. A small fraction of the U-238 changes to plutonium isotopes.
Even smaller amounts of other transuranic isotopes, such as Np, Am, and Cm, are also
produced by neutron transmutation. Among the Pu isotopes that are produced, Pu-239
and Pu-241 are fissile and contribute to energy production.
The generation of decay heat continues long after the fuel assemblies have been
removed from the core, so the spent fuel assemblies are stored in spent fuel pools
immersed in water to remove the decay heat. The water in the spent fuel pools is
circulated through coolers to remove the decay heat. After allowing several years for the
decay of the radioactive isotopes in the spent fuel, the spent fuel assemblies can be
removed from the pools and stored in dry casks.

Fuel pellets that developed cracks during irradiation



5-19


Review Question 11

How does U-235 depletion affect core reactivity?

A. It decreases linearly with burn-up as a result of U-235 buildup
B. It is not affected by U-235 depletion
C. It increases linearly with burn-up as a result of U-235 depletion
D. It decreases due to U-235 depletion and increases due to Pu production

The correct answer is D.
Core reactivity decreases due to U-235 depletion and increases due to Pu production.





Review Question 12

Match the type of reactor in Column 2 with the reactivity control method in Column 1.

Control rods A. PWRs only

Burnable poison rods B. BWRs only

Recirculation flow C. Both PWRs and BWRs

Soluble boric acid

The correct matching sequence is CCBA.

5-21


Review Question 13

Why are changes in the isotopic composition of fuel with burn-up a concern?
A. Because Pu production contributes to nuclear energy generation
B. Because composition changes can alter the neutron economy in the reactor and
consequently affect its operation
C. Because of the large amount of radioactivity emitted and its implications in handling
and disposal of the spent fuel
D. Because of the potential of accidental release of radioactive material from spent fuel

All of these are reasons why changes in the isotopic composition of fuel with burn-up
are a concern.




Conclusion

Great work! You've completed the Reactor Operation lesson and have learned how the
fission process is used to create energy in a nuclear power plant.
Now that you've completed this lesson, you can:
Describe how temperature, pressure, voids, fuel constituents, control rods, boron
concentration, and fission product poisons affect the fission process
Describe how reactor operation affects temperature, pressure, voids, fuel
enrichment (burn-up or depletion), boron concentration, and fission product
poisions
Describe how criticality and/or reactivity affect startup, power operations, and
shutdown
Describe how changes in various balance of plant parameters affect reactor
operations in a PWR and a BWR
Define decay heat and describe its affect on plant operations
Describe the significance of loss of coolant accidents (LOCA) in all plant
conditions


6-1
6
NUCLEAR SAFETY
Introduction

Because the possibility for nuclear power plant accidents exists, every measure is taken
in the design and operation of nuclear plants in the U.S. to prevent accidents and to
assure safety. In this lesson, you will learn about causes of nuclear power plant
accidents and the measures taken to prevent them.
At the end of this lesson, you will be able to:
Identify the types of reactivity control accidents
List the causes of fuel failures
Describe the consequences of fuel failures
Describe three methods used to ensure nuclear safety



Nuclear Safety

Two significant accidents have occurred in commercial nuclear power plants.
Click each power plant location below to learn about the accident and why it occurred


Chernobyl:
In 1986, the Chernobyl nuclear power plant in the Ukraine experienced a steam
explosion (not a nuclear explosion), which destroyed the reactor, killed 31 people, and
caused significant health and environmental consequences. The accident was the result
of major design weaknesses in the reactor, as well as human error. This type of reactor
is an older design. The accident would not have happened in a U.S. licensed reactor
because it would not have met design requirements.

Three Mile Island:
In 1979, at the Three Mile Island (TMI) nuclear power plant in Pennsylvania, a cooling
malfunction caused the majority of the core to melt in an LWR reactor. The reactor was
severely damaged, but radiation was contained within the containment as designed,
and there were no adverse health or environmental consequences. The accident was
attributed to a mechanical failure and a series of compounded human errors. In
addition, poor valve indication design was a factor.

Every measure is taken in the design and operation of nuclear plants in the U.S. to
prevent accidents and to assure safety. The underlying philosophy is to demand very
high standards in the design, operation, maintenance, construction, testing, and
reliability of systems and components, to employ redundant safety systems, and to
emphasize conservative decision-making and sound risk assessment and management.



6-3


Defense-in-Depth

Defense-in-depth is a design and regulatory philosophy that protects the health and
safety of the public from the uncontrolled release of radioactivity. Defense-in-depth is a
hierarchical set of different, independent levels of protection, as shown in the graphic
below. This strategy worked at Three Mile Island. At Chernobyl, however, this strategy
did not work because there was a weak reactor confinement system, no containment
structure, and an unstable reactor design.





Safety Features

In addition to defense-in-depth, there are various features in nuclear power plants that
promote safety.
Click each feature below to learn more.

High standards for human performance and corrective action:
The first line of defense against accidents is the actual workforce at a nuclear plant. The
workforce must have a diligent attention to reducing human errors, and must promptly
write up and address equipment and process issues in a corrective action program.
Simply put, one should never rely on the built-in barriers as the first line of defense, but
the people and leadership of the plant.

Inherent safety features:
Inherent safety features incorporated into the design of nuclear reactors result from
basic physics and properties of matter and do not require operation of any piece of
equipment. An example is the negative fuel temperature coefficient.

Active and passive safety systems:
An example of an active system is Emergency Core Cooling Systems that supply
water for cooling the reactor and remove decay heat.
An example of a passive system is the gravity-driven fall of a control rod in a
PWR.

Redundant and diverse systems:
A redundant system has identical back-up components that perform the same
safety task.
Diverse types of systems can act independently to provide similar service.

6-5

Reactivity Accidents

Any change that will increase the number of neutrons is called a positive reactivity
addition. Any change that will decrease the number of neutrons is called a negative
reactivity addition. Reactivity control accidents are positive reactivity additions that
typically result in rapid power increases and potentially damaging fuel temperatures.
The Chernobyl accident, as shown in the graphic at right, started as a reactivity control
accident.
A reactivity control accident in an LWR is highly improbable due to negative reactivity
feedbacks, shutdown mechanisms, and strict regulatory and operational procedures. In
the normal operation of a reactor, prompt criticality is avoided by the contribution of
delayed neutrons. Control rods are not absolutely fail-safe; control rod release
mechanisms can fail or the motion can be blocked. In such cases, redundancy is always
provided to greatly reduce the risk of such events. In addition, it is a fundamental tenet
of design of a core that with the most reactive rod stuck out, the reactor will still achieve
subcriticality on any trip (scram for a BWR.)






Other Types of Accidents

Other types of reactivity control accidents that are considered in design analysis include
the following.
Click each type of accident to learn more

Rod ejection accident:
A control rod is accidentally ejected from the operating reactor by a failure of the rod
housing, which could be caused, for example, by boric acid induced corrosion.
Redundancy in the reactor trip system is the method of mitigation and thorough vessel
head inspections are the means of prevention.

Cold water injection accident:
Negative moderator temperature feedback assures a lowering of reactivity as the
moderator heats up. However, injection of a slug of cold water into the core will increase
the reactivity, as in the inadvertent startup of one of the loops in a PWR that was idle for
an extended period.

Core reload error:
Placement of partially burnt and new fuel assemblies in the core during refueling must
exactly follow the core design. Human errors in either loading or in new assembly
fabrication have resulted in reactivity problems following refueling, and can also result in
fuel defects occurring due to high local power peaks.

Boron dilution in PWR:
Water with low boron concentration injected into the primary loop or during refueling
operations when water is added in large quantities to the refueling pools has occurred
because of human error.

6-7

Fuel Failures

Failure of fuel rod cladding integrity is a common scenario for release of radioactive
fission products into the primary water. The common causes are listed below.
Click each cause to learn more


Debris-induced clad failure
Over the life of a plant, small pieces of hardware may break off or be left in piping during
maintenance operations. They may be carried through the primary flow loop and
become trapped and vibrate against the cladding, causing it to fret and open a crack.
This occurrence is commonly known as a failure of the FME (foreign materials
exclusion) practices.

Manufacturing defects and design limitations
Defects in fuel manufacture (such as end cap weld contamination causing weld
corrosion) can result in failure of the cladding.

Power-induced failures
Localized increase of power in a portion of the fuel rod may be caused by various
human errors in power ramp-ups or control rod alignments.

Chemistry-induced failures
Cracking or oxide loading of cladding can result from improper water chemistry controls
or monitoring. Additionally, poor handling of materials during maintenance outages can
introduce harmful chemicals into the NSSS.

Radioactive materials in gaseous and/or solid form escape the fuel cladding and enter
the primary water, increasing the probability and magnitude of radioactivity releases to
the containment and personnel who may be working there. Fuel failures contribute to
increased personnel exposures, radioactive waste, and maintenance outage time, as
well as decreased productivity. They also add cost because finding failed fuel during a
refueling is a very time-consuming task requiring special equipment and perhaps even
extra vendor expertise. This is necessary, so the assembly is not reloaded into the core.
The chances of a "hot particle" exposure are also elevated when fuel defects occur.




The Human Factor

Most accidents are the result of human error. In a study done several years ago and
published in Nuclear News, the bulk of the most significant events studied by the NRC
showed that about 70 percent were primarily due to latent engineering error. Key
players in the industry say the following about nuclear safety:
Dr. James Rhodes, past Institute of Nuclear Power Operations (INPO) chairman,
president, and CEO, said that nuclear safety is always the top priority and that
the sharing of safety information between nuclear facilities is vital to the success
of the industry.
Chris Poindexter, Chairman and CEO, Constellation Energy Group, said that
companies with the highest safety standards are the most competitive.
INPO describes the safety culture in their criteria for power station performance
as: Individuals at all levels of the organization consider nuclear plant safety as
the overriding priority. Their decisions and actions are based on this priority, and
they follow up to verify that nuclear safety concerns receive appropriate attention.
The work environment, the attitudes and behaviors of individuals, and the
policies and procedures foster such a safety culture.
How best to predict and prevent human error is the greatest challenge in today's nuclear
power stations. Individual accountability in your role as an engineer is an integral part of
nuclear safety and no less important than other aspects of nuclear safety.



6-9

Review Question 14

What is the first line of defense against nuclear power plant accidents?

A. Defense-in-depth
B. Standards for human performance and corrective action
C. Active safety systems
D. Redundant systems


The correct answer is B. The first line of defense against nuclear power plant accidents
is always the high standard for performance and corrective action of the plant's workers.



Review Question 15

In which type of accident does radioactive material in gaseous and/or solid form escape
the fuel cladding and enter the primary water?

A. Fuel failure
B. Reactivity accident
C. Rod ejection accident
D. Core reload error

The correct answer is A. A fuel failure results in radioactive material in gaseous and/or
solid form escaping the fuel cladding and entering the primary water.

6-11


Conclusion

You have completed the Nuclear Safety lesson, and have learned about the types of
accidents that can occur in nuclear power plants, and the measures you can take to
avoid them.
Now that you've completed this lesson, you can:
Identify the types of reactivity control accidents
List the causes of fuel failures
Describe the consequences of fuel failures
Describe three methods used to ensure nuclear safety



Electric Power Research Institute
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