Self-consistent nuclear energy systems

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  • Pergamon Progress in Nuclear Energy, Vol. 29 (Supplement), pp. 25-32, 1995

    1995 Elsevier Science Ltd Printed in Great Britain

    0149-1970/95 $29.00

    0149-1970(95)00023-2

    SELF-CONSISTENT NUCLEAR ENERGY SYSTEMS

    A. Shimizu and Y. Fujii-e

    Research Laboratory for Nuclear Reactors, Tokyo Institute of Technology, 2-12-10-okayama, Meguro-ku, Tokyo 152, Japan

    ABSTRACT

    A concept of self-consistent nuclear energy system (SCNES) has been proposed as an ultimate goal of the nuclear energy system in the coming centuries. SCNES should realize a stable and unlimited energy supply without endangering the human race and the global environment. It is defined as a system that reahzes at least the following four objectives simultaneously: a) Energy generation - attain high efficiency in the utilization of fission energy, b) Fuel production - secure inexhaustible energy source: breeding of fissile material with the breeding ratio greater than one and complete burning of transuranium through recycling, c) Burning of radionuclides - zero release of radionuclides from the system: complete burning of transuranium and elimination of radioactive fission products by neutron capture reactions through recycling, d) System safety - achieve system safety both for the public and experts: eliminate criticality-related safety issues by using natural laws and simple logic. This paper describes the concept o f SCNES and discusses the feasibility of the system. Both "neutron balance" and "energy balance" of the system are introduced as the necessary conditions to be satisfied at least by SCNES. Evaluations made so far indicate that both the neutron balance and the energy balance can be realized by fast reactors but not by thermal reactors. Concerning the system safety, two safety concepts: " self controllability" and "self-terminability" are introduced to eliminate the critieality-related safety issues in fast reactors.

    KEYWORDS

    self-consistent nuclear energy systems; zero release of radionuclides; burning of transuranium; elimination of radionuclides; fuel breeding; self-controllability; self-terminability; neutron balance.

    INTRODUCTION

    It is only about 50 years ago, when the fission reaction of uranium by neutrons was discovered and the controlled neutron chain reaction was first achieved. The energy generated by the fission reactions, that is called "nuclear energy", has an outstanding feature that the energy generated per reaction is quite large, as large as by the factor of one million, compared with conventional energy generated by chemical reactions, such as burning fossil fuel. At that time we had a dream that we found a new and unlimited source of energy.

    Peaceful use of nuclear energy has been developed for 50 years, and now it is making an important contribution to the world energy requirement, providing about 17% of its electricity. It is convinced in the nuclear community that the nuclear energy shall be one of the main energy sources in the coming centuries. The nuclear community, however, are challenged to examine the nuclear science and technology in relation to human values. We are challenged to examine not only the benefits of nuclear energy but also the risk to the human and the impact to the environment of nuclear energy. The ultimate goal of nuclear energy is to realize a stable and practically unlimited supply of energy without endangering the human and the environment.

    A self-consistent nuclear energy system (SCNES) has been proposed by Fujii-e et al. of Research

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  • 26 A. Shimizu and Y. Fujii-e

    Laboratory for Nuclear Reactors (Fujii-e et al., 1992a; Fujii-e, 1992b) as an ultimate goal of nuclear energy development. The present paper describes the definition and objectives, the concept, the feasibility, and the safety of SCNES. More details of the system will bepresented in this proceedings (Arie et al., 1995; Endo et al., 1995; Takagi et al., 1995; Akatsuka et al., 1995)

    DEFINITION AND OBJECTIVES

    In order to specify the ultimate goal of nuclear energy, four objectives are introduced as the fundamental conditions to be satisfied by the nuclear energy system. They are:

    a. Energy generation b. Fuel production c. Burning of radionuclides d. System safety

    The self-consistent nuclear energy system is defined as a system that realizes at least these four objectives simultaneously.

    a) Energy generation

    The energy generation is the most fundamental objective of a nuclear energy s~sNm. It is well known that a fission chain reaction generates high quality energy, about 200 MeV, per nSSlOn. The amount of fuel consumed to generate the energy of 1 MWd, that corresponds approximately to the amount of energy used per person per year in Japan, is 1 g of uranium in a nuclear energy system, whereas about 3 tons of coal must be burned to generate the same amount of energy. These amounts of fuel differ by the factor of one million. Quantitatively, the objective of the nuclear energy system concerning the energy generation is to attain high efficiency in the utihzation of fission energy.

    b) Fuel Production

    To secure stable and practically unlimited supply of nuclear energy, full utilization of nuclear energy embedded in natural uranium resources is inevitable. Is it possible to do so technically? The answer is definitely yes. We have already such technology in our hand. U238 can be changed to Pu239 by a capture reaction of neutron. Pu239 is fissile material like U235. The objective of the system concerning fuel production is expressed as "full utilization of nuclear energy embedded in natural uranium including U238 for peaceful use". The objective is expressed quantitatively in terms of breeding ratio. The breeding ratio is defined as the ratio of the amount of fissile produced in a reactor to that consumed. A projection of energy demand in future is assumed as follows. The energy demand will increase until some time in coming centuries. It is expected to reach an equilibrium. In a transition phase where the energy demand is increasing, the breeding ratio should be greater than unity. In an equilibrium phase, the breeding ratio should be equal to unity. At the equilibrium phase, the amount of fissile produced is identical to that consumed, that is, the self-sustaining condition is realized concerning fuel.

    c) Burning of Radionuclides

    It should be recognized that the production of energy is always accompanied by the transmutation of materials. That is to say, wastes are inevitably produced during energy generations. Concerning the amount of waste produced during the generation of energy of 1 Mwd, the fission of uranium produces fission products, the amount of which is only 1 g, and 1/3 of fission products are radioactive. On the other hand, the burning of coal produces carbon dioxide gas, ashes, SOx, and NOx. The amount of the wastes of a fossil energy system is as large as about 10 tons. It is larger than the amount of wastes of a nuclear energy system by the factor of 10 million. This is an outstanding feature of a nuclear energy system. The smaller amount of wastes makes it easier to treat them.

    Although they are very small amount, the radioactive fission products and transuranium isotopes generated in a reactor have a potential for the risk to the human and the impact to the environment. The third objective of SCNES, i.e., "burning of radionuclides", means "zero release of radionuclides" from the system, in order to make zero radiological burden to be left for the next generations. This objective can be achieved both by complete burning of transurahium and elimination of radioactive fission products by the neutron capture reactions in reactors through recycling.

  • Self-consistent nuclear energy systems 27

    d) System Safety

    The system should be safe enough to be accepted not only by the experts in nuclear community but also by the public. Unfortunately, it should be recognized at present that there exists a gap between the perception of nuclear safety by the experts and that by the public. To minimize this gap, the objective of the system concerning safety is concentrated to eliminate the criticality-related safety issues by using natural laws. The objective oI system safety includes also to realize "zero release of radionuclides" at accidents. Two concepts concerning safety are introduced. They are "self-controllability" and "self-terminability". These concepts will be explained later. The objectives of SCNES are summarized as follows.

    - The objective of energy generation is to achieve high efficiency. - The objective of fuel production is to secure unlimited energy source. Fuel breeding is required

    with a breeding ratio greater than unity at the transition phase and that equal to unity at the equilibrium phase. - The objective of burning of radionuclide means "zero release of radionuclide" from the system, that

    can be achieved by the complete burning of transuranium and radioactive fission products in reactors through recycling.

    - The objective of system safety is concentrated to eliminate the criticality-related safety issues by natural laws, introducing the safety concepts of "self-controllability" and "self-terminability".

    CONCEPT OF SCNES

    Figure 1 indicates the input to the system and the output from the system. The input to the system is only natural uranium. The output from the system incluaes useful energies mostly in the form of electricity, thermal wastes, and stable isotopes. The effects to the society by the system are all positive. They include the generation of energy which is the main objective of the system, the production of useful stable isotopes such as platinum metals. Environmental effect of SCNES consists of both positive and negative ones. The