Nuclear Reactor Systems
This book incorporates the core knowledge of the lectures given in the framework of the “Atomic Engineering” specialization, as well as of the Nuclear Energy / Nuclear Reactor Physics and Engineering (M2), under the heading: Nuclear reactor systems: a technical, historical and dynamic perspective. Prerequisite knowledge is about neutronics, core and system thermal-hydraulics, fuel and fuel cycle, as well as about PWRs, which are considered as the reference system. This is the logic of the integration of the lectures in the curriculum, where a series of book  is dedicated to PWRs.
The conferences (and thus the present book) combine four approaches. (i) The descriptive one. The benefit is a better understanding of howreactors are designed by combining “genetic chunks” taken from a common “library”, just like living beings are. Compatibility constraints play a major role in the designer’s choice. This gives a first insight into the design issue. It also gives an overview of the main strengths and weaknesses of the different reactor systems, tightly related to the design choices. A series of examples show how recent choices are connected to events like those at Three Mile Island, Chernobyl and Fukushima, and how some problems can be fixed by incremental adaptation, while some generic solutions are proposed for future designs, with an increasing emphasis on the thorough implementation of defense in depth principles. Finally, one can get a fresh look on biodiversity, in the worldwide current fleet as well as in Generation-4 systems. The latter resemble the earlier ones but fulfil an extended set of specifications, thanks to a few but significant innovations in technology and design. There are well known pedagogical limits of the plain descriptive approach: it can lead to get lost in the maze of the details. To get the whole picture, the book provides also the following approaches, tightly intertwined and complementing each other. (ii) The axiomatic approach. Starting with a focus on a specific set of long term criteria concerning the fuel cycle sustainability, a conceptual solution is established, and then a family of reactor systems is selected for development and qualification. That is the way fast breeders were selected from the early days of nuclear engineering and are still dominating the Generation IV competition. When combined with the “market pull, technology push” paradigm which led to the supremacy of LWRs, this approach gives a binocular view, thus a perception of the depth of the landscape, even if the set of axioms has not to be trusted in blindly, as the past history has shown. (iii) A historical approach, from the 1940’s to nowadays, with an extrapolation to the near future. This approach, extensively developed in the Introduction, sheds light on the Heraclitean/Darwinian process which is at work on the “market”, as well as on innovations or efficient industrialization considered as game changers. This has been the case with the emergence of a competitive enrichment capability paving the way to the triumph of the LWR. The LWR dominance being firmly established, what is the next step? This is the purpose, for instance, of the Generation IV International Forum, launched in 2001, as well as of the INPRO programme at the IAEA. The driver is a set of specifications requested for the nuclear energy sustainability. A worldwide cooperative effort is needed to achieve a jump from the “business as usual” stimulation by the market to the higher level rules fixing the roadmap for the future. Actually, combining competition and cooperation is a big challenge. (iv) A dynamic approach. In the early 2000s, the prevailing image combined a “nuclear renaissance”, a quick implementation of rules – enabling the worldwide energy consumption increase to keep compatible with a strong limitation of the greenhouse gases (GHG) concentration – and a strong growth of the world economy. Undertaking a deep mutation of the energy paradigm thanks to a high and sustainable investment would clear the way for low carbon power production systems, including a high share of competitive base-load nuclear. The last decade main events and trends damped some hopes and dissipated some illusions.
In a few years, the financial then economic crisis has slowed down the global growth and made the capital less available for long term, moderate Return On Equity (ROE) ratio projects. The construction costs of nuclear plants soared in most occidental countries, when compared with those of fossil-fuel plants.
The Fukushima accident put temporarily a cap on nuclear growth. Moreover, Europe seems to overreact when compared to other regions, and the “new energetic paradigm” is often (up to now) oriented against nuclear despite the strong pro-nuclear commitment of many European countries and the fact that nuclear is the most “scalable” low carbon power source, competitive in base-load operation, and flexible enough to accommodate a large share of intermittent renewables in the power fleet. The risk assessment and perception are the core topics of a fierce debate. This series of events has fostered a dynamic approach involving, beyond the “market” viewpoint on the one hand and a long term, cooperative approach on the other hand, a deeper knowledge of actors and forces at work. This approach relies on strategic prospective studies, on “humanities”, as well as on the design process from a conceptual viewpoint. The design key point, at the moment, is the coolant issue. These topics are not addressed in depth in the present book. They provide a framework for future investigation and modeling.
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