Cooperation deal to develop advanced reactor

27 August 2014

South Korean designers have secured help from Argonne National Laboratory to develop an advanced reactor, which is partly based on America's successful EBR-II prototype. A 150 MWe sodium-cooled demonstration unit is slated for 2028.

PGSFR (KAERI) 230x250
PGSFR's reactor system. It is a pool-type reactor where a small core as well as the pumps and heat exchangers of the primary circuit are immersed in a pool of sodium coolant. A secondary circuit develops steam and drives a turbine-generator set (Image: KAERI)

A memorandum of understanding was signed on 25 August by Argonne director Peter Littlewood and Jong Kyung Kim, head of the Korea Atomic Energy Research Institute (KAERI). It covered "a broad field of technical cooperation on nuclear science and technology", said Argonne, with the centrepiece being a $6.78 million deal for Argonne to take part in development of the Prototype Generation-IV Sodium-cooled Fast Reactor (PGSFR).

Argonne will support KAERI in developing the PGSFR reactor system, while Kepco E&C will work on the balance of plant. The goal is to secure licensing approval from South Korea's Nuclear Safety and Security Commission by the end of 2020 as a major milestone in a schedule that would see the unit operate from 2028. No site has been specified yet.

The prototype would produce 150 MWe for the grid, but its main purpose is to demonstrate its fuel: PGSFR is to use metal fuel pins composed of low-enriched uranium and zirconium, and it can be subsequently reloaded with fuel that also contains transuranic elements produced in other reactors during power generation and which are usually treated as waste. According to an International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) datasheet, the objective of the PGSFR project is to test the performance of this fuel, and show PGSFR's ability to transmute the transuranics.

Transmutation means changing an element with a long radioactive half-life into one with a shorter half-life. By doing this, reactors like PGSFR have potential to reduce the burden of managing nuclear fuel used by other reactors and simplify waste disposal - all while generating electricity.

Argonne said, "the metal fuel technology base was developed at Argonne in the 1980s and 1990s; its inherent safety potential was demonstrated in the landmark tests conducted on the Experimental Breeder Reactor-II (EBR-II) in April 1986. They demonstrated the safe shutdown and cooling of the reactor without operator action following a simulated loss-of-cooling accident." Both the Three Mile Island and Fukushima accidents saw reactor core damage after loss of cooling.

The IAEA said PGSFR has a passive reactor shutdown system in addition to "a combination of passive and active decay heat removal systems" which give it "sufficient capacity to remove decay heat in all design basis events without operator action."

Mark Peters of Argonne said, "PGSFR is the world's first fast reactor that exploits inherent safety characteristics to prevent severe accidents."

Researched and written
by World Nuclear News