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The development of the nuclear power industry has been nearly
stagnant in the past few decades . In fact there have been no new
nuclear power plant construction in the United States since the late
Nuclear technology's lack of popularity is not difficult to understand
since the fear of it has been promoted by the entertainment industry,
news media, and extremists. Also, the lack of understanding of nuclear
science. The accidents at Three Mile Island and their effects were
dangerous and, in the latter case, lethal.
The history of gas-cooled reactors began in November of 1943 with the
Ridge, Tennessee. Gas-cooled reactors use graphite as a moderator and a
circulation of gas as a coolant.
Development of the more advanced HTGRs began in the 1950s to
improve upon the performance of the GCRs.
HTGRs use helium as a gas coolant to increase operating temperatures.
Initial HTGRs were the Dragon reactor in the U.K., developed in 1959. D.r
Rudolf Schulten considered "father" of the pebble bed concept .
The Pebble Bed Modular Reactor is being developed for commercial use,
Approval for the design will need to be granted by the South African
government, which may happen late-2002. Almost in parallel in January of
1998, and without prior knowledge of the PBMR effort in South Africa, a
group of MIT students began their ambitious effort of developing a
conceptual design of a reactor, that is now known as the Modular Pebble
Bed Reactor. The MPBR design is very similar to the PBMR and will
theoretically generate 110 MWe or 250 MWt.
The most unique feature of the PBMR are the 370,000 fuel pebbles or
spheres that produce the nuclear reaction. An illustration of the fuel
spheres is given in Figure .
The spheres are the triple coated type.
Each sphere has 60-mm diameter(billiard ball size).
Sphere is coated with a 5-mm thick graphite layer.
The graphite can withstand temperatures of 2,800 degrees Celsius which
is much higher than the maximum 1,600 degrees Celsius that the
reaction can produce.
Within this graphite layer are approximately
15,000 coated particles that are embedded in a graphite mix.
Figure : Pebble Bed TRISO Fuel Sphere Cross Section
The nuclear reaction takes place within the "reactor vessel" which is
a vertical steel pressure enclosure that is 6 meters in diameter and
20 meters high.
This lining is drilled with vertical holes for insertion of the control
rods. Illustrated by the red and blue pebbled granules, the inner
reactor core portion consists of two zones and is 3.7 meters in
diameter and 9.0 meters high. The blue, or inner zone, contains
approximately 185,000 graphite spheres and the red, outer
zone, contains approximately 370,000 fuel spheres. The graphite
spheres serve as a moderator for the nuclear reaction.
Figure: Pebble Bed Modular Reactor Cross Section
THE GENERATOR AND COMPRESSORS
As it illustrates, helium enters the reactor at 500 degrees Celsius and at a
pressure of about 8.4 MPa. It leaves the reactor at about 900 degrees
Celsius and drives the high pressure turbine. After the high pressure
turbine, the helium flows through the low pressure turbine . While still hot,
the helium leaves the low pressure turbine and drives the power turbine to
produce the electricity through the generator. The coolers increase the
efficiency. The helium has also been cooled back down to 500 degrees
Celsius and the cycle repeats itself as it travels back to the reactor. This
process is called the gas turbine Cycle. The advantage of this process is its
high efficiency of thermal energy transfer to electrical energy.
Figure : Pebble Bed Modular Reactor Schematic Diagram
THE PBMR FACTORY
The PBMR's size might seem more like a disadvantage. The figure illustrates
both above and below ground components of the factory. About half of the
factory will be above ground and the other half below. The dimensions of
the PBMR factory will be about 59 m long x 36 m wide x 57 m high. The main
support structures for the reactor are the helium inventory control systems
and the fuel handling and storage systems.
Figure : PBMR Reactor and Support Structures
Most pebble-bed reactors contain
1.Most reactor systems are enclosed in a containment building designed to
resist aircraft crashes and earthquakes.
2.The reactor itself is usually in a two-meter-thick-walled room with doors
that can be closed, and cooling plenums that can be filled from any water
3.The reactor vessel is usually sealed.
4.Each pebble, within the vessel, is a 60 millimetres hollow sphere of
China has licensed the German technology and is actively developing a
pebble bed reactor for power generation. The first 250-MW plant is
scheduled to begin construction in 2009 and commissioning in 2013. There
are firm plans for thirty such plants by 2020. If PBMRs are successful, there
may be a substantial number of reactors deployed. This may be the largest
planned nuclear power deployment in history.
No containment building
Fuel pebble risky
Large amount of waste
In conclusion, the concepts and ideas being developed through the MIT
pebble bed reactor effort await the next step which is a more detailed
conceptual design to allow for the demonstration of its economic
viability, particularly the modularity approach, which offers potentially
large advantages in terms of shorter construction times, lower costs of
power and more reliable power net output compared to ultra large