Thursday, January 28, 2010

Argonne Liquid-Metal Advanced Burner Reactor

"Argonne Liquid-Metal Advanced Burner Reactor" is another in a series of Nuclear Green postings that will focus on the developmental status of IFR technology. A secondary function of these posting is to encourage nuclear literacy. I wish people who are not afraid to investigate technology to become more familiar with such documents and to read them and judge them for themselves. The path to enlightenment requires knowledge. A further purpose is to challenge misinformation about the IFR that is currently being spread. It has been widely stated that the IFR technology is more mature than LFTR technology, and that the IFR technology is currently available for commercial development. "Argonne Liquid-Metal Advanced Burner Reactor" demonstrates that Argonne considers IFR technology to be in a prototype stage. Second some IFR advocates have argued that IFR reactors will as soon as a prototype is built, have the capacity to breed significant amounts of fuel. In fact Argonne prototype proposals suggest prototypes which are plutonium burners, not breeders, although the core of he ABTR could be modified to breed with a low positive breeding ratio. Thirdly i would like to call attention to the function of the Argonne Liquid-Metal Advanced Burner Reactor, which is to serve as a research tool for iFR" development. The reader is advised to focus of the questions which the LMABR is expected to answer, before a commercial IFR prototype can be built. I have included both the Abstract and the Introduction to this document in this post, together with a link to the full text.

Argonne Liquid-Metal Advanced Burner Reactor : components and in-vessel system thermal-hydraulic research and testing experience - pathway forward.
Authors: Kasza, K. Grandy, C. Chang, Y. Khalil, H. Argonne National Laboratory Nuclear Engineering Division

Abstract: This white paper provides an overview and status report of the thermal-hydraulic nuclear research and development, both experimental and computational, conducted predominantly at Argonne National Laboratory. Argonne from the early 1970s through the early 1990s was the Department of Energy's (DOE's) lead lab for thermal-hydraulic development of Liquid Metal Reactors (LMRs). During the 1970s and into the mid-1980s, Argonne conducted thermal-hydraulic studies and experiments on individual reactor components supporting the Experimental Breeder Reactor-II (EBR-II), Fast Flux Test Facility (FFTF), and the Clinch River Breeder Reactor (CRBR). From the mid-1980s and into the early 1990s, Argonne conducted studies on phenomena related to forced- and natural-convection thermal buoyancy in complete in-vessel models of the General Electric (GE) Prototype Reactor Inherently Safe Module (PRISM) and Rockwell International (RI) Sodium Advanced Fast Reactor (SAFR). These two reactor initiatives involved Argonne working closely with U.S. industry and DOE. This paper describes the very important impact of thermal hydraulics dominated by thermal buoyancy forces on reactor global operation and on the behavior/performance of individual components during postulated off-normal accident events with low flow. Utilizing Argonne's LMR expertise and design knowledge is vital to the further development of safe, reliable, and high-performance LMRs. Argonne believes there remains an important need for continued research and development on thermal-hydraulic design in support of DOE's and the international community's renewed thrust for developing and demonstrating the Global Nuclear Energy Partnership (GNEP) reactor(s) and the associated Argonne Liquid Metal-Advanced Burner Reactor (LM-ABR). This white paper highlights that further understanding is needed regarding reactor design under coolant low-flow events. These safety-related events are associated with the transition from normal high-flow operation to natural circulation. Low-flow coolant events are the most difficult to design for because they involve the most complex thermal-hydraulic behavior induced by the dominance of thermal-buoyancy forces acting on the coolants. Such behavior can cause multiple-component flow interaction phenomena, which are not adequately understood or appreciated by reactor designers as to their impact on reactor performance and safety. Since the early 1990s, when DOE canceled the U.S. Liquid Metal Fast Breeder Reactor (LMFBR) program, little has been done experimentally to further understand the importance of the complex thermal-buoyancy phenomena and their impact on reactor design or to improve the ability of three-dimensional (3-D) transient computational fluid dynamics (CFD) and structures codes to model the phenomena. An improved experimental data base and the associated improved validated codes would provide needed design tools to the reactor community. The improved codes would also facilitate scale-up from small-scale testing to prototype size and would facilitate comparing performance of one reactor/component design with another. The codes would also have relevance to the design and safety of water-cooled reactors. To accomplish the preceding, it is proposed to establish a national GNEP-LMR research and development center at Argonne having as its foundation state-of-art science-based infrastructure consisting of: (a) thermal-hydraulic experimental capabilities for conducting both water and sodium testing of individual reactor components and complete reactor in-vessel models and (b) a computational modeling development and validation capability that is strongly interfaced with the experimental facilities. The proposed center would greatly advance capabilities for reactor development by establishing the validity of high-fidelity (i.e., close to first principles) models and tools. Such tools could be used directly for reactor design or for qualifying/tuning of lower-fidelity models, which now require costly experimental qualification for each different type of design application. Capabilities required to establish and operate this center are found primarily in Argonne's Nuclear Engineering and Mathematics and Computer Science Divisions. Funding for the center would be sought from DOE-NE (GNEP/Advanced Burner Reactor and Generation IV programs), DOE-SC/ASCR, and the commercial nuclear industry. Having the above experimental and modeling capabilities at Argonne would constitute a national/international center of excellence for conducting the research and engineering and design tool development needed to support the DOE GNEP/ LM-ABR initiative in developing safe, high-performance reactors.

1.0 Introduction

During the 1970s and 1980s, the U.S. DOE sponsored a substantial effort in the development of sodium-cooled fast nuclear reactors. Initially, these fission reactors were to be breeders with the designation Liquid Metal Fast Breeder Reactor (LMFBR). Later the breeding stipulation was dropped, and the name was changed to Liquid Metal Reactor (LMR) or Advanced Burner Reactor (ABR). The most important feature of the earlier breeder reactor was to significantly extend the useful life of the world’s supply of fissionable uranium by implementing a system of breeder reactors with the goal of producing about 10% more fissionable material each year than consumed in producing electricity. At that time, LMFBRs had only been built in small size, and it was appropriate for DOE to sponsor the development of the commercial-scale technology because the project was too large for private industry and because it was of great national interest and potential benefit. To this end, DOE sponsored a variety of research and development programs to advance this technology.

In response to DOE during the 1970s, Argonne conducted thermal–hydraulic studies of individual LMR components supporting EBR-II, FFTF, and CRBR development. After cancellation of CRBR, DOE in order to begin transferring LMR technology developed under federally funded programs to the U.S. industry funded a design competition between General Electric (GE) and Rockwell International/Combustion Engineering (RI/CE) to design a commercially viable LMR for future deployment. The GE design was called PRISM (Prototype Reactor Inherently Safe Module) and the RI/CE design was called SAFR (Sodium Advanced Fast Reactor). In the mid-1980s and early 1990s, Argonne conducted forced- and natural- convection phenomena studies on complete in-vessel system experimental test models of the GE/PRISM and RI/CE/SAFR designs. These DOE-funded studies were carried out in collaboration with GE and RI/CE. Further development of LMR expertise/design knowledge is vital to the future deployment of safe, reliable, and high-performance LMR Advanced Burner Reactors (ABRs) currently being proposed by DOE under the GNEP initiative for deployment in 2025. This near-term deployment does not involve breeder reactors.

This white paper has been written to summarize the thermal-hydraulic understanding that has been developed over the last 30 plus years, highlight important phenomena that must be factored into future reactor designs, and describe additional developmental efforts still needed. In particular, it describes the need for further LM-ABR technology development support in the form of better testing infrastructure, improved engineering knowledge, and improved/validated computational modeling tools. The paper also addresses the impact of thermal hydraulics on reactor system operation and on the behavior/performance of individual components (thermal duty and structural impact) during normal operation and postulated off-normal low-flow accident events related to safety.

Argonne has been a pioneer in the study of thermal-buoyancy-force governed flows under various important reactor transient conditions, such as the transition from forced to natural convection, instabilities generated by parallel flow paths, and structural thermal stresses caused by thermal stratification and their influence on heat-sink effectiveness.

8Argonne from the early 1970s through the early 1990s was DOE’s lead laboratory for LMR thermal-hydraulic development. During the 1970s and into the mid-1980s, Argonne conducted thermal-hydraulic studies and experiments on individual reactor components supporting EBR- II, FFTF, and CRBR. In the 1980s and into the early 1990s, Argonne conducted studies on forced- and natural-convection (thermal-buoyancy-force) phenomena in complete in-vessel models of GE/PRISM and RI/SAFR. These two reactor initiatives involved Argonne working closely with U.S. industry and the DOE. This paper describes the very important impact of thermal hydraulics on reactor global operation and on individual component behavior/performance (thermal duty, structural impact, and safe operation) during normal operation and postulated off-normal low-flow accident events related to safety. Argonne’s LMR expertise and design knowledge are vital to the further development of a safe, reliable, and high-performance LM-ABR.

In the 1980s Argonne developed/built a large water test facility called the Mixing Components Test Facility (MCTF) for performing steady and thermal-transient experimental simulations of important reactor components under a wide range of operation scenarios. (The MCTF was decommissioned in 1993.) Modeling studies were also conducted by Argonne relative to ascertaining if the thermal-buoyancy phenomena being studied could be effectively addressed through the use of water for testing of both individual LMR components and complete in-vessel system geometries. This modeling is discussed in detail in Section 4.2.1 and in Appendix 1 of this report. These modeling studies also highlighted where water testing was not adequate for addressing certain phenomena.

All of the Argonne studies involved fundamental experimental thermal-hydraulic testing and a strongly integrated component of computational fluid dynamics (CFD) code development and simulation analysis. The CFD analyses were predominately performed with the Argonne COMMIX code, which was augmented by some initial effort at utilization of commercial CFD codes like STAR-CD. One of the first uses of three-dimensional CFD analysis for addressing LMR thermal-hydraulics, which used the COMMIX code, was to address buoyancy-governed reactor flows. This computational modeling was driven and guided by Argonne’s thermal- hydraulic experiments on reactor components such as piping, plenums, steam generators, and heat exchangers.

The contents of this white paper are as follows:

Section 2 briefly describes the new DOE GNEP initiative relative to the pre-conceptual design features of the Argonne proposed LM-ABR, which would be one of the GNEP building blocks. Knowing the general technical features associated with the ABR allowed us to focus on and exploit what has been learned over the last 30 plus years about LMR thermal hydraulics relative to the importance to GNEP. Finally, this section also describes, based on the 1993 GE/PRISM close-out report, what industry ideas were at that time as to what further development and testing were needed to deploy a U.S. LMR. This information helped to further focus the recommendations given in this report regarding a thermal-hydraulic pathway forward.

Section 3 describes Argonne studies and the status of our understanding of thermal buoyancy phenomena occurring in individual reactor components such as:


Piping/plenum interfaces and thermal plumes

Heat exchangers

Steam generators

Multiple coolant stream thermal mixers

Section 4 describes Argonne’s past studies on reactor in-vessel thermal hydraulics, which initially addressed generic core outlet and plenum flow interactions guided by CRBR needs. These studies in their later stages investigated forced- and natural-convection (thermal- buoyancy-force) phenomena using complete in-vessel models of the GE/PRISM and RI- CE/SAFR designs. Complete in-vessel model experiments were used because the flow and thermal behavior in a given sub-region of the reactor vessel is the result of complex interactions with the rest of the reactor in-vessel components. These interactions are especially important for pool designs under low-flow conditions and the transition to natural convection. They have the potential for strongly affecting reactor:

Thermal-hydraulic performance

Emergency cooling

Structural integrity

Heat-sink effectiveness

These complete in-vessel experimental studies provided GE and RI-CE designers with information vital to the design and assessment of the workability of the various features that were being incorporated into their innovative and inherently safe reactors.

Finally, Section 5 describes a pathway forward regarding further research and development needed to support the GNEP/LM-ABR initiative.


Robw said...


Most IFR-backers seem to express the opinion that an IFR production prototype could be built 'tomorrow'.

If this is not the case, why do you believe they are saying so? Is it to get a 'leg up' on possible funding?


Charles Barton said...

Robw, I wonder how much most IFR advocates really know. One of the reasons I have for posting IFR related documents, is to be able to reference them in discussions with IFR backers. In particular, I would like to know how they justify claims to high breeding rates, or the notion that a commercial IFR is around the corner if the Government would only spring for its construction. i do wonder if retired Argonne IFR developers are trying to finess the LFTR out of the game.


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