Enhancing the safety and economic competitiveness are major objectives in the development of advanced reactor designs with emphasis on the design of systems or components of the nuclear systems. Innovative power cycle development is another potential option to achieve these objectives.
Sodium cooled fast reactor (SFR) is one among the six reactor design concepts identified by the Gen IV International Forum for development to meet the technology goals for new nuclear energy system. Similar to the power cycle used in conventional fossil fuel based thermal power plants, sodium-cooled fast reactors have adopted the Rankine cycle based power conversion system. However, the possibility of sodium water reaction is a major concern and it becomes necessary to adopt means of early detection of leaks and isolation of the affected SG module for mitigating any adverse impact of sodium water reaction. The high exothermic nature of the reaction calls for introducing an intermediate sodium heat transport loop, leading to high overall plant cost hindering commercialization of sodium fast reactors.
The Indian Prototype Fast Breeder Reactor (PFBR) also uses Rankine cycle in the power generation system. The superheated steam temperature has been set at 490 degree Celsius based on optimisation studies and material limitations. Additional Fast Breeder reactors are planned in near future and further work is being done to develop more advanced sodium cooled fast reactors. The closed Brayton cycle is a promising alternative to conventional Rankine cycle. By selecting an inert gas or a gas with milder reaction with sodium, the vigorous sodium water reaction can be avoided and significant cost savings in the turbine island can be achieved as gas turbine power conversion systems are of much smaller size than comparable steam turbine systems due to their higher power density.
In the study, various Brayton cycle designs on different working gases have been explored. Supercritical-CO2 (s-CO2), helium and nitrogen cycle designs are analyzed and compared in terms of cycle efficiency, component performance and physical size. The thermal efficiencies at the turbine inlet temperature of Indian PFBR have been compared for Rankine cycle and Brayton cycle based on different working fluids. Also binary mixtures of different gases are investigated to develop a more safe and efficient power generation system.
Helium does not interact with sodium and other structural materials even at very high temperatures but its thermal performance is low when compared to other fluids. Nitrogen being an inert gas does not react with sodium and can serve to utilise existing turbomachinery because of the similarity with atmospheric air.
The supercritical CO2 based cycle has shown best thermodynamic performance and efficiency when compared to other Brayton cycles for the turbine inlet temperature of Indian PFBR. CO2 also reacts with sodium but the reaction is mild compared to sodium water reaction. The cycle efficiency of the s-CO2 cycle can be further improved by adopting multiple reheating, inter cooling and recuperation.