By altering the coolant flow direction in a pebble bed reactor from axial to radial, the pressure drop can be reduced tremendously. In this case the coolant flows from the outer reflector through the pebble bed and finally to flow paths in the inner reflector. As a consequence, the fuel temperatures are elevated due to the reduced heat transfer of the coolant. However, the power profile and pebble size in a radially cooled pebble bed reactor can be optimized to achieve lower fuel temperatures than current axially cooled designs, while the low pressure drop can be maintained. The radial power profile in the core can be altered by adopting multi-pass fuel management using several radial fuel zones in the core. The optimal power profile yielding a flat temperature profile is derived analytically and is approximated by radial fuel zoning. In this case, the pebbles pass through the outer region of the core first and each consecutive pass is located in a fuel zone closer to the inner reflector. Thereby, the resulting radial distribution of the fissile material in the core is influenced and the temperature profile is close to optimal. The fuel temperature in the pebbles can be further reduced by reducing the standard pebble diameter from 6 cm to a value as low as 1 cm. An analytical investigation is used to demonstrate the effects on the fuel temperature and pressure drop for both radial and axial cooling. Finally, two-dimensional numerical calculations were performed, using codes for neutronics, thermal-hydraulics and fuel depletion analysis, in order to validate the results for the optimized design that were obtained from the analytical investigations. It was found that for a radially cooled design with an optimized power profile and reduced pebble diameter (below 3.5 cm) both a reduction in the pressure drop (Δp = −2.6 bar), which increases the reactor efficiency with several percent, and a reduction in the maximum fuel temperature (ΔT = −50 °C) can be achieved compared to present axially cooled designs.

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