The present paper describes a back-fit solution proposed by RWE Technology GmbH for adding passive cooling functions to existing nuclear power plants. The Fukushima accidents have high-lighted the need for managing station black-out events and coping with the complete loss of the ultimate heat sink for long time durations, combined with the unavailability of adequate off-site supplies and adequate emergency personnel for days. In an ideal world, a nuclear power plant should be able to sustain its essential cooling functions, i.e. preventing degradation of core and spent fuel pool inventories, following a reactor trip in complete autarchy for a nearly indefinite amount of time. RWE Technology is currently investigating a back-fit solution involving “self-propelling” cooling systems that deliver exactly this long term autarchy. The cooling system utilizes the temperature difference between the hotter reactor core or spent fuel pond with the surrounding ultimate heat sink (ambient air) to drive its coolant like a classical heat machine. The cooling loop itself is the heat machine, but its sole purpose is to merely achieve sufficient thermal efficiency to drive itself and to establish convective cooling (∼2% thermal efficiency). This is realized by the use of a Joule/Brayton Cycle employing supercritical CO2. The special properties of supercritical CO2 are essential for this system to be practicable. Above a temperature of 30.97°C and a pressure of 73.7bar CO2 becomes a super dense gas with densities similar to that of a typical liquid (∼400kg/m3), viscosities similar tothat of a gas (∼3×105Pas) and gas like compressibility. This allows for an extremely compact cooling system that can drive itself on very small temperature differences. The presented parametric studies show that a back-fitable system for long-term spent fuel pool cooling is viable to deliver excess electrical power for emergency systems of approximately 100kW. In temperate climates with peak air temperatures of up to 35°C, the system can power itself and its air coolers at spent fuel pool temperatures of 85°C, although with little excess electrical power left. Different back-fit strategies for PWR and BWR reactor core decay heat removal are discussed and the size of piping, heat exchangers and turbo-machinery are briefly evaluated. It was found that depending on the strategy, a cooling system capable of removing all decay heat from a reactor core would employ piping diameters between 100–150mm and the investigated compact and sealed turbine-alternator-compressor unit would be sufficiently small to be integrated into the piping.

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