In order to increase the thermal efficiency of steam-cycle power plants it is necessary to achieve steam temperatures as high as possible. Current limiting factor for Nuclear Power Plants (NPPs) in achieving higher operating temperatures and, therefore, thermal efficiencies is pressures at which they can operate. From basic thermodynamics it is known that to increase further an outlet temperature in water-cooled reactors a pressure must also be increased. Current level of pressures in Pressurized Water Reactors (PWRs) is about 15–16 MPa. Therefore, next stage should be supercritical pressures, at least 23.5–25 MPa. However, such supercritical-water reactors with pressure vessels of 45–50 cm thickness don’t exist yet.
One way around larger pressure vessels as well as the limit of temperature of the coolant on the saturation pressure is to employ a Pressure Channel (PCh) design with Superheated Steam channels (SHS). PCh reactors allow for different coolants and bundle configurations in one reactor core, in this case, steam would be a secondary coolant. In the 1960s and 1970s the USA and Soviet Union tested reactors using pressure channels to super-heat steam in-core to achieve outlet temperatures greater than what is currently possible with convention reactors.
Nuclear materials are carefully chosen based on their neutron interaction properties in addition to their strength and resistance to corrosion. Introducing steam channels will not only change the neutronics behavior of the coolant, but require different fuel cladding and pressure-channel materials, specifically, stainless steels or Inconels, to withstand high-temperature steam. This paper will investigate the affect that steam, SS-304 and Inconel will have on neutron economy when introduced into a reactor design as well as required changes to fuel enrichment. It will also be necessary to investigate the effects of these material changes on power distribution inside a reactor. Pressure-channel design requires methods of fine control to maintain a balanced core-power distribution, the introduction of non-uniform coolant and reactor materials will further complicate maintaining uniform reactor power. The degree to which SHS channels will affect the power distribution is investigated in this paper.