The vast majority of Nuclear Power Plants (NPPs) are equipped with water- and heavy-water-cooled reactors. Such NPPs have lower thermal efficiencies (30–36%) compared to those achieved at NPPs equipped with Advanced Gas-cooled Reactors (AGRs) (∼42%) and Sodium-cooled Fast Reactors (SFRs) (∼40%), and, especially, compared to those of modern advanced thermal power plants, such as combined cycle with thermal efficiencies up to 62% and supercritical-pressure coal-fired power plants — up to 55%. Therefore, NPPs with water- and heavy-water-cooled reactors are not very competitive with other power plants. Therefore, this deficiency of current water-cooled NPPs should be addressed in the next generation or Generation-IV nuclear-power reactors / NPPs.
Very High Temperature Reactor (VHTR) concept / NPP is currently considered as the most efficient NPP of the next generation. Being a thermal-spectrum reactor, VHTR will use helium as a reactor coolant, which will be heated up to 1000°C. The use of a direct Brayton helium-turbine cycle was considered originally. However, technical challenges associated with the direct helium cycle have resulted in a change of the reference concept to indirect power cycle, which can be also a combined cycle.
Along with the VHTR, Gas-cooled Fast Reactor (GFR) concept / NPP is also regarded as one of the most thermally efficient concept for the upcoming generation of NPPs. This concept was also originally thought to be with the direct helium power cycle. However, technical challenges have changed the initial idea of power cycle to a number of options including indirect Brayton cycle with He-N2 mixture, application of SuperCritical (SC)-CO2 cycles or combined cycles.
The objective of the current paper is to provide the latest information on new developments in power cycles proposed for these two helium-cooled Generation-IV reactor concepts, which include indirect nitrogen-helium Brayton gas-turbine cycle, supercritical-pressure carbon-dioxide Brayton gas-turbine cycle, and combined cycles. Also, a comparison of basic thermophysical properties of helium with those of other reactor coolants, and with those of nitrogen, nitrogen-helium mixture and SC-CO2 is provided.