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Plutonium and Commercial Power Reactors

The nuclear transmutation of 238U into fissile isotopes of plutonium (the plutonium breeding) in the fuel cycle of all commercial light water reactors plays a significant role. In recent years, the commercial power industry has been emphasizing high-burnup fuels (up to 60 – 70 GWd/tU), typically enriched to higher percentages of 235U (up to 5%). As burnup increases, a higher percentage of the total power produced in a reactor is due to the plutonium bred inside the reactor. At a burnup of 30 GWd/tU (gigawatt-days per metric ton of uranium), about 30% of the total energy released comes from bred plutonium. At 40 GWd/tU, that percentage increases to about forty percent. This corresponds to a breeding ratio for these reactors of about 0.4 to 0.5. That means about half of the fissile fuel in these reactors is bred there. This effect extends the cycle length for such fuels to sometimes nearly twice what it would be otherwise. MOX fuel has a smaller breeding effect than 235U fuel and is thus more challenging and slightly less economical to use due to a quicker drop-off in reactivity through cycle life.
Fissile / Fertile Material Cross-sectionsFissile / Fertile Material Cross-sections. Comparison of total fission cross-sections.Source: JANIS (Java-based Nuclear Data Information Software); ENDF/B-VII.1plutonium breedingSource of data: JANIS (Java-based Nuclear Data Information Software); The JEFF-3.1.1 Nuclear Data Library

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What is Plutonium

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Plutonium Isotopes