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Zero Power Criticality vs. Power Operation

The neutron flux can have any value, and the critical reactor can operate at any power level. It should be noted the flux shape derived from the diffusion theory is only a hypothetical case in a uniform homogeneous cylindrical reactor at low power levels (at “zero power criticality”).

In the power reactor core at power operation, the neutron flux can reach, for example, about 3.11 x 1013 neutrons.cm-2.s-1, but this value depends significantly on many parameters (type of fuel, fuel burnup, fuel enrichment, position in fuel pattern, etc.). The power level does not influence the criticality (keff) of a power reactor unless thermal reactivity feedbacks act (operation of a power reactor without reactivity feedbacks is between 10E-8% – 1% of rated power).

At power operation (i.e., above 1% of rated power), the reactivity feedbacks cause the flattening of the flux distribution because the feedbacks acts stronger on positions where the flux is higher. The neutron flux distribution in commercial power reactors depends on many other factors such as the fuel loading pattern, control rods position, and it may also oscillate within short periods (e.g.,, due to the spatial distribution of xenon nuclei). There is no cosine and J0 in the commercial power reactor at power operation.

See also: Nuclear Reactor as the Antineutrino Source

Reactivity Feedbacks
In an operating power reactor the neutron population is always large enough to generated heat. In fact, it is the main purpose of power reactors to generate large amount of heat. This causes the temperature of the system changes and material densities change as well (due to the thermal expansion).

Because macroscopic cross-sections are proportional to densities and temperatures, the neutron flux spectrum also depends on the density of the moderator. These changes, in turn, will produce some changes in reactivity. These changes in reactivity are usually called reactivity feedbacks and are characterized by reactivity coefficients. This is a very important area of reactor design because the reactivity feedbacks influence the stability of the reactor. For example, reactor design must ensure that the temperature feedback will be negative under all operating conditions.

The reactivity coefficients that are important in power reactors (PWRs) are:

As can be seen, there are not only temperature coefficients that are defined in reactor dynamics. In addition to these coefficients, there are two other coefficients:

The total power coefficient is the combination of various effects and is commonly used when reactors are at power conditions. It is due to the fact, at power conditions it is difficult to separate the moderator effect from the fuel effect and the void effect as well. All these coefficients will be described in following separate sections. The reactivity coefficients are of importance in safety of each nuclear power plant which is declared in the Safety Analysis Report (SAR).

Example: Power increase – from 75% up to 100%

The temperature, pressure, or void fraction change during any power increase, and the core’s reactivity changes accordingly. It is difficult to change any operating parameter and not affect every other property of the core. Since it is difficult to separate all these effects (moderator, fuel, void, etc.), the power coefficient is defined. The power coefficient combines the Doppler, moderator temperature, and void coefficients. It is expressed as a change in reactivity per change in percent power, Δρ/Δ% power. The value of the power coefficient is always negative in core life. Still, it is more negative at the end of the cycle primarily due to the decrease in the moderator temperature coefficient.

Let us assume that the reactor is critical at 75% of rated power and that the plant operator wants to increase power to 100% of rated power. The reactor operator must first bring the reactor supercritical by inserting a positive reactivity (e.g.,, by control rod withdrawal or boron dilution). As the thermal power increases, moderator temperature and fuel temperature increase, causing a negative reactivity effect (from the power coefficient), and the reactor returns to the critical condition. Positive reactivity must be continuously inserted (via control rods or chemical shim) to keep the power increasing. After each reactivity insertion, the reactor power stabilizes itself proportionately to the reactivity inserted. The total amount of feedback reactivity that must be offset by control rod withdrawal or boron dilution during the power increase (from ~1% – 100%) is known as the power defect.

Let assume:

  • the power coefficient:                 Δρ/Δ% = -20pcm/% of rated power
  • differential worth of control rods:    Δρ/Δstep = 10pcm/step
  • worth of boric acid:                                      -11pcm/ppm
  • desired trend of power decrease:              1% per minute

75% → ↑ 20 steps or ↓ 18 ppm of boric acid within 10 minutes → 85% → next ↑ 20 steps or ↓ 18 ppm within 10 minutes → 95% → final ↑ 10 steps or ↓ 9 ppm within 5 minutes → 100%

reactor power - 75 to 100 of rated power

Nuclear and Reactor Physics:
  1. J. R. Lamarsh, Introduction to Nuclear Reactor Theory, 2nd ed., Addison-Wesley, Reading, MA (1983).
  2. J. R. Lamarsh, A. J. Baratta, Introduction to Nuclear Engineering, 3d ed., Prentice-Hall, 2001, ISBN: 0-201-82498-1.
  3. W. M. Stacey, Nuclear Reactor Physics, John Wiley & Sons, 2001, ISBN: 0- 471-39127-1.
  4. Glasstone, Sesonske. Nuclear Reactor Engineering: Reactor Systems Engineering, Springer; 4th edition, 1994, ISBN: 978-0412985317
  5. W.S.C. Williams. Nuclear and Particle Physics. Clarendon Press; 1 edition, 1991, ISBN: 978-0198520467
  6. Kenneth S. Krane. Introductory Nuclear Physics, 3rd Edition, Wiley, 1987, ISBN: 978-0471805533
  7. G.R.Keepin. Physics of Nuclear Kinetics. Addison-Wesley Pub. Co; 1st edition, 1965
  8. Robert Reed Burn, Introduction to Nuclear Reactor Operation, 1988.
  9. U.S. Department of Energy, Nuclear Physics and Reactor Theory. DOE Fundamentals Handbook, Volume 1 and 2. January 1993.

Advanced Reactor Physics:

  1. K. O. Ott, W. A. Bezella, Introductory Nuclear Reactor Statics, American Nuclear Society, Revised edition (1989), 1989, ISBN: 0-894-48033-2.
  2. K. O. Ott, R. J. Neuhold, Introductory Nuclear Reactor Dynamics, American Nuclear Society, 1985, ISBN: 0-894-48029-4.
  3. D. L. Hetrick, Dynamics of Nuclear Reactors, American Nuclear Society, 1993, ISBN: 0-894-48453-2. 
  4. E. E. Lewis, W. F. Miller, Computational Methods of Neutron Transport, American Nuclear Society, 1993, ISBN: 0-894-48452-4.

See above:

Reactor Power