Reactor Power Control
In general, the reactor thermal power and the outlet temperature of the coolant from the reactor core are controlled by manipulating several factors which affect the core’s reactivity. In PWRs, these factors are especially:
- position of control rods,
- concentration of boric acid in the RCS
- core inlet temperature
Control rods are rods, plates, or tubes containing a neutron absorbing material (material with high absorption cross-section for thermal neutron) such as boron, hafnium, cadmium, etc., used to control the power of a nuclear reactor. Control rods usually constitute cluster control rod assemblies (PWR) and are inserted into guide thimbles within a nuclear fuel assembly. The absorbing material (e.g. pellets of Boron Carbide) is protected by the cladding usually made of stainless steel. They are grouped into groups (banks) and the movement occurs usually by the groups (banks). Typical total number of clusters is 70. This number is limited especially by number of penetrations of the reactor pressure vessel head.
A control rod is removed from or inserted into the reactor core in order to increase or decrease the reactivity of the reactor (increase or decrease the neutron flux). Control rods (insertion/withdrawal) influences the thermal utilization factor. For example, control rods insertion causes an addition of new absorbing material into the core and this causes a decrease in thermal utilization factor.
In comparison with the chemical shim, which offset positive reactivity excess in entire core, with control rods the unevenness of neutron-flux density in the reactor core may arise, because they act locally.
Concentration of Boric Acid
In pressurized water reactors, chemical shim (boric acid) is used to compensate an excess of reactivity of reactor core along the fuel burnup (long term reactivity control) as well as to compensate the negative reactivity from the power defect and xenon poisoning during power increase to nominal power.
The concentration of boric acid diluted in the primary coolant influences the thermal utilization factor. For example, an increase in the concentration of boric acid (chemical shim) causes an addition of new absorbing material into the core and this causes a decrease in thermal utilization factor.
When compared with burnable absorbers (long term reactivity control) or with control rods (rapid reactivity control) the boric acid avoids the unevenness of neutron-flux density in the reactor core, because it is dissolved homogeneously in the coolant in entire reactor core. On the other hand high concentrations of boric acid may lead to positive moderator temperature coefficient and that is undesirable. In this case more burnable absorbers must be used.
Moreover this method is slow in controlling reactivity. Normally, it takes several minutes to change the concentration (dilute or borate) of the boric acid in the primary loop. For rapid changes of reactivity control rods must be used.