FIELD OF THE INVENTION
This invention relates to an improvement in fissionable nuclear fuel
containing a depletable neutron absorbent material for service in the fuel core
of power generating nuclear reactor plants. The invention comprises a composition
for a ceramic fuel of a fissionable oxide compound having a fuel reactivity extending
neutron absorbent dispersed therethrough.
BACKGROUND OF THE INVENTION
Fissionable nuclear fuel materials for the nuclear reactors comprise
one of two principal chemical forms. One distinct type consists of fissionable
elements such as uranium, plutonium or thorium, and mixtures thereof, in metallic,
non-oxide form. Specifically this category comprises uranium, plutonium or thorium
metal, and mixtures or alloys of such metals.
The other principal type of nuclear reactor fuel consists of ceramic
or non-metallic oxides of fissionable and/or fertile elements comprising oxides
of uranium, plutonium or thorium, and mixtures of such oxides. Uranium oxides,
especially uranium dioxide, has become a standard form of fissionable fuel for
commercial nuclear power plants used to generate electrical power. However, minor
amounts of other fissionable materials, such as oxides of plutonium and thorium,
and/or depletable neutron absorbers, sometimes referred to in the art as "burnable
poison', such as gadolinium oxides, are commonly included in the fuel with the
In conventional nuclear reactors, atoms of the fissionable material
comprising uranium and plutonium isotopes absorb neutrons into their nuclei and
undergo a nuclear disintegrating or splitting. This fission reaction produces on
the average of two products of lower atomic weight and greater kinetic energy,
and typically two or three neutrons, also of high energy.
The fission produced neutrons diffuse through the reactor core containing
fissionable fuel and are either utilized or lost in several distinct competing
mechanisms. Some neutrons undergo nonfission or radiative capture in the fuel
material. Other neutrons undergo fission capture within the fissionable fuel and
thereby produce additional fission neutrons, the so-called chain reaction. Namely,
fast neutrons are captured in the uranium 235 and 238, while thermal neutrons are
captured in uranium 235. Still other neutrons undergo parasitic capture in the
various extraneous or nonfissionable compositions of the fuel core and adjoining
components such as the moderator, coolant, various structural materials, fission
products produced within the fuel, as well as any neutron absorbing reaction control
materials applied to regulate the fission rate.
The balance between the fission production of neutrons and the various
competing mechanisms for neutron consumption determine whether the fission reaction
is self-sustaining, decreasing, or increasing. When the fission reaction is self-sustaining,
the neutron multiplication factor equals 1.0, the neutron population remains constant,
and on average there is one neutron remaining from each fission event which induces
a subsequent fission of an atom.
Heat produced by the fission reactions is thereby continuous and
maintained as long as sufficient fissionable material is present in the fuel core
to override the effects of fission products formed by the reaction, some of which
have a high capacity for absorbing neutrons. The heat produced by the fission
reactions is removed by a coolant such as water, circulating through the reactor
core in contract with the containers of fuel and conveyed on to means for its utilization,
such as the generation of electrical power.
The neutron population, and in turn the heat or power produced, of
a nuclear reactor, depends on the extent to which neutrons are consumed or wasted
by capture in nonfissionable, neutron absorbing material. Neutron consumption
of this nature is regulated by governing the relative amount and capacity of neutron
absorbing control materials imposed into the core of fissionable fuel material
undergoing fission reactions.
In any case, the fission reactivity of the fuel progressively decreases
with time in service due in large part to fission-product accumulation within
the fuel. This progressive depletion of fission reactively is typically compensated
for by withdrawal of the neutron absorbing control rods whereby the neutron population
available to perpetuate fission is regulated to maintain a continuing level of
To achieve greater efficiency and economy in the operation of nuclear
reactor plants efforts have been made to extend the service life of the fuel between
refueling cycles. One common measure for prolonging fuel performances has been
to utilize a fuel having excessive reactivity in combination with a depletable
neutron absorbent, frequently referred to in the nuclear reactor art as a "burnable
poison." Thus, the initial excessive reactivity of the fuel is tempered by the
introduction of a depletable neutron absorbent, or "burnable poison", such as
gadolinium oxide which progressively expends its capacity for neutron due to their
absorption. Thus, prolonged fuel service is provided with the high reactivity
fuel while the initial excessive reactivity of the fuel is negated by the removal
of fission producing neutrons with a depletable neutron absorbent which serves
to level or stabilize the fuel reactivity rate over its services life. The depletable
absorber is utilized so as to absorb neutrons at a decreasing rate approximately
commensurate with the diminishing reactivity of the fuel whereby a substantially
constant rate of reactivity is maintained through the cycle.
The practice and means for this fuel performance extending measure
are disclosed in detail in U. S. Letters Patent No. 3,799,839, issued March 26,
1974. Depletable neutron absorbent agents and their relevant properties are also
disclosed in an article entitled "Nuclear Theory And Calculations For Burnable
Poison Design" by W. A. Northrop, pages 123 - 150, published in Neutron Absorber
Materials For Reactor Control, Untied States Atomic Energy Commission.
The disclosure and contents of the foregoing cited background publication
are incorporated herein by reference.
SUMMARY OF THE INVENTION
This invention comprises an improved fissionable nuclear fuel composition
comprising a ceramic unit containing an oxide of a fissionable element having
a given depletable neutron adsorbent dispersed therein for service in a nuclear
reactor. The combination of the fissionable oxide material and specific depletable
neutron absorbent agents of this invention in a ceramic fuel unit or pellet produces
a fuel product which provides extended service in nuclear reactor plants at relatively
uniform reactivity levels.
OBJECTS OF THE INVENTION
It is a primary object of this invention to provide an improved fissionable
fuel composition for nuclear reactor service.
It is also an object of this invention to provide a fissionable nuclear
fuel product for use in a nuclear reactor which serves over extended periods between
It is a further object of this invention to provide an improved ceramic
type nuclear fuel comprising an oxide of a fissionable element containing a consumable
neutron absorbent material for prolonged service life.
It is a still further object of this invention to provide a ceramic
fissionable fuel pellet of an oxide of uranium combined with a depletable neutron
absorbent supplying long service between refueling.
It is an additional object of this invention to provide a ceramic
nuclear fuel product of a combination of uranium dioxide with a depletable neutron
absorbent dispersed throughout the uranium dioxide.
BRIEF DESCRIPTION OF THE DRAWING
DETAILED DESCRIPTION OF THE INVENTION
- The drawing comprises a perspective view of a fissionable nuclear fuel pellet
of this invention.
This invention comprises an improvement in ceramic type fissionable
fuels for service in power generating nuclear reactor plants utilizing water as
the coolant and neutron moderator. The ceramic fuel materials comprise oxides
of uranium, plutonium or thorium, and mixtures thereof. The preferred and typical
fissionable material for the practice of the invention consists of uranium dioxide,
which can incorporate minor amounts of oxides of plutonium and/or thorium, and
other conventional additives.
The ceramic fuel is produced by compacting particulate uranium oxides,
admixed with any additives in fine particulate or powder form, into self-sustaining
or handleable pellets or bodies of suitable configuration and density, then sintering
the particulate compacts to fuse the particles into integrated ceramic units.
In accordance with this invention boron nitride (BN) and/or zirconium
diboride (2ZrB&sub2;) and/or boron oxide (B&sub2;O&sub3;) and/or boron silicide
(B&sub6;Si) is incorporated into the ceramic fuel of an oxide of uranium, plutonium
and/or thorium to provide an improved fissionable fuel composition for extended
service in a nuclear reactor plant. The boron nitride and/or zirconium diboride
is dispensed as a powder or fine particles throughout the mass of the ceramic
pellet of fused oxides of a fissionable element(s).
The boron nitride, boron oxide and/or boron silicide zirconium diboride
in powder form can be dispersed substantially uniformly throughout the loose particulate
oxide fuel of uranium, plutonium and or thorium prior to compacting. The combined
composite fuel composition particles are then compacted and subsequently sintered
in a conventional manner as described in the art. The depletable neutron absorbent
boron compound containing ceramic fissionable fuel composition of this invention
compressed into a pellet and sintered into an integrated body is shown in the drawing.
The boron compound depletable neutron absorbent is combined with
the oxide fuel material in amounts of from about 0.02 up to about 0.50 percent
by weight of the fissionable oxide fuel material. Preferably the boron compound
is added in amounts of from about 0.04 up to about 0.35 percent by weight of the
fissionable oxides fuel material. Optimum amounts of boron nitride comprise about
0.13, zirconium diboride comprise about 0.31, boron oxide comprises about 0.19,
and boron silicide about 0.09 percent by weight of the fissionable oxide fuel
Examples of fissionable fuel compositions of this invention, and
their preparation, are as follows:
Uranium dioxide powder was mixed with 0.30 weight percent powdered
zirconium diboride. The mixed powders were pressed in a cylindrical steel die
to form pellets with a density of about 5.8 gm/cm³. The pressed pellets were
sintered for about 4 hours at about 1700 degrees C in a moist hydrogen atmosphere.
The resulting pellets had a density of about 10.4 gm/cm³.
Ceramography of the sintered fuel pellets revealed a uniform distribution
of zirconium diboride as inclusions in the uranium dioxide pellet matrix.
Use of powder additives of the type described herein to provide a
burnable neutron absorber in the final sintered fuel pellet allows a large range
of concentration variation, and, by control of the amount of boron containing
compound added to the fuel pellets at various axial elevations in the fuel rod
and spatially, from rod to rod within the fuel assemblage comprised of a plurality
of fuel rods.