A fission-fusion hybrid reactor in steady-state L-mode tokamak configuration with natural uranium
Author(s)Reed, Mark Wilbert
Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Dept. of Nuclear Science and Engineering.
Ronald R. Parker.
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The most prevalent criticism of fission-fusion hybrids is simply that they are too exotic - that they would exacerbate the challenges of both fission and fusion. This is not really true. Intriguingly, hybrids could actually be more viable than stand-alone fusion reactors while mitigating many challenges of fission. This work develops a conceptual design for a fission-fusion hybrid reactor in steady-state L-mode tokamak configuration with a subcritical natural or depleted uranium pebble bed blanket. A liquid lithiumlead alloy breeds enough tritium to replenish that consumed by the D-T fusion reaction. Subcritical operation could obviate the most challenging fuel cycle aspects of fission. The fission blanket augments the fusion power such that the fusion core itself need not have a high power gain, thus allowing for fully non-inductive (steady-state) low confinement mode (L-mode) operation at relatively small physical dimensions. A neutron transport Monte Carlo code models the natural uranium fission blanket. Maximizing the fission power while breeding sufficient tritium allows for the selection of an optimal set of blanket parameters, which yields a maximum prudent fission power gain of 7.7. A 0-D tokamak model suffices to analyze approximate tokamak operating conditions. If the definition of a "reactor" is a device with a total power gain of 40, then this fission blanket would allow the fusion component of a hybrid reactor with the same dimensions as ITER to operate in steady-state L-mode very comfortably with a fusion power gain of 6.7 and a thermal fusion power of 2.1 GW. Taking this further can determine the approximate minimum scale for a steady-state L-mode tokamak hybrid reactor, which is a major radius of 5.2 in and an aspect ratio of 2.8. This minimum scale device operates barely within the steady-state L-mode realm with a thermal fusion power of 1.7 GW. This hybrid, with its very fast neutron spectrum, could be superior to pure fission reactors in terms of breeding fissile fuel and transmuting deleterious fission products. It could operate either as a breeder, producing fuel for pure fission reactors from natural or depleted uranium, or as a deep burner, fissioning heavy metal and transmuting waste with a cycle time of decades. Despite a plethora of potential functions, its primary mission is deemed to be that of a deep burner producing baseload commercial power with a once-through fuel cycle. Although hybrids are often purported a priori to pose an elevated proliferation risk, this reactor breeds plutonium that could actually be more proliferation-resistant than that bred by fast reactors. Furthermore, a novel method (the "variable fixed source method") can maintain constant total hybrid power output as burnup proceeds by varying the neutron source strength. As for engineering feasibility, basic thermal hydraulic analysis demonstrates that pressurized helium could cool the pebble bed fission blanket with a flow rate below 10 m/s. The Brayton cycle thermal efficiency is 41%. This device is dubbed the Steady-State L-Mode Non-Enriched Uranium Tokamak Hybrid (SLEUTH). The purpose of this work is not any sort of elaborate design, but rather the exploration of an idea coupled with corroborating numerical analysis. At this point in the hybrid debate, viable conceptual designs are persuasive while intricate build-ready designs are superfluous. This work conceives such a conceptual design, demonstrates its viability, and will perhaps, incidentally, spur a profusion of pro-fusion sentiment!
Thesis (S.M.)--Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Dept. of Nuclear Science and Engineering, 2011.Cataloged from PDF version of thesis.Includes bibliographical references (p. 215-218).
DepartmentMassachusetts Institute of Technology. Dept. of Nuclear Science and Engineering.
Massachusetts Institute of Technology
Nuclear Science and Engineering.