Operation of a nuclear power plant on an integrated electric system

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  • Operation of a Nuclear Power Plant on an Integrated Electric System

    . E. W I L S O N M E M B E R A I

    A nuclear power plant of the pressurized water-moderated and -cooled type as described is able to meet the requirements of a central-station facility for system load control the same as conventional plants. Operation procedures do not differ markedly, so the plant can be

    operated in its usual manner.

    WI T H T H E SUCCESSFUL D E M O N S T R A T I O N of the use of heat of nuclear fission for power for ship propulsion and its imminent use for commercial

    electric-power production, many questions arise concerning the operation of this novel heat source. This discussion is directed specifically to the use of nuclear energy in central-station service.

    A nuclear reactor plant of the type discussed in this article, i.e., one that is moderated and cooled with pressurized water, produces as its end product heat in the form of steam with which to power a conventional turbine. Since this steam is of a conventional variety, not " h o t " in the radioactive sense, the only aspect of the power generating plant to be concerned with is that portion dealing strictly with steam production, i.e., the part of the plant corresponding to the steam generator through to the main steam header of a conventional plant.

    What are some of the operational characteristics of a steam generator which the operators of central-station facilities have come to regard as either necessary or desirable? In broad terms the requirements a re :

    1. I t must be possible to start the steam generator when wanted without excessive waiting periods.

    2. I t must be possible to load it to full capacity as fast

    Fig . 1. N u c l e a r p o w e r p l a n t

    as the electric system requires, and to have it absorb transient load changes of speed and magnitude as required.

    3. I t must be capable of surviving the emergency of having all of its output suddenly cut off, and yet being restarted quickly if required.

    4. It must be capable of being shut down when its output is no longer needed.

    These are the general operating requirements. In order to see how a nuclear power plant will fulfill them, it will be necessary to describe the plant, and then to relate it to the requirements.

    A H Y P O T H E T I C A L N U C L E A R P O W E R P L A N T

    Basic Power-Generation Scheme. The basic elements of a steam generator utilizing nuclear energy from a pressurized water-moderated and -cooled reactor are shown in Fig. 1. (The term "water-moderated" refers to the use of water as the medium in which the neutrons liberated in the process of fission a re slowed down to an energy level at which they are effective in producing additional fissions. The uranium used is not receptive to high-energy neutrons. In the reactors described, ordinary water is used for this function, as well as to carry away the heat generated.)

    The core, in which the heat is liberated, is contained in a pressure vessel through which water is channeled. The water, having absorbed the heat of fission, passes out to the heat exchanger where the heat is transferred to the secondary water from which the steam is made. The cooler water leaves the heat exchanger and returns to the pressure vessel and core. Circulation is maintained by the circulating pump. In order to generate steam at temperatures greater than 212 F, the entire primary system is under high pressure so that boiling does not occur in the core at the elevated temperatures at which the primary plant operates. This pressure is regulated in the pressurizer by a spray and heater control system to a reasonably constant value.

    Of interest to the user of the steam is the fact that, although the water in the primary system becomes radioactive while it passes through the core where it is subjected to intense neutron irradiation, its radioactivity is not in the form of neutron production so that it does not make the secondary or steam side of the plant radioactive. Hence, all parts of the plant containing the primary system must be shielded, but the parts containing the steam system alone require no shielding. Full text of paper 55-749, "Operation of a Nuclear Power Plant on an Integrated Electric System," recommended by the AIEE Committees on Nucleonics and Power Generation and approved by the AIEE Committee on Technical Operations for presentation at the AIEE Fall General Meeting, Chicago, 111., October 3-7, 1955. Scheduled for publication in AIEE Power Apparatus and Systems, 1955.

    . E. Wilson is with Westinghouse Electric Corporation, Pittsburgh, Pa.

    WilsonOperation of a Nuclear Power Plant ELECTRICAL ENGINEERING 980

  • Of further interest is the fact that while the plant is in operation all operations under the shield must be by remote control. Moreover, it is desirable to reduce the leakage from the primary system in order to reduce the amount of radioactive material that must be processed for disposal. The system described is designed for zero leakage. Hence, the valves, pumps, and mechanisms for regulating the control rods must be of special design. The problems associated with this equipment and their solution have been described in other papers. 1 ' 2

    Control of the Reactor. When the plant is at steady state, the reactor core will produce as much heat as the steam system removes from the water at the heat exchanger. A characteristic of reactors of the type described is that they may be designed to have a negative temperature coefficient of reactivity*. This means that if the temperature of the water in the core drops, the activity of the reactor will increase and so, therefore, will the power level and heat generation, thus raising the water temperature again. Conversely, a rise in water temperature will cause the activity and power level to decrease until the water temperature has returned to its stable value. This inherent feature results in an exceptionally stable plant, and at the same time enables it to be self-regulating on load changes. This can be visualized by a study of Fig. 2. In this diagram, the temperature of the water leaving the reactor TH) the temperature of the water leaving the boiler Tc, the steam power load, and the reactor heat output are plotted as functions of time during a power change. It is assumed that steam power output is increased rapidly to a new level in less time than it takes for the water to travel from the boiler to the reactor. The reactor power does not change until the colder water reaches the core. The colder water causes the reactor power level to increase, increasing the temperature of the water leaving the reactor. The power level of the reactor will increase as long as the average temperature of the water is below normal. As soon as the reactor has restored the energy initially taken from the water it will settle to the new heat output needed to maintain the power flow equilibrium. The action described occurs without external regulation. Its effect is to restore reactor (and boiler) average temperature to its former value following the transient caused by a load change.

    During the production of energy by nuclear fission, various end products of the fission process accumulate within the fuel. These are the elements into which uranium splits. Some of them are initially formed as an isotope of one element and decay with time to another, and with further time to still another. One of these of interest is a xenon, X e 135, which is important because it is highly effective in absorbing neutrons, thus preventing them from being useful in fission. The absorptive effect is similar to that of the control rods. This isotope of xenon is formed as a decay product of iodine which is substantially a fission product.

    The X e 135 is eliminated by two means: I t will decay radioactively to an isotope of cesium, Cs 135, but its decay takes longer than its formation. In the presence of a neutron flux, i.e., when the reactor is at power, it is changed by neutron absorption into X e 136. Both the Cs 135 and the


    Fig. 2. Reactor p o w e r - a n d pr imary-p lant t e m p e r atures fo l lowing c h a n g e in s t e a m - p o w e r o u t p u t

    X e 136 are essentially nonabsorptive and hence produce no effect on the operation of the reactor. A more detailed discussion of these effects may be found in discussions on reactor technology. 3 , 4 During any prolonged steady-state operation of the reactor, the amount of the Xe 135 reaches an equilibrium value. Following any power change the quanti ty of this isotope changes over a period of time, measured in hours. The effect of this is to alter the temperature at which the reactor is self-regulating as described previously. In order to maintain the operating temperature constant, the control rods must be adjusted. This adjustment may be manual or automatic, the automatic control being based on temperature.

    The result of the control features described in the foregoing is shown in Fig. 3. O n this diagram, the various reactor temperatures are plotted as a function of plant power output for steady-state conditions and constant flow of the primary coolant. The average temperature of the reactor is maintained constant by regulation of the control rods as the amount of xenon changes. The reactor outlet temperature increases and the reactor inlet temperature decreases as the plant output increases. The effect of maintaining the average temperature of the primary coolant constant is to produce a steam temperature and, hence, steam pressure which varies with load. In a unit system, this variation of pressure, although not conventional, is not detrimental.

    If the plant is to be scheduled for light load, the coolant flow may be reduced by a reduction in pump speed. The result of this operation is illustrated by Fig. 4. The pumps are operated at one-half speed for loads to 50 per cent of plant capability, and at full speed for loads from 50 to 100 per cent of plant capability. The advantage of this is the considerable savings in pumping power for light-load operation. The power required for the pumps at one-half speed is only one-eighth the power required for full speed.

    O P E R A T I O N O F A N U C L E A R P O W E R P L A N T

    Plant Start-up. The reactor plant at ambient temperature with the plant checked out preparatory to making the re-

    WilsonOperation of a Nuclear Power Plant 981 NOVEMBER 1955

  • actor critical, corresponds to the conventional coal or oil-fired plant at the time of lighting off the burners. With the reactor plant ready for start-up, the pumps will be running at reduced speed. Usually a primary system pressure a little above ambient is maintained on the primary loops to prevent the corrosion inhibitor from coming out of solution. Starting with this condition, the sequence of events is :

    1. The control rods are withdrawn at a controlled rate to approach criticality. The condition of the reactor can be determined by observation of the nuclear instruments, which indicate the multiplication of the neutron population within the core. Approximately 20 minutes is required to attain criticality for a hypothetical central-station reactor.

    2. The reactor power, when criticality is reached, will be many powers of ten below normal power level. By adjustment of rods the reactor will be placed on a "positive period," which means that power will multiply at a regular rate until normal power range is reached. It will take 10 to 15 minutes to raise power to the vicinity of 10-per-cent power when plant warm up can begin.

    3. With the reactor at a power level sufficient to raise temperature at 150 to 200 F per hour, approximately 3 hours will be required to warm the plant to the operating temperatures of present-day technology. The primary loops are pressurized by operation of the heaters in the pressurizer to keep pace with the increasing temperature.

    4. The turbine may be rolled as soon as adequate steam pressure is available, if it is desired to do so. Load may be placed on the turbine as soon as it is at operating speed.

    5. When the primary plant reaches design temperature it may be placed in automatic control which will operate to hold the average-temperature constant.

    The process of starting up and bringing the plant to full-power operation thus requires 3 1 / 2 to 4 hours, if it is initially at ambient temperature. If the plant is at or near design

    Fig. 3. T e m p e r a ture vs p o w e r ; p u m p s at full s p e e d


    Fig. 4. T e m p e r a ture v s p o w e r ; p u m p s at ha l f s p e e d


    temperature, as it would be following an overnight shutdown, the time would be about an hour, consisting of the time required to attain criticality and power-range operation, plus the time required to place the turbine in operation.

    Plant Operation in the Power Range. There is essentially no inherent restriction on the rate at which the reactor plant can pick up load. The rate at which the turbine can assume load is the determining factor. For decreasing loads, the rate at which load is removed will affect the design of the primary plant in that the pressurizer must be capable of keeping the primary pressure within design limits. The size of step load reductions that can be accommodated by a nuclear power plant of the type considered will depend on the size of the pressurizer and the volume of the primary system. Nevertheless, without oversizing the pressurizer above the size required for maintenance of normal primary water inventory, the reactor plant is able to accommodate reductions in load of 20 to 30 per cent of the plant rating as fast as the turbine throttle can close for load changes, normally 2 to 3 per cent per second. It is able to take a complete load cutback from 100 per cent minimum or zero load at a rate of 5 to 10 per cent per minute. These rates of load change more than meet the needs of central station practice.

    Emergency Load Reduction and Recovery. Two types of emergency load rejection are of interest: generator-breaker-trip, and steam throttle-tri p. In either case, the steam pressure relief valve will probably open. I t is not necessary to shut down the reactor if the transient primary-loop temperature rise can be prevented from exceeding a design limit by controlled steam exhaust until the reactor power has cut back. In this case, the unit may be restored to service as fast as the steam and electrical plant can be recovered.

    If the reactor emergency shutdown is tripped during these emergencies, the rods will have to be withdrawn again, and criticality regained. The process of restoring the reactor to power level will take 15 to 30 minutes, depending on the mechanism for safety shutdown, and the length of time before rod withdrawal is begun.

    Plant Shutdown and Start-up After Normal Shutdown. The process of shutting down a reactor is no more involved than shutting down a conventional plant. After the steam load...


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