Nuclear Reactor, Physics tutorial


"Nuclear reactor are devices which are used to designed to the fission reaction that can proceed in a controlled way ". It consist two main types of nuclear reactor:

a. Thermal reactor

b. Fast (Breeder) reactor

Classification of Nuclear Reactors:

 Thermal Reactors

The same as point out previous, various kinds and sizes neutron energies take place through reactions. If the energy of a neutron is lowered, its wavelike actions and the reaction cross-section will amplify. The total of this raise depends upon the nuclide and reaction. The reaction cross-section of a thermal neutron depends extensively upon the target nuclide. The cross-section of   235U nuclear fission is shown in below Figure. Very large cross-sections of thermal neutrons of nuclear fissions by 223U, 239Pu and 241 Pu.

If the energy of a neutron is inferior to a thermal level, the accomplishment of criticality becomes simple. This is because as the neutron energy is decreased the cross-section for fission increases quicker than the combination cross-section of material in the reactor other than the coal.  A nuclear reactor through a huge fission charge by thermal neutrons is called a thermal reactor.

2378_Fission and Capture Cross Sections.jpg

Fig: Fission and Capture Cross Sections for 235U

As given above, nuclear fission has very high energy that is generated neutrons, and so; it is required to lesser the energy in a thermal reactor. In regulate to moderate neutrons, the distribution explained in earlier units can be used. In the high energy area, inelastic scattering and the (n, 2n) reaction can be used effectively. When the energy is lowered, though, these cross-sections are vanished. Therefore, elastic scattering is the only useful moderation method over the wide energy region required to produce thermal neutrons. The rate of energy loss by elastic scattering is expressed by ξ. Light nuclides have higher values, as shown in Table . Thus, neutrons generated in fission collide with light nuclei and are moderated to thermal neutrons. Material used to moderate neutrons is called a moderator. A light nucleus moderator use, but at the same time, it should have a small neutron capture cross-section.

1866_Fission Neutron Energy Spectrum.jpg

Fig: Fission Neutron Energy Spectrum

Table: Characteristics of Typical Moderator












# of collisions

From 2MeV


ξ  Σ s

[ cm-1]


ξ    Σ s/ Σ a









































































As explained earlier, natural uranium includes only a small quantity of fissile 235 U, with the rest being mostly   238 U. As shown in Figure, 238U shows a very large absorption for neutrons at energy of 6.67 eV. This type of absorption is called resonance absorption. We can see that there are also many resonance absorptions for energies higher than this. Therefore, if natural uranium is used as a fuel, many neutrons are absorbed by 238 U and it is difficult to make the nuclear reactor critical. The most direct method to solve this problem is to enrich 235U. However, enrichment is very costly. Another good method is to allow suitable separation of fuel and moderator in the reactor.

2445_Cross Sections for 238U.jpg

Fig: Cross Sections for 238U

The separation of fuel and moderator is called a heterogeneous arrangement. Inside the Moderator; both diffusion and moderation of neutrons take place. Since the nucleus of the fuel is heavy, it hardly moderates neutrons, and therefore, within the fuel, diffusion is the leading neutron motion. If the reactor is heterogeneous, neutrons spreader in the fuel tend to contain following collisions surrounded by the fuel, and neutrons scattered in the moderator tend to have successive collisions inside the moderator. Thus, neutrons generated by nuclear fission in the fuel are not restrained surrounded by the fuel instead they enter the moderator area and steadily lose their energy there by restraint. When a certain low energy is reached, most neutrons diffuse from the moderator area. In the energy area with large reverberation absorption, neutrons diffusing from the moderator region to the fuel region are mostly absorbed on the surface of the fuel region, and thus they cannot enter the interior of the fuel region. This effect is called self-shielding. Most neutrons are finally moderated to thermal neutrons in the moderator region and enter the fuel region after repeated diffusion.  After that absorbed by 235 U. If the ratio between the fuel plane area and the amount is reduced by making broad fuel rods, self-shielding can greatly decrease resonance absorption. The most commonly operated reactors is used in light-water reactors, neutron absorption by protons is substantial, enriched uranium is used and a heterogeneous array is assumed.

 Breeder Reactors

Thermal reactors have the following troubles. The fission cross-section raises and the capture cross-section also rise at nearly the same rate when the neutron energy happens to huge. The amount of neutrons emitted when one neutron is absorbed in the nucleus expressed as η is:

            η   = v  = σf / σf+ σc                                                                             (1.1)

Now, σf and σc are the cross-sections for fission as well as capture, in that order, and v is the standard numeral of produced neutrons per nuclear fission. The value η depends on the energy of the smash together neutrons, as given away in Figure1. For thermal neutrons, η is about two (2), though, when the energy is more than 0.1 MeV, η increases quickly. If lots of neutrons are created in this technique, not only can a sequence reaction be maintained, but it may also be possible that there will be surplus neutrons. If   238 U absorb these neutrons, after that 239Pu can be produced, as mentioned previous to. That is, we can construct fissile material at the equivalent time as we consume fissile substance. The numeral of recently generated fissile atoms per consumed fissile atom is called the translation ratio. If the value η is adequately larger than two (2), it is probable to gain a conversion ratio larger than one (1). Thus, it is possible to produce more fissile substance than is consumed. This is called breeding, and the translation ratio in this case is often called the breeding ratio and this kind of reactor is called a breeder reactor. In other words fissile substance can be bred using quick neutrons in a fast breeder reactor.

Looking with awareness at Figure , we can see that η for 233 U  is better than two (2) in the area of thermal neutrons. Thus, it seems potential to execute breeding by thermal neutrons as well. The nuclide can be prepared as of. Though, since the fringe of the neutron surplus is very little in this case, ingenuity is necessary. A breeder reactor using thermal neutrons is called a thermal breeder reactor.

 Components of Nuclear Reactors:

Core: The middle area of a reactor is called "Core". In a thermal reactor, this area contains the coolant, moderator and the fuel. The fuel contains the fissile isotope which is dependable equally for the criticality of the reactor and for the discharge of fission energy. The fuel in several cases may also include huge and of fertilize substance. Fertile materials are substance which are they not fissile but as of which fissile isotopes can be formed by absorption of neutrons examples are 232Th (from 233U) which 233U can be created and 235U from which 239PU can be formed.

The moderator which is nearby merely in thermal reactors, are used to slow down the neutrons from fission to thermal power. Nuclei with low mass number are more useful for this principle. Examples are graphite, heavy water and water.

The coolant is used to eliminate warm up from the core and from further fraction of the reactor where heat may be formed. Examples are, water, heavy metals, and various gases. Through rapid reactors, water and heavy water cannot be used as coolant since they can also measured down neutrons. Mainly fast reactor is cooled by liquid metal example liquid sodium.

Blanket: This is a area of fertile substance that environment the core. This area is designed specifically for translation or breeding. Neutrons that escape from the core are intercepted in the coverlet to come into the various translation reactions.

Reflector: This reduces the numeral of neutrons that finally leaves the reactor core. All of the neutrons do not return, but some do so as to safe neutrons for the chain reaction in the reactor. Therefore a reactor with a reflector is dearly better than one with no reflector.

Control Rods: These are immovable pieces of neutron absorption material. They are used to control the reactor. Since they absorbed neutrons, any movement of the rods into or out of the reactor affects the multiplication factor K of the system. Withdrawal of the rods increases K, insertion decreases K. Thus the reactor can be started up, shut down, or its power output can be changed by the appropriate motion of the rods example Boron rods.

Reactor Vessel: The entire component just described is located in the reactor vessel. Water reactors, high-temperature gas-cooled reactors, and fast reactors are presently used for power generation or propulsion or are close to being in actual use. An overview of these reactors is given in Table below.








Water reactor HTGR*

Fast reactor

Water graphite none













Practical use




Water reactors may be either light-water reactors or heavy-water reactors. The light-water reactor is the major power reactor. Light-water reactors consist of boiling-water reactors (BWR, Figure) , in which the coolant is heated in the core, and pressurized-water reactors (PWR, Figure), in which boiling is suppressed under high strain. In a boiling-water reactor, power is generated by straightly sending vapor to a turbine. In a pressurized-water reactor, secondary cooling water is evaporated in a steam producer and the generated steam is sent to the turbine. Since the core in a heavy-water reactor is large, the moderator and coolant are generally segregated. The moderator is placed in and full of atmosphere vessel and the coolant is placed in a strain tube. Either light water or heavy water is used as coolant. Usually, light water is used in the boiling-water type and heavy water is used in the pressurized-water type.

2011_boiling water reactor.jpg

Fig: Boiling-Water Reactor (BWR)

870_Pressurised-Water Reactor.jpg

Fig: Pressurized-Water Reactor (PWR)

Presently under forceful growth is the tall warmth gas-cooled reactor, in which graphite is used as a moderator. Helium is used as coolant and higher temperatures can be gain than are likely in further reactors. The high-temperature gas-cooled reactor is categorized into two types by the use of different fuel: the block-fuel type and pebble-bed type. Figure explains the pebble-bed reactor, developed as small modular reactors. Other reactors in which graphite is used as the moderator are the Calder Hall reactor, in which carbon dioxide is used as coolant, and the RBMK reactor, in which water is used as coolant. Though, these reactors are steadily vanishing.

1434_High-Temperature Gas-Cooled Reactor.jpg

Fig: High-Temperature Gas-Cooled Reactor

In nearly all quick reactors, a fluid metal, sodium, is used as coolant so that neutrons are not moderated. In these reactors, vapor is also ultimately generated. Since the contact of radioactive sodium and water is hazardous, a secondary sodium loop is installed between the primary sodium loop and the water. To keep away from sodium-water reaction, lead or lead-bismuth is creature experimented by as coolant. One more design uses gas such as helium or carbon dioxide as coolant since the concentration of gas is small and scarcely reacts by neutrons.

1694_Fast Breeder Reactor.jpg

Fig: Fast Breeder Reactor (Loop-Type)

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