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Passive nuclear safety

Passive nuclear safety

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Passive nuclear safety is a safety feature of a nuclear reactor
Nuclear reactor
A nuclear reactor is a device to initiate and control a sustained nuclear chain reaction. Most commonly they are used for generating electricity and for the propulsion of ships. Usually heat from nuclear fission is passed to a working fluid , which runs through turbines that power either ship's...

 that does not require operator actions or electronic feedback in order to shut down safely in the event of a particular type of emergency (usually overheating resulting from a loss of coolant or loss of coolant flow). Such reactors tend to rely more on the engineering of components such that their predicted behaviour according to known laws of physics would slow, rather than accelerate, the nuclear reaction
Nuclear reaction
In nuclear physics and nuclear chemistry, a nuclear reaction is semantically considered to be the process in which two nuclei, or else a nucleus of an atom and a subatomic particle from outside the atom, collide to produce products different from the initial particles...

 in such circumstances. This is in contrast to some older reactor designs, where the natural tendency for the reaction was to accelerate rapidly from increased temperatures, such that either electronic feedback or operator triggered intervention was necessary to prevent damage to the reactor.

Terminology


Terming a reactor 'passively safe' is more a description of the strategy used in maintaining a degree of safety, than it is a description of the level of safety. Whether a reactor employing passive safety systems is to be considered safe or dangerous will depend on the criteria used to evaluate the safety level. This said, modern reactor designs have focused on increasing the amount of passive safety, and thus most passively safe designs incorporate both active and passive safety systems, making them substantially safer than older installations. They can be said to be "relatively safe" compared to previous designs.

Reactor vendors like to call their new generation reactors 'passively safe' but this term is sometimes confused with 'inherently safe' in the public perception. It is very important to understand that there are no 'passively safe' reactors or 'passively safe' systems, only 'passively safe' components of safety systems exist. Safety systems are used to maintain control of the plant if it goes outside normal conditions in case of anticipated operational occurrences or accidents, while the control systems are used to operate the plant under normal conditions. Sometimes a system combines both features. Passive safety refers to safety system components, whereas inherent safety
Inherent safety
Inherent safety is a concept particularly used in the chemical and process industries. An inherently safe process has a low level of danger even if things go wrong. It is used in contrast to safe systems where a high degree of hazard is controlled by protective systems...

 refers to control system process regardless of the presence or absence of safety specific subsystems.

As an example of a safety system with 'passively safe' components, let us consider the containment of a nuclear reactor. 'Passively safe' components are the concrete walls and the steel liner, but in order to fulfil its mission active systems have to operate, e.g. valves to ensure the closure of the piping leading outside the containment, feedback of reactor status to external instrumentation
Instrumentation
Instrumentation is defined as the art and science of measurement and control of process variables within a production, or manufacturing area....

 and control
Control engineering
Control engineering or Control systems engineering is the engineering discipline that applies control theory to design systems with predictable behaviors...

 (I&C
Instrumentation
Instrumentation is defined as the art and science of measurement and control of process variables within a production, or manufacturing area....

) both of which may require external power to function.

The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) classifies the degree of "passive safety" of components from category A to D depending on what the system does not make use of:
  1. no moving working fluid
  2. no moving mechanical part
  3. no signal inputs of 'intelligence'
  4. no external power input or forces


In category A (1+2+3+4) is the fuel cladding using none of these: It is always closed and keeps the fuel and the fission products inside and is not open before arriving at the reprocessing plant. In category B (2+3+4) is the surge line, which connects the hot leg with the pressurizer and helps to control the pressure in the primary loop of a PWR and uses a moving working fluid when fulfilling its mission. In category C (3+4) is the accumulator, which does not need signal input of 'intelligence' or external power. Once the pressure in the primary circuit drops below the set point of the spring-loaded accumulator valves, the valves open and water is injected into the primary circuit by compressed nitrogen. In category D (4 only) is the SCRAM
Scram
A scram or SCRAM is an emergency shutdown of a nuclear reactor – though the term has been extended to cover shutdowns of other complex operations, such as server farms and even large model railroads...

 which utilizes moving working fluids, moving mechanical parts and signal inputs of 'intelligence' but not external power or forces: the control rods drop driven by gravity once they have been released from their magnetic clamp. But nuclear safety engineering is never that simple: Once released the rod may not fulfil its mission: It may get stuck due to earthquake conditions or due to deformed core structures. This shows that though it is a passively safe system and has been properly actuated, it may not fulfil its mission. Nuclear engineers have taken this into consideration: Typically only a part of the rods dropped are necessary to shut down the reactor. Samples of safety systems with passive safety components can be found in almost all nuclear power stations: the containment, hydro-accumulators in PWRs or pressure suppression systems in BWRs.

In most texts on 'passively safe' components in next generation reactors, the key issue is that no pumps are needed to fulfil the mission of a safety system and that all active components (generally I&C
Instrumentation
Instrumentation is defined as the art and science of measurement and control of process variables within a production, or manufacturing area....

 and valves) of the systems work with the electric power from batteries.

IAEA explicitly uses the following caveat:
Nuclear reactor response properties such as Temperature coefficient of reactivity and Void coefficient of reactivity usually refer to the thermodynamic and phase-change response of the neutron moderator heat transfer process respectively. Reactors whose heat transfer process has the operational property of a negative void coefficient of reactivity are said to possess an inherent safety process feature. An operational failure mode could potentially alter the process to render such a reactor unsafe.

Reactors could be fitted with a hydraulic safety system component that increases the inflow pressure of coolant (esp. water) in response to increased outflow pressure of the moderator and coolant without control system intervention. Such reactors would be described as fitted with such a passive safety component that could - if so designed - render in a reactor a negative void coefficient of reactivity, regardless of the operational property of the reactor in which it is fitted. The feature would only work if it responded faster than an emerging (steam) void and the reactor components could sustain the increased coolant pressure. A reactor fitted with both safety features - if designed to constructively interact - is an example of a safety interlock. Rarer operational failure modes could render both such safety features useless and detract from the overall relative safety of the reactor.

Examples of passive safety in operation


Traditional reactor safety systems are active in the sense that they involve electrical or mechanical operation on command systems (e.g., high-pressure water pumps). But some engineered reactor systems operate entirely passively, e.g., using pressure relief valves to manage overpressure. Parallel redundant systems are still required. Combined inherent and passive safety depends only on physical phenomena such as pressure differentials, convection, gravity or the natural response of materials to high temperatures to slow or shut down the reaction, not on the functioning of engineered components such as high-pressure water pumps.

Current pressurized water reactor
Pressurized water reactor
Pressurized water reactors constitute a large majority of all western nuclear power plants and are one of three types of light water reactor , the other types being boiling water reactors and supercritical water reactors...

s and boiling water reactor
Boiling water reactor
The boiling water reactor is a type of light water nuclear reactor used for the generation of electrical power. It is the second most common type of electricity-generating nuclear reactor after the pressurized water reactor , also a type of light water nuclear reactor...

s are systems that have been designed with one kind of passive safety feature. In the event of an excessive-power condition, as the water in the nuclear reactor core
Nuclear reactor core
A nuclear reactor core is the portion of a nuclear reactor containing the nuclear fuel components where the nuclear reactions take place.- Description :...

 boils, pockets of steam
Steam
Steam is the technical term for water vapor, the gaseous phase of water, which is formed when water boils. In common language it is often used to refer to the visible mist of water droplets formed as this water vapor condenses in the presence of cooler air...

 are formed. These steam voids moderate
Neutron moderator
In nuclear engineering, a neutron moderator is a medium that reduces the speed of fast neutrons, thereby turning them into thermal neutrons capable of sustaining a nuclear chain reaction involving uranium-235....

 fewer neutrons, causing the power level inside the reactor to lower. The BORAX experiments
BORAX experiments
The BORAX Experiments were boiling water reactor experiments done at the National Reactor Testing Station, now the Idaho National Laboratory....

 and the SL-1
SL-1
The SL-1, or Stationary Low-Power Reactor Number One, was a United States Army experimental nuclear power reactor which underwent a steam explosion and meltdown on January 3, 1961, killing its three operators. The direct cause was the improper withdrawal of the central control rod, responsible for...

 meltdown accident proved this principle.

A reactor design whose inherently safe process directly provides a passive safety component during a specific failure condition in all operational modes is typically described as relatively fail-safe
Fail-safe
A fail-safe or fail-secure device is one that, in the event of failure, responds in a way that will cause no harm, or at least a minimum of harm, to other devices or danger to personnel....

 to that failure condition. However most current water-cooled and -moderated reactors, when scram
Scram
A scram or SCRAM is an emergency shutdown of a nuclear reactor – though the term has been extended to cover shutdowns of other complex operations, such as server farms and even large model railroads...

med, can not remove residual production and decay heat without either process heat transfer or the active cooling system. In other words, whilst the inherently safe heat transfer process provides a passive safety component preventing excessive heat in operational mode "On", the same inherently safe heat transfer process does not provide a passive safety component in operational mode "Off (SCRAM)". The Three Mile Island accident
Three Mile Island accident
The Three Mile Island accident was a core meltdown in Unit 2 of the Three Mile Island Nuclear Generating Station in Dauphin County, Pennsylvania near Harrisburg, United States in 1979....

 exposed this design deficiency: the reactor and steam generator were "Off" but with loss of coolant it still suffered a partial meltdown.
Third generation
Generation III reactor
A generation III reactor is a development of any of the generation II nuclear reactor designs incorporating evolutionary improvements in design developed during the lifetime of the generation II reactor designs...

 designs improve on early designs by incorporating passive or inherent safety features which require no active controls or (human) operational intervention to avoid accidents in the event of malfunction, and may rely on pressure differentials, gravity, natural convection, or the natural response of materials to high temperatures.

In some designs the core of a fast breeder reactor is immersed into a pool of liquid metal. If the reactor overheats, thermal expansion of the metallic fuel and cladding causes more neutrons to escape the core, and the nuclear chain reaction can no longer be sustained. The large mass of liquid metal also acts as a heatsink capable of absorbing the decay heat from the core, even if the normal cooling systems would fail.

The pebble bed reactor
Pebble bed reactor
The pebble bed reactor is a graphite-moderated, gas-cooled, nuclear reactor. It is a type of very high temperature reactor , one of the six classes of nuclear reactors in the Generation IV initiative...

 is an example of a reactor exhibiting an inherently safe process that is also capable of providing a passive safety component for all operational modes. As the temperature of the fuel rises, Doppler broadening
Doppler broadening
In atomic physics, Doppler broadening is the broadening of spectral lines due to the Doppler effect caused by a distribution of velocities of atoms or molecules. Different velocities of the emitting particles result in different shifts, the cumulative effect of which is the line broadening.The...

 increases the probability that neutrons are captured by U-238
Uranium-238
Uranium-238 is the most common isotope of uranium found in nature. It is not fissile, but is a fertile material: it can capture a slow neutron and after two beta decays become fissile plutonium-239...

 atoms. This reduces the chance that the neutrons are captured by U-235
Uranium-235
- References :* .* DOE Fundamentals handbook: Nuclear Physics and Reactor theory , .* A piece of U-235 the size of a grain of rice can produce energy equal to that contained in three tons of coal or fourteen barrels of oil. -External links:* * * one of the earliest articles on U-235 for the...

 atoms and initiate fission, thus reducing the reactor's power output and placing an inherent upper limit on the temperature of the fuel. The geometry and design of the fuel pebbles provides an important passive safety component.

Single fluid fluoride
Fluoride
Fluoride is the anion F−, the reduced form of fluorine when as an ion and when bonded to another element. Both organofluorine compounds and inorganic fluorine containing compounds are called fluorides. Fluoride, like other halides, is a monovalent ion . Its compounds often have properties that are...

 molten salt reactor
Molten salt reactor
A molten salt reactor is a type of nuclear fission reactor in which the primary coolant, or even the fuel itself is a molten salt mixture...

s feature fissile
Fissile
In nuclear engineering, a fissile material is one that is capable of sustaining a chain reaction of nuclear fission. By definition, fissile materials can sustain a chain reaction with neutrons of any energy. The predominant neutron energy may be typified by either slow neutrons or fast neutrons...

, fertile
Fertile
The term fertile describes a condition whereby organisms are able to produce physically healthy offspring.Fertile may also refer to:...

 and actinide
Actinide
The actinide or actinoid series encompasses the 15 metallic chemical elements with atomic numbers from 89 to 103, actinium through lawrencium.The actinide series derives its name from the group 3 element actinium...

 radioisotopes in molecular bonds with the fluoride
Fluoride
Fluoride is the anion F−, the reduced form of fluorine when as an ion and when bonded to another element. Both organofluorine compounds and inorganic fluorine containing compounds are called fluorides. Fluoride, like other halides, is a monovalent ion . Its compounds often have properties that are...

 coolant. The molecular bonds provide a passive safety feature in that a loss-of-coolant event corresponds with a loss-of-fuel event. The molten fluoride fuel can not itself reach criticality but only reaches criticality by the addition of a neutron reflector such as pyrolytic graphite. The higher density of the fuel along with additional lower density FLiBe
FLiBe
FLiBe is a mixture of lithium fluoride and beryllium fluoride . As a molten salt it is proposed as a nuclear reactor coolant, and two different mixtures were used in the Molten-Salt Reactor Experiment....

 fluoride coolant without fuel provides a flotation layer passive safety component in which lower density graphite that breaks off control rods or an immersion matrix during mechanical failure does not induce criticality. Gravity driven drainage of reactor liquids provides a passive safety component.

Some reactors, such as the liquid metal and molten salt
Molten salt reactor
A molten salt reactor is a type of nuclear fission reactor in which the primary coolant, or even the fuel itself is a molten salt mixture...

 variants, use Thorium-232 fuel
Thorium fuel cycle
The thorium fuel cycle is a nuclear fuel cycle that uses the naturally abundant isotope of thorium, , as the fertile material. In the reactor, is transmuted into the fissile artificial uranium isotope which is the nuclear fuel. Unlike natural uranium, natural thorium contains only trace amounts...

 which is more abundant in nature than Uranium
Uranium
Uranium is a silvery-white metallic chemical element in the actinide series of the periodic table, with atomic number 92. It is assigned the chemical symbol U. A uranium atom has 92 protons and 92 electrons, of which 6 are valence electrons...

 isotopes and requires no enrichment. The difficulty of enrichment in the Uranium fuel cycle provides a passive safety component against nuclear proliferation
Nuclear proliferation
Nuclear proliferation is a term now used to describe the spread of nuclear weapons, fissile material, and weapons-applicable nuclear technology and information, to nations which are not recognized as "Nuclear Weapon States" by the Treaty on the Nonproliferation of Nuclear Weapons, also known as the...

. Neutron capture of Thorium-232 breeds both the fissile Uranium-233
Uranium-233
Uranium-233 is a fissile isotope of uranium, bred from Thorium as part of the thorium fuel cycle. It has been used in a few nuclear reactors and has been proposed for much wider use as a nuclear fuel. It has a half-life of 160,000 years....

 and trace amounts of Uranium-232 by neutron knock-off. Neutron cross-section
Neutron cross-section
In nuclear and particle physics, the concept of a neutron cross section is used to express the likelihood of interaction between an incident neutron and a target nucleus. In conjunction with the neutron flux, it enables the calculation of the reaction rate, for example to derive the thermal power...

 and decay products of Uranium-232 complicate designs and damage electronics if built into nuclear weapon
Nuclear weapon
A nuclear weapon is an explosive device that derives its destructive force from nuclear reactions, either fission or a combination of fission and fusion. Both reactions release vast quantities of energy from relatively small amounts of matter. The first fission bomb test released the same amount...

s, although Operation Teapot
Operation Teapot
Operation Teapot was a series of fourteen nuclear test explosions conducted at the Nevada Test Site in the first half of 1955.During shot "Wasp", ground forces took part in Exercise Desert Rock VI which included an armored task force "Razor" moving to within 900 meters of ground zero, under the...

 demonstrated its plausibility. Isolation of Uranium-233
Uranium-233
Uranium-233 is a fissile isotope of uranium, bred from Thorium as part of the thorium fuel cycle. It has been used in a few nuclear reactors and has been proposed for much wider use as a nuclear fuel. It has a half-life of 160,000 years....

 from Uranium-232 is not currently believed possible, providing a partial passive safety component against nuclear proliferation
Nuclear proliferation
Nuclear proliferation is a term now used to describe the spread of nuclear weapons, fissile material, and weapons-applicable nuclear technology and information, to nations which are not recognized as "Nuclear Weapon States" by the Treaty on the Nonproliferation of Nuclear Weapons, also known as the...

.

Low power pool-type reactors such as the SLOWPOKE
Slowpoke
Slowpoke may refer to:*Slowpoke , a fictional species of creatures in Pokémon media*SLOWPOKE reactor, a nuclear research reactor*Slowpoke , a band from Dallas, Texas, who have worked with the Toadies*Slowpoke...

 and TRIGA
TRIGA
TRIGA is a class of small nuclear reactor designed and manufactured by General Atomics. The design team for TRIGA was led by the physicist Freeman Dyson.TRIGA is the acronym of Training, Research, Isotopes, General Atomics.-Design:...

 have been licensed for unattended operation in research environments because as the temperature of the low-enriched
Enriched uranium
Enriched uranium is a kind of uranium in which the percent composition of uranium-235 has been increased through the process of isotope separation. Natural uranium is 99.284% 238U isotope, with 235U only constituting about 0.711% of its weight...

 (19.75% U-235) uranium alloy hydride fuel rises, the molecular bound hydrogen in the fuel cause the heat to be transferred to the fission neutrons as they are ejected. This Doppler shifting
Doppler effect
The Doppler effect , named after Austrian physicist Christian Doppler who proposed it in 1842 in Prague, is the change in frequency of a wave for an observer moving relative to the source of the wave. It is commonly heard when a vehicle sounding a siren or horn approaches, passes, and recedes from...

 or spectrum hardening dissipates heat from the fuel more rapidly throughout the pool the higher the fuel temperature increases ensuring rapid cooling of fuel whilst maintaining a much lower water temperature than the fuel. Prompt, self-dispersing, high efficiency hydrogen-neutron heat transfer rather than inefficient radionuclide
Radionuclide
A radionuclide is an atom with an unstable nucleus, which is a nucleus characterized by excess energy available to be imparted either to a newly created radiation particle within the nucleus or to an atomic electron. The radionuclide, in this process, undergoes radioactive decay, and emits gamma...

-water heat transfer ensures the fuel cannot melt through accident alone. In uranium-zirconium alloy hydride variants, the fuel itself is also chemically corrosion resistant ensuring a sustainable safety performance of the fuel molecules throughout their lifetime. A large expanse of water and the concrete surround provided by the pool for high energy neutrons to penetrate ensures the process has a high degree of intrinsic safety. The core is visible through the pool and verification measurements can be made directly on the core fuel elements facilitating total surveillance and providing nuclear non-proliferation safety. Both the fuel molecules themselves and the open expanse of the pool are passive safety components. Quality implementations of these designs are arguably the safest nuclear reactors.

Examples of reactors using passive safety features


Three Mile Island Unit 2 was unable to contain about 480 PBq of radioactive noble gases from release into the environment and around 120 kL of radioactive contaminated cooling water from release beyond the containment into a neighbouring building. The pilot-operated relief valve
Pilot-operated relief valve
Like other pressure relief valves , pilot operated relief valves are used for emergency relief during overpressure events . The distinction between PORV and conventional PRV is that pilot valves use system pressure to seal the valve...

 at TMI-2 was designed to shut automatically after relieving excessive pressure inside the reactor into a quench tank. However the valve mechanically failed causing the PORV quench tank to fill, and the relief diaphragm to eventually rupture into the containment building. The containment building sump pumps automatically pumped the contaminated water outside the containment building. Both a working PORV with quench tank and separately the containment building with sump provided two layers of passive safety. An unreliable PORV negated its designed passive safety. The plant design featured only a single open/close indicator for the PORV rather than separate open and close indicators. This rendered the mechanical reliability of the PORV indeterminate directly, and therefore its passive safety status indeterminate. The automatic sump pumps and/or insufficient containment sump capacity negated the containment building designed passive safety.

The notorious RBMK
RBMK
RBMK is an initialism for the Russian reaktor bolshoy moshchnosti kanalniy which means "High Power Channel-type Reactor", and describes a class of graphite-moderated nuclear power reactor which was built in the Soviet Union. The RBMK reactor was the type involved in the Chernobyl disaster...

 graphite moderated, water-cooled reactors of Chernobyl Power Plant disaster
Chernobyl disaster
The Chernobyl disaster was a nuclear accident that occurred on 26 April 1986 at the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant in Ukraine , which was under the direct jurisdiction of the central authorities in Moscow...

 were designed with a positive void coefficient with boron control rods on electromagnetic grapples for reaction speed control. To the degree that the control systems were reliable, this design did have a corresponding degree of active inherent safety. The reactor was unsafe at low power levels because erroneous control rod movement would have a counter-intuitively magnified effect. Chernobyl Reactor 4 was built instead with manual crane driven boron control rods that were tipped with the moderator substance, graphite, a neutron reflector
Neutron reflector
A neutron reflector is any material that reflects neutrons. This refers to elastic scattering rather than to a specular reflection. The material may be graphite, beryllium, steel, and tungsten carbide, or other materials...

. It was designed with an Emergency Core Cooling System (ECCS) that depended on either grid power or the backup Diesel generator to be operating. The ECCS safety component was decidedly not passive. The design featured a partial containment consisting of a concrete slab above and below the reactor - with pipes and rods penetrating, an inert gas filled metal vessel to keep oxygen away from the water-cooled hot graphite, a fire-proof roof, and the pipes below the vessel sealed in secondary water filled boxes. The roof, metal vessel, concrete slabs and water boxes are examples of passive safety components. The roof in the Chernobyl Power Plant complex was made of bitumen - against design - rendering it ignitable. Unlike the Three Mile Island accident
Three Mile Island accident
The Three Mile Island accident was a core meltdown in Unit 2 of the Three Mile Island Nuclear Generating Station in Dauphin County, Pennsylvania near Harrisburg, United States in 1979....

, neither the concrete slabs nor the metal vessel could contain a steam, graphite and oxygen driven
Gasification
Gasification is a process that converts organic or fossil based carbonaceous materials into carbon monoxide, hydrogen, carbon dioxide and methane. This is achieved by reacting the material at high temperatures , without combustion, with a controlled amount of oxygen and/or steam...

 hydrogen explosion. The water boxes could not sustain high pressure failure of the pipes. The passive safety components as designed were inadequate to fulfil the safety requirements of the system.

The General Electric Company ESBWR (Economic Simplified Boiling Water Reactor, a BWR
Boiling water reactor
The boiling water reactor is a type of light water nuclear reactor used for the generation of electrical power. It is the second most common type of electricity-generating nuclear reactor after the pressurized water reactor , also a type of light water nuclear reactor...

) is a design reported to use passive safety components. In the event of coolant loss
Loss of coolant
A loss-of-coolant accident is a mode of failure for a nuclear reactor; if not managed effectively, the results of a LOCA could result in reactor core damage...

, no operator action is required for three days.

The Westinghouse
Westinghouse Electric Company
Westinghouse Electric Company LLC is a nuclear power company, offering a wide range of nuclear products and services to utilities throughout the world, including nuclear fuel, service and maintenance, instrumentation and control and advanced nuclear plant designs...

 AP1000 ("AP" standing for "Advanced Passive") uses passive safety components. In the event of an accident, no operator action is required for 72 hours. Recent version of the Russian VVER
VVER
The VVER, or WWER, is a series of pressurised water reactors originally developed by the Soviet Union, and now Russia, by OKB Gidropress. Power output ranges from 440 MWe to 1200 MWe with the latest Russian development of the design...

 have added a passive heat removal system to the existing active systems, utilising a cooling system and water tanks built on top of the containment dome.

The integral fast reactor
Integral Fast Reactor
The Integral Fast Reactor is a design for a nuclear reactor using fast neutrons and no neutron moderator . IFR is distinguished by a nuclear fuel cycle that uses reprocessing via electrorefining at the reactor site.The U.S...

 was a fast breeder reactor run by the Argonne National Laboratory
Argonne National Laboratory
Argonne National Laboratory is the first science and engineering research national laboratory in the United States, receiving this designation on July 1, 1946. It is the largest national laboratory by size and scope in the Midwest...

. It was a sodium cooled reactor capable of withstanding a loss of (coolant) flow without SCRAM
Scram
A scram or SCRAM is an emergency shutdown of a nuclear reactor – though the term has been extended to cover shutdowns of other complex operations, such as server farms and even large model railroads...

 and loss of heatsink without SCRAM
Scram
A scram or SCRAM is an emergency shutdown of a nuclear reactor – though the term has been extended to cover shutdowns of other complex operations, such as server farms and even large model railroads...

. This was demonstrated throughout a series of safety tests in which the reactor successfully shut down without operator intervention. The project was canceled due to proliferation concerns
Nuclear proliferation
Nuclear proliferation is a term now used to describe the spread of nuclear weapons, fissile material, and weapons-applicable nuclear technology and information, to nations which are not recognized as "Nuclear Weapon States" by the Treaty on the Nonproliferation of Nuclear Weapons, also known as the...

 before it could be copied elsewhere.

The Molten-Salt Reactor Experiment
Molten-Salt Reactor Experiment
The Molten-Salt Reactor Experiment was an experimental molten-salt reactor at the Oak Ridge National Laboratory researching this technology through the 1960s; constructed by 1964, it went critical in 1965 and was operated until 1969....

 was a molten salt reactor
Molten salt reactor
A molten salt reactor is a type of nuclear fission reactor in which the primary coolant, or even the fuel itself is a molten salt mixture...

 run by the Oak Ridge National Laboratory
Oak Ridge National Laboratory
Oak Ridge National Laboratory is a multiprogram science and technology national laboratory managed for the United States Department of Energy by UT-Battelle. ORNL is the DOE's largest science and energy laboratory. ORNL is located in Oak Ridge, Tennessee, near Knoxville...

. It was a fluoride
Fluoride
Fluoride is the anion F−, the reduced form of fluorine when as an ion and when bonded to another element. Both organofluorine compounds and inorganic fluorine containing compounds are called fluorides. Fluoride, like other halides, is a monovalent ion . Its compounds often have properties that are...

 salt cooled reactor in which the fuel molecules function also as a molten fluoride salt coolant. It featured thermochemical freeze valves in which the molten salt was actively cooled to freezing point by air in flattened sections of the Hastelloy-N salt piping to block flow. If the reactor vessel developed excessive heat or if electric power was lost to the air cooling, then the fuel and coolant could thermochemically penetrate the valve into drain tanks away from the neutron reflector becoming sub-critical enroute for passive or active water cooling. During testing, it was observed that about 6–10% of the calculated 54 Ci
Curie
The curie is a unit of radioactivity, defined asThis is roughly the activity of 1 gram of the radium isotope 226Ra, a substance studied by the pioneers of radiology, Marie and Pierre Curie, for whom the unit was named. In addition to the curie, activity can be measured using an SI derived unit,...

/day (2.0 TBq/day) production of tritium
Tritium
Tritium is a radioactive isotope of hydrogen. The nucleus of tritium contains one proton and two neutrons, whereas the nucleus of protium contains one proton and no neutrons...

 diffused out of the fuel system into the containment cell atmosphere and another 6–10% reached the air through the heat removal system. Inhalation of 70 GBq of tritium is equivalent to an adult human dose of 3 Sv
Sievert
The sievert is the International System of Units SI derived unit of dose equivalent radiation. It attempts to quantitatively evaluate the biological effects of ionizing radiation as opposed to just the absorbed dose of radiation energy, which is measured in gray...

  in which 50% of cases would be expected to die within 30 days. The fluoride salt molecular bond passive safety component failed to prevent tritium production from fission thus presenting a proliferation risk
Nuclear proliferation
Nuclear proliferation is a term now used to describe the spread of nuclear weapons, fissile material, and weapons-applicable nuclear technology and information, to nations which are not recognized as "Nuclear Weapon States" by the Treaty on the Nonproliferation of Nuclear Weapons, also known as the...

. The fluoride salt molecular bonds did not prevent tritium from leaking into the containment.

The fleet of BWR
Boiling water reactor
The boiling water reactor is a type of light water nuclear reactor used for the generation of electrical power. It is the second most common type of electricity-generating nuclear reactor after the pressurized water reactor , also a type of light water nuclear reactor...

s and PWRs operating within the last 10 years in the United States have reported on 42 occasions a quarterly average daily tritium emission level of more than 22 mCi/day (70 GBq/day) from a power plant. During the first quarter of 2001 Palo Verde Unit 1
Palo Verde Nuclear Generating Station
The Palo Verde Nuclear Generating Station is a nuclear power plant located in Wintersburg, Arizona, about 45 miles west of central Phoenix. It is the largest nuclear generation facility in the United States, averaging over 3.3 gigawatts of electrical power production in 2008 to serve...

 released on average 9 Ci
Curie
The curie is a unit of radioactivity, defined asThis is roughly the activity of 1 gram of the radium isotope 226Ra, a substance studied by the pioneers of radiology, Marie and Pierre Curie, for whom the unit was named. In addition to the curie, activity can be measured using an SI derived unit,...

/day (333 GBq/day) tritium gas. The passive safety component of water as neutron moderator failed to prevent excessive tritium gas (hydrogen with 2 neutrons) from being released from the plant as gas for dilution with air rather than water diluted tritiated water
Tritiated water
Tritiated water is a form of water where the usual hydrogen atoms are replaced with tritium. In its pure form it may be called tritium oxide or super-heavy water. Pure T2O is corrosive due to self-radiolysis. Diluted, tritiated water is mainly H2O plus some HTO . It is also used as a tracer for...

. Inhalation of tritium is absorbed at almost twice the rate as ingested tritium.

See also

  • Safety engineering
    Safety engineering
    Safety engineering is an applied science strongly related to systems engineering / industrial engineering and the subset System Safety Engineering...

    • Fail-safe
      Fail-safe
      A fail-safe or fail-secure device is one that, in the event of failure, responds in a way that will cause no harm, or at least a minimum of harm, to other devices or danger to personnel....

    • Failure mode and effects analysis
      Failure mode and effects analysis
      A failure modes and effects analysis is a procedure in product development and operations management for analysis of potential failure modes within a system for classification by the severity and likelihood of the failures...

       (FMEA)
    • Failure Mode, Effects, and Criticality Analysis (FMECA)
    • Inherent safety
      Inherent safety
      Inherent safety is a concept particularly used in the chemical and process industries. An inherently safe process has a low level of danger even if things go wrong. It is used in contrast to safe systems where a high degree of hazard is controlled by protective systems...

  • Nuclear power
    Nuclear power
    Nuclear power is the use of sustained nuclear fission to generate heat and electricity. Nuclear power plants provide about 6% of the world's energy and 13–14% of the world's electricity, with the U.S., France, and Japan together accounting for about 50% of nuclear generated electricity...

  • Generation III reactor
    Generation III reactor
    A generation III reactor is a development of any of the generation II nuclear reactor designs incorporating evolutionary improvements in design developed during the lifetime of the generation II reactor designs...

  • Nuclear Power 2010 Program
    Nuclear Power 2010 Program
    The "Nuclear Power 2010 Program" was unveiled by the U.S. Secretary of Energy Spencer Abraham on February 14, 2002 as one means towards addressing the expected need for new power plants...

  • Nuclear power plant
    Nuclear power plant
    A nuclear power plant is a thermal power station in which the heat source is one or more nuclear reactors. As in a conventional thermal power station the heat is used to generate steam which drives a steam turbine connected to a generator which produces electricity.Nuclear power plants are usually...

  • Nuclear reactor
    Nuclear reactor
    A nuclear reactor is a device to initiate and control a sustained nuclear chain reaction. Most commonly they are used for generating electricity and for the propulsion of ships. Usually heat from nuclear fission is passed to a working fluid , which runs through turbines that power either ship's...

  • Nuclear safety
    Nuclear safety
    Nuclear safety covers the actions taken to prevent nuclear and radiation accidents or to limit their consequences. This covers nuclear power plants as well as all other nuclear facilities, the transportation of nuclear materials, and the use and storage of nuclear materials for medical, power,...

  • Floating nuclear power station

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