Thursday, December 06, 2007

Fueling of nuclear reactors

The amount of energy in the reservoir of nuclear fuel is frequently expressed in terms of "full-power days," which is the number of 24-hour periods (days) a reactor is scheduled for operation at full power output for the generation of heat energy. The number of full-power days in a reactor's operating cycle (between refueling outage times) is related to the amount of fissile uranium-235 (U-235) contained in the fuel assemblies at the beginning of the cycle. A higher percentage of U-235 in the core at the beginning of a cycle will permit the reactor to be run for a greater number of full-power days.

At the end of the operating cycle, the fuel in some of the assemblies is "spent," and is discharged and replaced with new (fresh) fuel assemblies. Although in practice, it is the buildup of reaction poisons in nuclear fuel that determines the lifetime of nuclear fuel in a reactor; long before all possible fissions have taken place, the buildup of long-lived neutron absorbing fission products damps out the chain reaction. The fraction of the reactor's fuel core replaced during refueling is typically one-fourth for a boiling-water reactor and one-third for a pressurized-water reactor.


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