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What Are the Different Types of Nuclear Reactors?

Nuclear power generation technology functions on nuclear fission, to derive thermal and electrical energy from the atoms of highly radioactive elements such as Uranium. The performance and safety of nuclear reactors are critical issues in terms of global public health, safety, and governance. Some of the different types of nuclear reactors are listed below, along with some helpful information about each type.

Types of Nuclear Reactors

A nuclear reactor is an electric device that uses nuclear fission as a power source. The name “nuclear reactor” comes from the fact that it can produce nuclear energy. Reactor manufacturers use different types of nuclear reactors, such as:

Boiling Water Reactor

The boiling water reactor (BWR) is one of the two most common nuclear reactors. The boiling water reactor uses the heat generated by the fission of Uranium-235 to boil and pressurise water to generate steam. The heated water then drives a steam turbine connected to an electrical generator.

A boiling water reactor has two primary parts. One is the main circuit and the other a secondary circuit. The first circuit consists of the core, the reactor vessel, and the control rod, all driving mechanism while the secondary one carries the pumps, heat exchangers, and other components that transfer heat from the primary circuit to other parts of the plant.

Pressurized Water Reactor (PWR)

The pressurised heavy water reactor (PHWR) is a type of nuclear reactor that utilizes normal water as a coolant for continuously fissioning U-235 atoms into energy.

The fuel rods are placed in a pool of water that can be made super critical, so that it is pressurised to very high temperatures. It is then pumped through a series of tubes where heat from the fuel rods causes them to boil off some of their plasma-generating gas. The superheated steam drives turbines, which generate electricity.

High-Temperature Gas Cooled Reactor (HTGR)

The HTGR is a very high pressure reactor that uses natural uranium fuel. These reactors are mainly used for research and development of nuclear fuel cycles. The configuration of the HTGR consists of two main components. One component is a high-pressure vessel where the nuclear fuel heats the heat transfer fluid. The other one is a reactor core in which the nuclear fission reaction happens. The HTGR can also use thorium as fuel and a breeder reactor by enriching U-235 to create plutonium from Th-232 in the spent fuel rods.

Light Water Graphite Moderated Reactors (LWRs)

The LWRs are similar to the HTGRs in many ways. The fact that separates both is that the LWRs are specifically designed for power generation. They use light water mixed with graphite or boron carbide as a coolant instead of helium or nitrogen gas. The combination of liquids is less corrosive than heavy or boiling water reactors. They need a lot less maintenance and are easier to start up and shut down. However, they have higher costs because they need more material than other types of reactors and have higher construction costs due to their larger size.

The most prominent designs are visible on the pressurised water reactors, the boiling water reactor, and the high-temperature gas-cooled reactor. Most commercial reactors are light-water reactors. Almost all new reactors being built today by reactor manufacturers are designed to be fueled by plutonium and uranium-233 – created from thorium (a naturally occurring radioactive element).

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