Advanced gas-cooled reactor

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An advanced gas-cooled reactor (AGR) is a type of nuclear reactor. These are the second generation of British gas-cooled reactors, using graphite as the neutron moderator and carbon dioxide as coolant. The AGR was developed from the Magnox reactor, operating at a higher gas temperature for improved thermal efficiency, requiring stainless steel fuel cladding to withstand the higher temperature. Because the stainless steel fuel cladding has a higher neutron capture cross section than Magnox fuel cans, enriched uranium fuel is needed, with the benefit of higher "burn ups" of 18,000 MWt-days per tonne of fuel, requiring less frequent refuelling. The first prototype AGR became operational in 1962[1] but the first commercial AGR did not come on line until 1976.

All AGR power stations are configured with two reactors in a single building. Each reactor has a design thermal power output of 1,500 MWt driving a 660 MWe turbine-alternator set. The various AGR stations produce outputs in the range 555 MWe to 670 MWe though some run at lower than design output due to operational restrictions. [1]


AGR design

The design of the AGR was such that the final steam conditions at the boiler stop valve were identical to that of conventional coal fired power stations, thus the same design of turbo-generator plant could be used. The mean temperature of the hot coolant leaving the reactor core was designed to be 648°C. In order to obtain these high temperatures, yet ensure useful graphite core life (graphite oxidises readily in CO2 at high temperature) a re-entrant flow of coolant at the lower boiler outlet temperature of 278°C is utilised to cool the graphite, ensuring that the graphite core temperatures do not vary too much from those seen in a Magnox station. The superheater outlet temperature and pressure were designed to be 2,485 psia (170bar) and 543°C.

The fuel is uranium dioxide pellets, enriched to 2.5-3.5%, in stainless steel tubes. The original design concept of the AGR was to use a beryllium based cladding. When this proved unsuitable, the enrichment level of the fuel was raised to allow for the higher neutron capture losses of stainless steel cladding. This significantly increased the cost of the power produced by an AGR. The carbon dioxide coolant circulates through the core, reaching 640°C (1,184°F) and a pressure of around 40 bar (580 psi), and then passes through boiler (steam generator) assemblies outside the core but still within the steel lined, reinforced concrete pressure vessel. Control rods penetrate the graphite moderator and a secondary system involves injecting nitrogen into the coolant to hold the reactor down. A tertiary shutdown system which operates by injecting boron balls into the reactor has been proposed 'as retrofit to satisfy the Nuclear Installations Inspectorate’s concerns about core integrity and core restraint integrity' [2].

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