Thorium fuels for light water reactors - steps towards commercialization

Abstract: Thorium-containing nuclear fuel is proposed as a means of gaining a number of benefits in the operation of light water reactors, some related to the nuclear properties of thorium and some related to the material properties of thorium dioxide. This thesis aims to investigate some of these benefits and to widen the knowledge base on thorium fuel behaviour, in order to pave the way for its commercial use.Part of the work is dedicated to finding ways of utilizing thorium in currently operating light water reactors which are beneficial to the reactor operator from a neutronic point of view. The effects of adding different fissile components to the fertile thorium matrix are compared, and the neutronic properties of the preferred alternative (plutonium) are more closely investigated. The possibility to use thorium as a minor component in conventional uranium dioxide fuel is also subject to study.Another part of the work is related to the thermal mechanical behaviour of thorium containing nuclear fuel under irradiation. To assess this behaviour, an irradiation experiment has been designed and is ongoing in the Halden research reactor. Existing software for prediction of thermal-mechanical fuel behaviour has been modified for application to mixed thorium and plutonium oxide fuel, and the preliminary simulation output is compared with irradiation data.The conclusion of the research conducted for this thesis is that the adoption of thorium containing fuel in light water reactors is indeed technically feasible and could also beattractive to reactor operators in a number of different aspects. Some steps have been taken towards a more complete knowledge of the behaviour of such fuel and therewith towards its commercial use.