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Posted by Energetic
Boiling water reactor (BWR) safety systems are nuclear safety systems constructed within boiling water reactors in order to prevent or mitigate environmental and health hazards in the event of accident or natural disaster.
Like the pressurized water reactor, the BWR reactor core continues to produce heat from radioactive decay after the fission reactions have stopped, making a core damage incident possible in the event that all safety systems have failed and the core does not receive coolant. Also like the pressurized water reactor, a boiling water reactor has a negative void coefficient, that is, the neutron (and the thermal) output of the reactor decreases as the proportion of steam to liquid water increases inside the reactor.
However, unlike a pressurized water reactor which contains no steam in the reactor core, a sudden increase in BWR steam pressure (caused, for example, by the actuation of the main steam isolation valve (MSIV) from the reactor) will result in a sudden decrease in the proportion of steam to liquid water inside the reactor. The increased ratio of water to steam will lead to increased neutron moderation, which in turn will cause an increase in the power output of the reactor. This type of event is referred to as a "pressure transient".
The BWR is specifically designed to respond to pressure transients, having a "pressure suppression" type of design which vents overpressure using safety relief valves to below the surface of a pool of liquid water within the containment, known as the "wetwell" or "torus". There are 11 safety overpressure relief valves on BWR/1-BWR/6 models (7 of which are part of the ADS) and 18 safety overpressure relief valves on ABWR models, only a few of which have to function to stop the pressure rise of a transient. In addition, the reactor will already have rapidly shut down before the transient affects the RPV (as described in the Reactor Protection System section below.
Because of this effect in BWRs, operating components and safety systems are designed to ensure that no credible scenario can cause a pressure and power increase that exceeds the systems' capability to quickly shutdown the reactor before damage to the fuel or to components containing the reactor coolant can occur. In the limiting case of an ATWS (Anticipated Transient Without Scram) derangement, high neutron power levels (~ 200%) can occur for less than a second, after which actuation of SRVs will cause the pressure to rapidly drop off. Neutronic power will fall to far below nominal power (the range of 30% with the cessation of circulation, and thus, void clearance) even before ARI or SLCS actuation occurs. Thermal power will be barely affected.
In the event of a contingency that disables all of the safety systems, each reactor is surrounded by a containment building consisting of 1.2–2.4 m (4–8 ft) of steel-reinforced, pre-stressed concrete designed to seal off the reactor from the environment.
However, the containment building does not protect the fuel during the whole fuel cycle. Most importantly, the spent fuel resides long periods of time outside the primary containment. A typical spent fuel storage pool can hold roughly five times the fuel in the core. Since reloads typically discharge one third of a core, much of the spent fuel stored in the pool will have had considerable decay time. But if the pool were to be drained of water, the discharged fuel from the previous two refuelings would still be "fresh" enough to melt under decay heat. However, the zircaloy cladding of this fuel could be ignited during the heatup. The resulting fire would probably spread to most or all of the fuel in the pool. The heat of combustion, in combination with decay heat, would probably drive "borderline aged" fuel into a molten condition. Moreover, if the fire becomes oxygen-starved (quite probable for a fire located in the bottom of a pit such as this), the hot zirconium would rob oxygen from the uranium dioxide fuel, forming a liquid mixture of metallic uranium, zirconium, oxidized zirconium, and dissolved uranium dioxide. This would cause a release of fission products from the fuel matrix quite comparable to that of molten fuel. In addition, although confined, BWR spent fuel pools are almost always located outside of the primary containment. Generation of hydrogen during the process would probably result in an explosion damaging the secondary containment building. Thus, release to the atmosphere is more likely than for comparable accidents involving the reactor core.
A spent fuel pool accident releasing radioactive material to the atmosphere happened in a Mk-1 type BWR reactor in Fukushima, Japan, on March 14, 2011.