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Driven Subcritical Nuclear Reactor using an IEC Neutron Source

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 The RC-IEC (left) version of interest here has many similarities to the spherical IEC (right)

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Vertical cross-section showing RC-IEC modules inserted in fuel element slots


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Cross-section view shows RC-IEC modules in fuel element channel locations


Neutrons produced by electrostatic inertial confinement (IEC) devices embedded in fuel channels are used to drive a subcritical nuclear fission reactor.  A driven subcritical reactor offers advantages in control and safety.

 Some Possible Applications

The most important near term application is to provide a neutron source for a  subcritical research reactor.  This would have an important advantage of safety and flexibility in operation. The concept has been described in some detail in a recent paper “Advances in Cylindrical IEC Neutron Source Design for Driven Sub-Critical Operations” presented at 11th International Conference on Nuclear Engineering, Tokyo, JAPAN, April 20-23, 2003, (paper number: ICONE11-36550).  The abstract and introduction from this paper is reproduced below.


Use of a cylindrical inertial electrostatic confinement (IEC) device to provide a D-T fusion neutron source represents an attractive approach for design of a novel driven research reactor (1-10 kW power level).  The inherent safety of such a reactor would introduce considerable flexibility in its’ experimental and training operations.  In this paper a unique Monte Carlo code developed to model the IEC discharge physics is described.  This code provides an important resource for the design of an IEC suitable for sub-critical applications.


Prior work has studied the potential use of a cylindrical IEC neutron source (termed RC-IEC) for driven sub-critical operation.  This approach has the important advantage that the small IEC neutron sources can be inserted in fuel element positions, providing a distributed neutron source.  While such an approach should be possible for large power reactors, the source strength required is well beyond the capability of current IEC devices.   However, a potential near-term application would be to develop a low-power (few kW) IEC driven sub-critical research reactor for use in universities and scientific laboratories.  In this case, the neutron source requirement (~1012 D-T 14 MeV n/sec) is much closer to present experimental device yields of ~1010 D-T n/sec.   Thus the scale-up to the required neutron yields seems achievable in the near term. 

 In order to design a suitable RC-IEC for this application we have recently undertaken a detailed computer modeling of the IEC discharge.  A computer code (called McPlasma or MCP) has been developed to self-consistently model the discharge characteristics of a RC-IEC fusion neutron device using a Monte Carlo numerical approach.   The MCP code and the benchmarking against available IEC experimental data will be discussed here.  This code provides the capability to undertake studies of RC-IEC physics operation at a research reactor level.

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