Nuclear Power Plant Control – Electric Power Control

Steam generator - counterflow heat exchanger

Temperature gradients in typical PWR steam generator.

As was written, after synchronization of generator, the reactor control system is usually switched to automatic control and the additional power increase is in this mode. The power plant is then controlled by plant control system, that coordinates the NSSS and the turbine control system. The interfacing variable is in this case the core inlet temperature, which is fully determined by steam pressure inside steam generators. Note that, the core inlet temperature and the steam pressure are interconnected, since heat (or power) transferred across a steam generator is:

q = h . ΔT

 where:

  • q is amount of heat transferred (heat flux), W/m2 i.e., thermal power per unit area
  • h is heat transfer coefficient, W/(m2.K)
  • ΔT is the difference in temperature across the steam generator (in this case, the difference between the average temperature of the reactor coolant – Tavg and the saturation temperature determined by system pressure.

For all practical purposes, the heat transfer coefficient (h) is constant, since the heat transfer coefficient is a function of the materials used in the construction of the steam generator and the U-tubes are completely covered with water.

See also: Steam Turbine

When a reactor is in the automatic control, it follows the core inlet temperature – Tin (or the core average temperature – Tavg). Note that Tavg = (Tout + Tin) / 2. When there is a difference between actual Tin, actual and the temperature Tin, set, which is set in the system, the reactor control system initiate control rods movement. For example, when Tin, actual > Tin, set, the reactor control system automatically inserts control rods in order to decrease Tin, actual. The reactor thermal power remains constant, because the rods movement only offsets the reactivity from the difference (Tin, actual – Tin, set) x MTC = moderator defect.

On the other hand, if the energy demand in the external system increases, more energy is removed from reactor system causing the temperature of the reactor coolant (Tin) to decrease. As the reactor coolant temperature decreases, positive reactivity is added and a corresponding increase in reactor power level results. This reactor power increase occurs without any change in control rods position and without any change in boron concentration. The same inherent stability can be observed as the energy demand on the system is decreased.

Steam turbine of typical 3000MWth PWR

Schema of a steam turbine of a typical 3000MWth PWR.

It must be added, in case of disconnected automatic control, the turbine controls the steam pressure and the reactor control system is in manual regime. In this case a control rods insertion causes a decrease in reactor thermal power since the steam pressure remains constant. The turbine load decreases as the reactor thermal power decreases.

Operating with a negative MTC is favorable operational characteristics also during power changes. At normal operation there is an exact energy balance between the primary circuit and secondary circuit. Therefore when the operator decreases the load on the turbine (e.g. due to a grid requirement), the steam demand decreases (see the initial electrical output decrease at the picture). At this moment, the reactor will produce more heat than the steam turbine can consume. This disbalance causes the steam pressure, the saturation temperature in the steam generators to increase (see II. pressure at the picture). As a result of increasing saturation temperature in the steam generators the moderator temperature will simply increase (see inlet temperature). Increasing the temperature of the moderator adds negative reactivity, which reduces reactor power (without any operator intervention). As can be seen, to a certain extent the reactor is self-regulating and the reactor power may be controlled  via the steam turbine and via grid requirements. This feature is limited, because also the range of allowable inlet temperatures is limited. It is power plant specific, but in general, power changes of the order of units of % are common.

See also: Reactor Stability

self-regulating reactor-min

Back to the automatic control, in which reactor control system controls the floating Tin, actual and is actuated when Tin, actual  – Tin, actual is greater than the preset deadband. From this point of view (Tin or Tavg control), usually three regimes are defined:

  • Constant Pressure Regime (sliding Tavg). Constant pressure (psteam) regime means that the reactor control system maintains the steam pressure inside steam generators (or at the turbine inlet) constant as turbine load changes. Also in this case, the automatic system follows  Tavg, set, but Tavg, set is a function of turbine load. For example, increasing turbine load causes steam pressure to decrease. The reactor control system would sense this decrease in steam pressure and withdraw control rods to increase the reactor coolant temperature. This type of reactor control produces ideal steam conditions at the main turbine inlet for all loads from initial load (e.g. 30%) to 100% load. The temperature difference (ΔT) between primary side and secondary side is increased by raising Tavg or proportionally by raising Tin.  The disadvantage of this type of control scheme is that just minimal changes in turbine load requires (negative MTC) an intervention of the reactor control system. Moreover there are problems with in a high reactor outlet temperature (Tout), which approaches saturation values. Therefore it is not widely used in PWRs especially for U-tube steam generators.
  • Constant Tavg Regime (sliding psteam). Constant Tavg regime means that the reactor control system maintains the average core temperature of the reactor coolant constant as turbine load changes. The automatic system follows  Tavg, set, which is constant. For example, increasing turbine load causes steam pressure to decrease. This, in turn, causes Tavg to decrease, because the turbine uses more energy than that produced by the reactor. The reactor control system would sense this decrease in Tavg and withdraw control rods to increase the reactor coolant temperature. This regime causes minimal changes in reactivity of the core, due to minimal changes in the average coolant temperature. Since the coolant temperature remains constant the coolant volume does not change and therefore the pressurizer level is remains constant for all load conditions. The disadvantage of this type of control scheme is that steam conditions (steam pressure) significantly changes from hot zero power to full load, which is unacceptable.
  • Reactor Control - Turbine Control

    Sliding Tavg and Sliding psteam Regime. The automatic system follows Tavg, set, but Tavg, set is a function of turbine load and it is programmed for best performance of the entire system.

    Sliding Tavg and Sliding psteam Regime. This regime combines the previous regimes. The automatic system follows  Tavg, set, but Tavg, set is a function of turbine load and it is programmed for best performance of the entire system. Sometimes, there are many programmed functions of Tavg, set, which are for different purposes (e.g. for initial power increase, for load-follow, for coast down). The control scheme most often selected to control the reactor is the sliding Tavg and sliding psteam regime. This regime is a compromise between the other two regimes of control and contains some of the advantages and disadvantages of each.

Nuclear and Reactor Physics:

  1. J. R. Lamarsh, Introduction to Nuclear Reactor Theory, 2nd ed., Addison-Wesley, Reading, MA (1983).
  2. J. R. Lamarsh, A. J. Baratta, Introduction to Nuclear Engineering, 3d ed., Prentice-Hall, 2001, ISBN: 0-201-82498-1.
  3. W. M. Stacey, Nuclear Reactor Physics, John Wiley & Sons, 2001, ISBN: 0- 471-39127-1.
  4. Glasstone, Sesonske. Nuclear Reactor Engineering: Reactor Systems Engineering, Springer; 4th edition, 1994, ISBN: 978-0412985317
  5. W.S.C. Williams. Nuclear and Particle Physics. Clarendon Press; 1 edition, 1991, ISBN: 978-0198520467
  6. G.R.Keepin. Physics of Nuclear Kinetics. Addison-Wesley Pub. Co; 1st edition, 1965
  7. Robert Reed Burn, Introduction to Nuclear Reactor Operation, 1988.
  8. U.S. Department of Energy, Nuclear Physics and Reactor Theory. DOE Fundamentals Handbook, Volume 1 and 2. January 1993.

Advanced Reactor Physics:

  1. K. O. Ott, W. A. Bezella, Introductory Nuclear Reactor Statics, American Nuclear Society, Revised edition (1989), 1989, ISBN: 0-894-48033-2.
  2. K. O. Ott, R. J. Neuhold, Introductory Nuclear Reactor Dynamics, American Nuclear Society, 1985, ISBN: 0-894-48029-4.
  3. D. L. Hetrick, Dynamics of Nuclear Reactors, American Nuclear Society, 1993, ISBN: 0-894-48453-2. 
  4. E. E. Lewis, W. F. Miller, Computational Methods of Neutron Transport, American Nuclear Society, 1993, ISBN: 0-894-48452-4.

See above: