Boiling in Nuclear Reactor

Boiling in Nuclear Reactors

Boiling in BWRs

In BWRs boiling of coolant occurs at normal operation and it is very desired phenomenon. Typical flow qualities in BWR cores are on the order of 10 to 20 %. A boiling water reactor is cooled and moderated by water like a PWR, but at a lower pressure (7MPa), which allows the water to boil inside the pressure vessel producing the steam that runs the turbines. Evaporation therefore occurs directly in fuel channels. Therefore BWRs are the best example for this area, because evaporation of coolant occurs at normal operation and it is very desired phenomenon.

In BWRs there is a phenomenon, that is of the highest importance in reactor safety. This phenomenon is known as the “dryout” and it is directly associated with changes in flow pattern during evaporation in the high-quality region. At normal the fuel surface is effectively cooled by boiling coolant. However when the heat flux exceeds a critical value (CHF – critical heat flux) the flow pattern may reach the dryout conditions (thin film of liquid disappears). The heat transfer from the fuel surface into the coolant is deteriorated, with the result of a drastically increased fuel surface temperature.

Boiling in PWRs

Although the earliest core designs assumed that surface boiling could not be allowed in PWRs, this assumption was soon rejected and two-phase heat transfer is now one of normal operation heat transfer mechanisms also in PWRs. For PWRs at normal operation, there is a compressed liquid water inside the reactor core, loops and steam generators.  The pressure is maintained at approximately 16MPa. At this pressure water boils at approximately 350°C(662°F). As was calculated in example, the surface temperature TZr,1 = 325°C ensures, that even subcooled boiling does not occur. Note that, subcooled boiling requires TZr,1 = Tsat. Since the inlet temperatures of the water are usually about 290°C (554°F), it is obvious this example corresponds to the lower part of the core. At higher elevations of the core the bulk temperature may reach up to 330°C. The temperature difference of 29°C causes the subcooled boiling may occur (330°C + 29°C > 350°C). On the other hand, nucleate boiling at the surface effectively disrupts the stagnant layer and therefore nucleate boiling significantly increases the ability of a surface to transfer thermal energy to bulk fluid. As a result, the convective heat transfer coefficient significantly increases and therefore at higher elevations, the temperature difference (TZr,1 – Tbulk) significantly decreases.

In case of PWRs, the critical safety issue is named DNB (departure from nucleate boiling), which causes the formation of a local vapor layer, causing a dramatic reduction in heat transfer capability. This phenomenon occurs in the subcooled or low-quality region. The behaviour of the boiling crisis depends on many flow conditions (pressure, temperature, flow rate), but the boiling crisis occurs at a relatively high heat fluxes and appears to be associated with the cloud of bubbles, adjacent to the surface. These bubbles or film of vapor reduces the amount of incoming water. Since this phenomenon deteriorates the heat transfer coefficient and the heat flux remains, heat then accumulates in the fuel rod causing dramatic rise of cladding and fuel temperature.

Saturation in Pressurizer

Extensive vs. intensive thermodynamic properties
Extensive and intensive properties of medium in the pressurizer.

pressurizer is a component of a pressurized water reactorPressure in the primary circuit of PWRs is maintained by a pressurizer, a separate vessel that is connected to the primary circuit (hot leg) and partially filled with water which is heated to the saturation temperature (boiling point) for the desired pressure by submerged electrical heaters. Temperature in the pressurizer can be maintained at 350 °C (662 °F), which gives a subcooling margin (the difference between the pressurizer temperature and the highest temperature in the reactor core) of 30 °C. Subcooling margin is very important safety parameter of PWRs, since the boiling in the reactor core must be excluded. The basic design of the pressurized water reactor includes such requirement that the coolant (water) in the reactor coolant system must not boil. To achieve this, the coolant in the reactor coolant system is maintained at a pressure sufficiently high that boiling does not occur at the coolant temperatures experienced while the plant is operating or in an analyzed transient.


Pressure in the pressurizer is controlled by varying the temperature of the coolant in the pressurizer. For these purposes two systems are installed. Water spray system and electrical heaters system. Volume of the pressurizer (tens of cubic meters) is filled with water on saturation parameters and steam. The water spray system (relatively cool water – from cold leg) can decrease the pressure in the vessel by condensing the steam on water droplets sprayed in the vessel. On the other hand the submerged electrical heaters are designed to increase the pressure by evaporation the water in the vessel. Water pressure in a closed system tracks water temperature directly; as the temperature goes up, pressure goes up.

Boiling in Steam Generator

Steam Generator - vertical
Steam Generator – vertical

Steam generators are heat exchangers used to convert feedwater into steam from heat produced in a nuclear reactor core. The steam produced drives the turbine. They are used in the most nuclear power plants, but there are many types according to the reactor type.

The hot primary coolant (water 330°C; 626°F; 16MPa) is pumped into the steam generator through primary inlet. High pressure of primary coolant is used to keep the water in the liquid state. Boiling of the primary coolant shall not occur. The liquid water flows through hundreds or thousands of tubes (usually 1.9 cm in diameter) inside the steam generator. The feedwater (secondary circuit) is heated from ~260°C 500°F to the boiling point of that fluid (280°C; 536°F; 6,5MPa). Heat is transferred through the walls of these tubes to the lower pressure secondary coolant located on the secondary side of the exchanger where the coolant evaporates to pressurized steam (saturated steam 280°C; 536°F; 6,5 MPa). The pressurized steam leaves the steam generator through a steam outlet and continues to the steam turbine. The transfer of heat is accomplished without mixing the two fluids to prevent the secondary coolant from becoming radioactive. The primary coolant leaves (water 295°C; 563°F; 16MPa) the steam generator through primary outlet and continues through a cold leg to a reactor coolant pump and then into the reactor.

Heat Transfer:
  1. Fundamentals of Heat and Mass Transfer, 7th Edition. Theodore L. Bergman, Adrienne S. Lavine, Frank P. Incropera. John Wiley & Sons, Incorporated, 2011. ISBN: 9781118137253.
  2. Heat and Mass Transfer. Yunus A. Cengel. McGraw-Hill Education, 2011. ISBN: 9780071077866.
  3. U.S. Department of Energy, Thermodynamics, Heat Transfer and Fluid Flow. DOE Fundamentals Handbook, Volume 2 of 3. May 2016.

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.
  9. Paul Reuss, Neutron Physics. EDP Sciences, 2008. ISBN: 978-2759800414.

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:

Boiling and Condensation