Micro heat pipe nuclear reactor concepts: Analysis of fuel cycle performance and environmental impacts

Richard Hernandez, Michael Todosow, Nicholas R. Brown

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

    34 Scopus citations


    The demand for more practical and innovative nuclear reactor designs capable of providing clean energy to meet new global demands is revolutionizing the nuclear industry. In this paper we present the fuel cycle and neutronics analysis of a design expected to be similar to the Westinghouse eVinci™ heat pipe (HP) reactor. The concept considered here uses low enriched urania rods and potassium liquid metal-cooled HPs to remove heat from the core. The fuel and HPs are contained in steel monolith to form the core which is surrounded by an alumina reflector. There is no need for forced circulation to remove heat from the active core region, thus eliminating the use of pumps, valves and tube piping. The concept is designed to operate safely and provide a reliable autonomous power supply in support of off-grid missions. This study shows that the HP reactor design can operate for more than 10 years without refueling. Further, we show that the current design of the HP reactor concept is best suited to serve as a nuclear battery rather than a centralized power source. We also studied the nuclear fuel cycle performance of the HP reactor concept in a once-through fuel cycle. The natural resource utilization, waste output, and environmental impact, as defined in a reference study from the literature, did not perform as well on a GWe per year energy basis compared to light water reactors with less than 5% enriched uranium in a once-through fuel cycle. Parasitic absorption in the steel monolith structure and neutron leakage lower the reactivity of the core, which decreases the discharge burnup of the fuel. Analysis of modifications of the monolith material and size of the reference core configuration showed that the neutron leakage impact on the small sized HP core is the most limiting factor on the fuel cycle performance.

    Original languageEnglish (US)
    Pages (from-to)419-426
    Number of pages8
    JournalAnnals of Nuclear Energy
    StatePublished - Apr 2019

    All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

    • Nuclear Energy and Engineering


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