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Suggested Citation:"D.3.2 Boiling Water Reactors." National Research Council. 2006. Safety and Security of Commercial Spent Nuclear Fuel Storage: Public Report. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/11263.

U.S. Nuclear Power Plants

In the United States, 32 utility companies are licensed to manage the 103 operating reactors. There are also 27 shutdown reactors in storage or decommissioning. These reactors are situated at 65 nuclear power plant sites across the United States; a plant site may have 1, 2, or 3 reactors.

The fleet of 103 operating reactors in the United States is composed of the following:

  • 69 pressurized water reactors (PWRs) and

  • 34 boiling water reactors (BWRs).

The containment design for PWRs is divided into dry (56 reactors), ice condenser (9 reactors), and sub-atmospheric (4 reactors) containments. Among the BWR containment designs, 22 reactors are of design type Mark I, 8 of Mark II, and 4 of Mark III,

The PWRS operating in the United States were designed by three different nuclear steam system suppliers; Westinghouse Electric, Combustion Engineering, and Babcock & Wilcox. Most PWRs have what are called farge dry containments, that is, containment structures of about 2 million cubic feet volume that can absorb the rapid release of steam and hot water from a postulated rupture of the primary coolant system without exceeding an internal pressure of about 4 atmospheres. FIGURE D.1 illustrates a PWR in a large dry containment. Some PWR containments are essentially as large but use ventilation fans to maintain the initial containment pressure mildly sub-atmospheric to provide an additional pressure margin. Finally, one set of nine Westinghouse PWRs uses ice-condenser containment structures, in which the containment has about the same pressure capability but is smaller, relying on massive baskets of ice maintained in the containment to condense steam releases and mitigate the pressure surge.

D.3.2 Boiling Water Reactors

The BWRs in operation today were designed by the General Electric Company. They all use pressure suppression containments, two-chamber systems with the reactor located in a dry well that is connected to a wet well containing a large pool of water.

In the event of a rupture of the reactor system in the dry well, the steam and hot water released are channeled into the water in the wet well, condensing and cooling the steam to mitigate the pressure surge. BOX D.2 lists the three successive generations of BWR containment design, and the number of each still operating. FIGURE D.2 illustrates three types of BWR containments: Mark I. Mark II, and Mark III, The Mark I containment is the most common type with 22 in operation. The reactor pressure vessel, containing the reactor core is located in a dry well of the containment in the shape of an inverted incandescent light bulb.

Suggested Citation:"D.3.2 Boiling Water Reactors." National Research Council. 2006. Safety and Security of Commercial Spent Nuclear Fuel Storage: Public Report. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/11263.
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Safety and Security of Commercial Spent Nuclear Fuel Storage: Public Report Get This Book
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In response to a request from Congress, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission and the Department of Homeland Security sponsored a National Academies study to assess the safety and security risks of spent nuclear fuel stored in cooling pools and dry casks at commercial nuclear power plants. The information provided in this book examines the risks of terrorist attacks using these materials for a radiological dispersal device. Safety and Security of Commercial Spent Nuclear Fuel is an unclassified public summary of a more detailed classified book. The book finds that successful terrorist attacks on spent fuel pools, though difficult, are possible. A propagating fire in a pool could release large amounts of radioactive material, but rearranging spent fuel in the pool during storage and providing emergency water spray systems would reduce the likelihood of a propagating fire even under severe damage conditions. The book suggests that additional studies are needed to better understand these risks. Although dry casks have advantages over cooling pools, pools are necessary at all operating nuclear power plants to store at least the recently discharged fuel. The book explains it would be difficult for terrorists to steal enough spent fuel to construct a significant radiological dispersal device.

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