Power Production at Hanford N-Reactor

  • #1
During the early development of nuclear power many utilities were concerned that the United States federal government would create an "Atomic TVA" and crowd them out. As a result the plutonium production reactors in the United States didn't have steam turbines to generate electricity from the heat they generated, in contrast to French and British plutonium production reactors of the era. The one exception to this was the Hanford N-Reactor. N-Reactor began producing plutonium in 1963 and electricity in 1966, with power production handled by Washington Public Power Supply System. N-Reactor was rated at 4,000 MWt and 860 MWe (source), which would have made it the most powerful nuclear reactor unit in the United States (if not the world) until the early 1970s.

I'm wondering if anyone has any information on how N-Reactor came to be a dual-purpose unit and if it had been designed as one from the outset. Also, were any of the other plutonium production reactors in the United States designed with provision for turbines or otherwise suitable for modification for dual-purpose?
 

Answers and Replies

  • #2
anorlunda
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The Wikipedia article you linked said "It was a one-of-a-kind design in the U.S." That rules out others in the US. You could scan https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_nuclear_reactors for others in other countries.

It would be very difficult to retrofit a production reactor to a power reactor after the fact, so I expect there are no retrofits.
 
  • #3
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N-Reactor producing power was to the best of my understanding an after thought. There is also the Navy base at Idaho Falls with a similar after thought. The Navy facility is a training prototype where there is a reactor producing steam, which drives turbines, that drive a drive a reduction gear to a mock propeller shaft. The original iteration was taken to a water brake. Several mock engine rooms of various submarine or surface engineering spaces exist and the operators must train on those prototypes. It was not until more thought was put into the process that changes were made. The mock up produces shaft horsepower varying between 0 and 90,000 with an average shp of 15,000. The realization was "That is a lot of energy to throw away as hot water." So now what is essentially a constantly variable transmission leads to a generator which acts as the load for the mockup. All is good and the government is not broke, we are contributing to the grid, lol. A large portion of peaceable nuclear research is conducted at this campus. The Naval facility was shut down as a training and research site in the mid 90's and only functions now in handling spent fuels.
Hanford was brought online in the same era as Idaho Falls retrofits and was just a "one off" to make us more fiscally responsible.
 

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