What Does Breeder Reactor Mean?
A breeder reactor is a nuclear fission reactor that creates more usable fuel (plutonium-239) than it consumes. Breeder reactors can utilize nearly 100% of the energy contained in uranium and thorium ores, while the reactors currently used for nuclear power generation can use at most 1%. They can reuse waste from existing reactors as fuel, until nothing is left but fission products.
Corrosionpedia Explains Breeder Reactor
Breeders were initially considered attractive because of their superior fuel economy compared to light water reactors. Interest in breeders declined after the 1960s, as more uranium reserves were found and new methods of uranium enrichment reduced fuel costs. Currently, there is renewed interest in breeders because they would consume less natural uranium and generate less waste.
A breeder reactor requires an initial charge of fissile material, such as highly enriched uranium or plutonium, and a supply of fertile material, such as natural uranium, depleted uranium or thorium. Depending on the breeding ratio of a reactor, it can produce new fuel at a greater or lesser rate.
It is hoped that breeder reactors can replace the current generation of conventional reactors as progress in nuclear power continues. There are still technical hurdles to developing cost-effective breeder reactors. Plutonium-239 is extremely toxic; the half-life of the material is extremely long — about 24,000 years. This could create an almost impossible disposal problem if large amounts of this material are generated. Also, because of the nature of the reactor core, water cannot be used as a coolant. Instead, liquid sodium must be used. In the event of an accident, a catastrophe could develop because sodium reacts violently with water and air.
Many countries have long pursued fast neutron breeder reactors, which create more fissile fuel than they consume, because of the limited availability of low-cost uranium used for fuel in most commercial nuclear power reactors.
A series of chemical interactions occur between the carbon contained in the metallic components of these reactors and the sodium used to cool reactors — these interactions can cause a system's metal parts to corrode, eventually leading to leaks.