Energy in Cyberia

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This article is about the specifics of energy in Cyberia. For the government branch, see ASC Department of Energy.

In the Antarctic State, the country's population consumes nearly 5,410 TWh of power annually. More than 80% of the that total is satisfied by nuclear power plants small and large. Cyberia remains one of the largest producers of nuclear fission energy in the world. In addition to power generation, the residual thermal energy otherwise considered a waste after having been used to generate electricity, is instead used to heat buildings of all kinds surrounding the plants, among other public heating sources.

Provision

See also: ASC Department of Energy

The Antarctic State's power generation industry is wholly owned and operated by its government, specifically the Department of Energy, which is also in control of the country's entire electrical grid to begin with. As a result of this single-entity ownership, powerplant and reactor designs are largely similar, if not identical, and synchronized across the whole country.

Non-Nuclear Power

Solar Power

Solar power in the country is at both an advantage and disadvantage, depending on the time of the year. This is due to the phenomena of midnight sun and polar night, respectively. During times of midnight sun, usable light from the sun is present for upwards of 24 hours a day for several days. However the inverse is also true for some parts of the country, where the sky is completely dark for 24 hours a day for many days. Solar complexes used for electricity and/or heat have been built in the past, most of which are still maintained and operating, however they are less-preferred, due to both the snow buildup and the inherently relatively inconsistent nature of their availability. Smaller solar systems are usually mounted atop houses and other buildings.

Wind Power

The majority of the Antarctic State's wind power is generated by both horizontal and vertical axis turbines. Furthermore, most of this wind power is both made and consumed in the close proximity of coastal military bases, as opposed to minor and major cities deeper in-country, as many of these bases do not readily have access to nuclear energy nor transmission lines from already existing reactors. Horizontal-axis wind turbines are often fitted with large shaped-rings around the diameter of their rotor disks, which serves to rid the turbine of the stagnant air that would otherwise accumulate behind the turbines' rotors, which acted as a blockade to much more air making it past the turbine, reducing efficiency in older designs.

Biomass & Biofuel

The compiling of biomass, and the synthesis of biofuel among other synthetic fuels, is chiefly a service facilitated by the Department of Agriculture. Synthetic fuels can be burned in internal combustion engines. Either source can be burned for the production of heat, the production of electricity, or both at once in what is known as cogeneration or combined heat and power (CHP). CHP is known to be a major component of the Department of Infrastructure.

Nuclear Power

Nuclear Fuel and Fuel Cycle

A simplified diagram of the MCB/PuMA fuel cycle. Note that the plutonium never leaves the cycle. Also note how minor actinides and short-lived fission products are used as fuel, leaving only less-harmful, long-lived waste products.

MCB fuel (Mixed CarBide fuel), which is a solid mixture of plutonium carbide (Pu2C3) and uranium carbide (U2C3), is what has come to be primarily used in the state's many breeder reactors. MCB fuel has come to be preferred over MOX fuel (Mixed OXide fuel) due to the carbides' increased density and thermal conductivity. Uranium metal is normally sourced from the Department of Resource Management (DoRM), after which it is processed into fuel by the Department of Energy.

PuMA fuel (Plutonium; Minor Actinide fuel) is an alternative nuclear fuel that is comprised of reprocessed plutonium-239 (239Pu), which is bred from the uranium-238 (238U) used up in primary MCB fuel.[1]

Both fuel types are manufactured in micro fuel spheres; which are then given uniform outer layers of carbon, pyrolytic carbon, and silicon carbide atop the inner fuel pellet. A varying percentage of the total amount of these micro fuel spheres are given an extra layer of burnable neutron poison atop the outermost one. These micro fuel spheres have been shown to withstand very high core temperatures without melting, nor suffering a compromise in structural integrity. During fuel production, these spheres are piled into fuel rods, which occupy the many insertion points in a reactor's core.

As either MCB and/or PuMA of fuel is "burnt" up (as in, used up), it accumulates what are known as neutron poisons, which are isotopes of fission products that have a very large neutron cross-section and neutron capacity. This means that they very readily consume and stably contain neutrons that would otherwise be used to breed and/or split 239Pu. This is what causes the gradual slowing of reactor chain-reactions and their eventual inability to restart, thus requiring a fuel change.

Many normal fission products are susceptible to neutron capture themselves through the bombardment of fast neutrons, which then encourages them to beta decay early into longer-lived, less-harmful products.[2] Utilizing this behavior in the production and subsequent burning of PuMA fuel causes the overall less radioactivity of spent fuel after reprocessing compared to older types of spent fuel.

The fueling of Cyberia's reactors can and has previously been practiced by using enriched uranium, in which the much higher percentage of fissile 235U than natural uranium is what starts and sustains the neutron chain reaction. The country has long since gotten rid of the need for this specific use of 235U, having replaced it with 239Pu and the minor actinides.

Reactor & Powerplant Design

The DoE's own design of Gen V reactor has been dubbed the SFNR (Superhot Fast Neutron Reactor), affectionately nicknamed ShFR or "Sheffer", with core and coolant temperatures reaching up to 1,500 °C (2,730 °F). Their base design is what is known as a breeder reactor, specifically a fast breeder reactor, which utilizes fast neutrons as opposed to thermal neutrons to split atoms. Nuclear power has still been in use and have been continuously operated in Cyberia since the 1950's, due to the lack of oil and coal, the relative abundance of uranium within the continent of Antarctica, the relatively wide range of fuels able to be used in fast breeder reactors, the high burnup of what would be considered waste in other reactor designs, the well-documented nature of fission reactors, and the nature of the breeder fuel cycle having been purposefully engineered over the atomic age to reliably produce more fissionable fuel than it uses up in primary fueling, hence the term "breeder" reactor.

Molten salts are used as coolant/heat exchange fluids in SFNRs due to their tendency to withstand very high temperatures in liquid phase before boiling off. Once heated, these molten salts are pumped through a heat exchanger, where the salts' heat is transferred to a closed-loop supply of ordinary water. The extreme heat of the molten salts and the high flow rate of water results in high amounts of superheated steam. This steam then passes through a series of large steam turbines connected to equally large electrical generators. After extracting most of the useful energy that this steam provided, the remaining water is pumped through a second heat exchanger, this one transferring thermal energy into a heating liquid which is then used to heat homes and buildings that are connected to the Department of Infrastructure's district heating system.

Nuclear powerplants in Cyberia often have multiple SFNR reactors to them, sometimes up to eight at once as is the case in the Ramiel military base, each in separate buildings and each with their own steam turbines, generators, and other systems. There are roughly 72 SFNR reactors currently in continuous operation in the country, altogether producing an average of 514 GW, or about 4500 TWh per year.

Reactor Operation

Drastically simplified model of how MCB fuel is consumed, and how 239Pu is bred at the same time in an SFNR.
A reactor fueled by MCB and/or PuMA rods is initialized by its startup neutron source(s). At this moment, either the 235U or the 239Pu contained within the fuel splits in fission, releasing 1 to 3 extra neutrons which then strike other fissile material, carrying on the chain reaction that continuously releases energy into the coolant in the form of gamma radiation, heating it.

As an SFNR reactor operates, the bulk of the energy released into the coolant immersing the prismatic core block is caused by the fission of 239Pu, along with the beta minus decay (hereinafter beta decay) of its short-lived fission products.

The breeding behavior of these reactors comes in the form of the 238U used in the primary MCB fuel being transmuted into 239Pu, due to 238U capturing a neutron and eventually undergoing beta decays into 239Pu, which accumulates within spent nuclear fuel, among many other products.[1]

The accumulation of 239Pu bred within MCB fuel also contributes to fission energy being released, however by the time that a buildup of neutron poisons renders the fuel "spent", the amount of 239Pu is actually much higher than what the fuel had at the start. This extra 239Pu can either be reprocessed into new MCB fuel by separating it out and combining it with any supply of new 238U, even in the form of depleted uranium; or the 239Pu can be used as fuel itself, which is the mechanism behind the notion of more nuclear fuel being produced than was used in the primary fueling of the reactor.

The ability to continuously reprocess spent MCB fuel into newly mixed fuel without needing to be enriched effectively decreases overall natural uranium requirements and multiplies the usability of uranium many times more than that of pre-Gen IV reactors. What this means is the country of Cyberia has in its midst a practically limitless supply of potential electrical energy for the foreseeable future, as long as proper processes are followed, or even better methods developed.

Reactor Safety

There are little to no inherent environmental risk factors posing a threat to nuclear power plants. Threat risks to reactor safety are almost entirely internal or external. External risks include terrorist, anti-establishment, anti-government, and/or anti-nuclear activist attacks. External threats are often combated by very tight physical and cyber securities, the former of which is commonly carried out by the Riot Control Corps. Internal risk factors include out-of-control core temperatures and melting, loss of coolant, and loss of building power. All of these internal risks are continuously monitored, and safeguards, passive and active, put in place to prevent all of them and more.

Notes

  1. 1.0 1.1 An atom of 238U can absorb a fast neutron without fissioning, which in turn makes it 239U; it then undergoes beta decay into 239Np; which finally undergoes beta decay a second time to form 239Pu. See also: Plutonium-239 formation.
  2. As the length of an isotope's half-life increases, its harmful radioactivity decreases. See: Radioactive Activity.