Breeder reactors (Encyclopedia of Environmental Issues, Revised Edition)
As opposed to normal nuclear fission reactors that use uranium 235 as their energy source, breeder reactors can make use of the much more abundant uranium 238 or thorium 232. Whereas a typical fission reactor uses only about 1 percent of the natural uranium 235 that starts its fuel cycle, a breeder reactor consumes a much larger percentage of the initial fissionable material. In addition, if the price of uranium is more than two hundred dollars per kilogram, it is cost-efficient to reprocess the fuel so that almost all of the original fissionable material produces useful energy. Breeder reactors are designed to produce from 1 percent to more than 20 percent more fuel than they consume. The time required for a breeder reactor to generate enough material to fuel a second nuclear reactor is referred to as the doubling time; the typical doubling time targeted in power plant design is ten years.
Scientists have proposed two main types of breeder reactors: fast-breeder reactors and thermal breeder reactors. The fast-breeder reactor uses fast neutrons given off by fission reactions to breed more fuel from nonfissionable isotopes. The most common fast-breeding reaction produces fissionable plutonium 239 from nonfissionable uranium 238. The liquid metal fast-breeder reactor (LMFBR) breeds plutonium 239 and uses liquid metal, typically sodium, for cooling and for heat transfer to water to generate steam that turns a turbine to produce electricity....
(The entire section is 488 words.)
Further Reading (Encyclopedia of Environmental Issues, Revised Edition)
Bodansky, David. Nuclear Energy: Principles, Practices, and Prospects. 2d ed. New York: Springer, 2004.
Mosey, David. Reactor Accidents: Institutional Failure in the Nuclear Industry. Sidcup, England: Nuclear Engineering International, 2006.
Muller, Richard A. Physics for Future Presidents: The Science Behind the Headlines. New York: W. W. Norton, 2008.
(The entire section is 45 words.)