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Science and Technology of Nuclear Installations
Volume 2007 (2007), Article ID 97486, 11 pages
Review Article

Lead-Cooled Fast Reactor Systems and the Fuels and Materials Challenges

1University of Wisconsin, 1500 Engineering Drive, 53 706, WI, USA
2General Electric Nuclear Energy, P.O. Box 780, Wilmington 28402-0780, NC, USA

Received 14 March 2007; Accepted 25 September 2007

Academic Editor: Piero Ravetto

Copyright © 2007 T. R. Allen and D. C. Crawford. This is an open access article distributed under the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.


Anticipated developments in the consumer energy market have led developers of nuclear energy concepts to consider how innovations in energy technology can be adapted to meet consumer needs. Properties of molten lead or lead-bismuth alloy coolants in lead-cooled fast reactor (LFR) systems offer potential advantages for reactors with passive safety characteristics, modular deployment, and fuel cycle flexibility. In addition to realizing those engineering objectives, the feasibility of such systems will rest on development or selection of fuels and materials suitable for use with corrosive lead or lead-bismuth. Three proposed LFR systems, with varying levels of concept maturity, are described to illustrate their associated fuels and materials challenges. Nitride fuels are generally favored for LFR use over metal or oxide fuels due to their compatibility with molten lead and lead-bismuth, in addition to their high atomic density and thermal conductivity. Ferritic/martensitic stainless steels, perhaps with silicon and/or oxide-dispersion additions for enhanced coolant compatibility and improved high-temperature strength, might prove sufficient for low-to-moderate-temperature LFRs, but it appears that ceramics or refractory metal alloys will be necessary for higher-temperature LFR systems intended for production of hydrogen energy carriers.