In this study, a conceptual design was developed for a lead-bismuth-cooled small modular fast reactor SPARK-NC with natural circulation and load following capabilities. The nominal rated power was set to 10 MWe, and the power can be manipulated from 5 MWe to 10 MWe during the whole core lifetime. The core of the SPARK-NC can be operated for eight effective full power years (EFPYs) without refueling. The core neutronics and thermal-hydraulics design calculations were performed using the SARAX code and the natural circulation capability of the SPARK-NC was investigated by employing the energy conservation equation, pressure drop equation and quasi-static reactivity balance equation. In order to flatten the radial power distribution, three radial zones were constructed by employing different fuel enrichments and fuel pin diameters. To provide an adequate shutdown margin, two independent systems, i.e., a control system and a scram system, were introduced in the core. The control assemblies were further classified into two types: primary control assemblies used for reactivity control and power flattening and secondary control assemblies (with relatively smaller reactivity worth) used for power regulation. The load following capability of SPARK-NC was assessed using the quasi-static reactivity balance method. By comparing three possible approaches for adjusting the reactor power output, it was shown that the method of adjusting the coolant inlet temperature was viable, practically easy to implement and favored for the load following operation.
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