What type of material is used in the control rod of a nuclear reactor? (Nuclear power plant)

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Control Rods: They have the ability to capture the slow neutrons and can control the chain reaction at any stage. Boron and cadmium are the best absorbers of neutrons.

To start fission in $\ce{^{238}U}$ we need very fast neutrons having kinetic energies more than about 1 MeV. In a nuclear reactor, the probability that a neutron will cause $\ce{^{235}U}$ to fission is more for slow-moving neutrons. Thus there is less probability that the fast neutrons produced in fission will cause other fission to occur and a chain reaction will start. To slow down these neutrons (to initiate more fission events) in a nuclear reactor moderator is used which may be ordinary water or heavy water ($\ce{D2O}$).


There are various designs and materials for control rods, which are more technically correctly called control assemblies. The choice depends on the type and purpose of the reactor, the size of the core, the availability of other means for power control (e.g. boric acid in the reactor coolant, burnable poison rods, $\ce{UO2-Gd2O3}$ fuels, recirculation pumps, or thermal-hydraulic feedback), patent rights, and tradition.

The control assemblies of typical boiling water reactors (BWRs) are inserted from the bottom because, in a BWR, the neutron flux is larger in the lower part of the core and the space above the core is occupied by the water separator and the steam dryer. Therefore, the design should consider saving weight. BWRs usually use cross-shaped control assemblies. The four blades of one cruciform control assembly are inserted between four fuel assemblies. The blades are made of stainless steel and contain tubes that are filled with boron carbide ($\ce{B4C}$) as neutron-absorbing material. In addition, hafnium ($\ce{Hf}$) absorber may be placed in selected locations of selected control assemblies.

The control assemblies of typical pressurized water reactors (PWRs) are inserted from above. Each control assembly has multiple rod fingers, which enter openings at the upper end of a fuel assembly. These control assemblies are very heavy because, when the reactor is tripped, they have to quickly drop into the core against the pressure of the reactor coolant. The neutron absorbing material mainly is an $\ce{Ag-In-Cd}$ alloy (usually 80 % $\ce{Ag}$, 15 % $\ce{In}$, and 5 % $\ce{Cd}$) encapsulated in an austenitic steel cladding. These three neutron absorbers together effectively block the entire energy spectrum of fast, epithermal, and thermal neutrons. In other PWR core designs, the control rods are divided into two groups: so-called black assemblies made up of rods consisting of an $\ce{Ag-In-Cd}$ alloy in the lower section and of $\ce{B4C}$ in the upper part, and so-called grey assemblies containing absorber rods made of $\ce{Ag-In-Cd}$ alloy and steel.


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