The PHWR reactor design has been developed since the 1950s in Canada as the CANDU, and from 1980s also in India. PHWRs generally use natural uranium (0.7% U-235) oxide as fuel, hence needs a more efficient moderator, in this case heavy water (D2O).** The PHWR produces more energy per kilogram of mined uranium than other designs, but also produces a much larger amount of used fuel per unit output.

** with the CANDU system, the moderator is enriched (i.e. water) rather than the fuel – a cost trade-off.

The moderator is in a large tank called a calandria, penetrated by several hundred horizontal pressure tubes which form channels for the fuel, cooled by a flow of heavy water under high pressure (about 100 times atmospheric pressure) in the primary cooling circuit, typically reaching 290°C. As in the PWR, the primary coolant generates steam in a secondary circuit to drive the turbines. The pressure tube design means that the reactor can be refuelled progressively without shutting down, by isolating individual pressure tubes from the cooling circuit. It is also less costly to build than designs with a large pressure vessel, but the tubes have not proved as durable.

A CANDU fuel assembly consists of a bundle of 37 half metre long fuel rods (ceramic fuel pellets in zircaloy tubes) plus a support structure, with 12 bundles lying end to end in a fuel channel. Control rods penetrate the calandria vertically, and a secondary shutdown system involves adding gadolinium to the moderator. The heavy water moderator circulating through the body of the calandria vessel also yields some heat (though this circuit is not shown on the diagram above).

Newer PHWR designs such as the Advanced Candu Reactor (ACR) have light water cooling and slightly-enriched fuel.

CANDU reactors can accept a variety of fuels. They may be run on recycled uranium from reprocessing LWR used fuel, or a blend of this and depleted uranium left over from enrichment plants. About 4000 MWe of PWR might then fuel 1000 MWe of CANDU capacity, with addition of depleted uranium. Thorium may also be used in fuel.

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